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William Rolleston : a New Zealand statesman



Thus it was that, when Rolleston took office in 1868 as Superintendent, his accession was welcomed by many who believed that "his natural caution and steadiness would counteract the ultra-progressive policy of Moorhouse".1 It was when prices fell and bad times came that the public turned to Rolleston as their leader. So well did he carry out his onerous task that, in 1870, the public re-elected him, and turned a deaf ear to Moorhouse who loudly proclaimed that he was "the friend of progress" and Rolleston "the friend of stagnation". Moorhouse urged the claim that has since grown so familiar, that "as we increase indebtedness,

1 Encyclopedia of New Zealand.

page 32we are certain to have a more than equally increased power of paying taxes". In like manner, Vogel said in 1870, "we shall be told that these proposals will impose on posterity an enormous burden, but they will give to posterity an enormous means out of which to meet them"1 In Vogel's case this might have been true, if his ideas had been carried out in their entirety. But they were mutilated and mangled by the cupidity of the Provinces. Rolleston expressed his views very clearly in writing to Stafford on 20 July 1871: "I believe there is a common 'platform' on which yourself and others who really are in earnest may meet and effect much good. The two cries under which all political parties sooner or later range themselves are those of the prudent (slowgoing conservative so called by their opponents) and the speculative (calling themselves progressive, but otherwise called gamblers)."

The first session of the Provincial Council lasted only six days, 3 July to 9 July, as business was expedited to enable Rolleston and other Members of Parliament to attend a meeting of the General Assembly. There was a wrangle with the contractors for the Lyttelton-Christchurch Railway, in the course of which the contractors closed the tunnel until the Council agreed to a settlement of their claims.

While in Wellington attending Parliament in 1868, Rolleston had a serious illness, and the Provincial Council did not meet again until November.

E. C. Stevens, Christchurch, to Rolleston, Wellington, 10 October 1868:

We only heard on Friday that you were so ill. Report now says that you are out of danger and only weak, so it only remains to give praise wherever it may be due for your recovery. I have come to the conclusion that Wellington is a pestilential hole. The very water is suggestive of deadly poison while one is drinking it, and every street is a cess-pool. Everything—trade etc.—is

1 Morrell, p. 180.

page 33very depressed here now, but no worse than three months ago. In short, the place is well enough. The fact is simply that there are too many people doing business in almost everything. This fall in wool is very serious. Congratulate yourself on having sold your run. I have thought for nearly two years that wool would sink, and, should Germany or Prussia go to war with France, it would temporarily fall lower. I believe that the only thing to do in wool is to grow for exportation a high class of it; but I am convinced that we must do something towards utilising our own inferior wool in the Colony and so save exchange, freight, and expense. Blanket manufacture I have thought of.

This serious illness of Rolleston's delayed the calling together of the Council for some weeks. But when the opening took place, he urged the importance of obtaining immigrants. Parliament had just passed the Immigration Act 1868, enabling Provincial Councils to use land revenue for this object. "The present and future prosperity of the province", he said, "depend so largely upon the introduction of population and the supply of labour suited to the requirements of existing industries that I have no hesitation in recommending you to make liberal provision for this purpose."

I have already stated that, when Rolleston took office in 1868, financial stringency prevailed. Several special factors contributed to this in Canterbury, including the separation of the West Coast goldfields and the catastrophic fall in land revenue from £200,000 to about £50,000.1 Hence, when Rolleston announced his policy, as one of patient economy, active administration, and unflinching retrenchment, it was well received by the public as being more suited to the times than Moorhouse's ultra-expansionist policy.

But it would be wrong to assume that his policy was purely negative. He merely wished to avoid what he called speculative schemes, so that, by a steady course of economy, they might recover a measure of permanent prosperity.

1 Morrell, p. 177.

page 34He considered it reasonable, in spite of the depression, to carry on public works, and he urged the need for various public institutions, such as an orphan asylum, a museum, and other necessary works. During his eight years of office, he pushed on vigorously with roads and railways, and constructed bridges over the great rivers so as to give access to the south. In short, remarkable progress was made in developing the rich resources of Canterbury, settling the land, and providing for education, immigration, and the various public requirements of an expanding community.

When Parliament passed the Immigration and Public Works Act 1870, the Provinces were largely relieved of the duty of constructing railways and bringing in immigrants. The idea contained in this legislation was that the Provinces should be consulted as to what railways ought to be constructed and immigrants brought into each province at the request of its Superintendent. Rolleston took a friendly view of this new move by the Central Government, and he anticipated that the construction of railways and the increase in population would have most beneficial effects on the commercial prosperity of the Province. Nevertheless, he apprehended that the outbreak of the Franco-Prussian War in Europe might cause the Government to postpone railway construction, and he therefore decided to push on the railways out of provincial funds which could be recouped by the Central Government later on.