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William Rolleston : a New Zealand statesman



The rights and wrongs of these old quarrels are no longer of interest. But some reference to them has been necessary for the light they throw on Rolleston's character. His page 41anxious solicitude to do the right thing was interpreted by his admirers as the attitude of a firm and upright man, and by his enemies as due to an aloofness and obstinacy that exasperated them. One of his deepest disappointments occurred in 1875 when the Council passed an Education Ordinance running counter to his most cherished ideas on sound principles of education. But his views on this and other questions must be reserved for later chapters.

Of the general success of his policy as Superintendent there can be no question. During his eight years of office his candidature was only once challenged, and on that occasion his opponent was Moorhouse, whom he handsomely defeated. The policy he laid down when he assumed office was rigorously adhered to. He reformed the railway management; he cut down administrative expenses; he imposed strict economy and discipline in all departments, and at one stage reduced his own salary from £1500 to £800.

When he was elected unopposed in 1874 his proposer, Mr R. J. S. Harman, drew a striking contrast between the state of affairs when he first assumed office and those existing when he entered on his last term. Harman said that, by his economy and close retrenchment, he had put the Province in "a hard fighting condition". Prosperity and indeed great affluence had now come upon them. His careful proposals and active administration of a wise immigration policy had produced magnificent results, and indeed the Canterbury regulations for immigration had been copied by the General Government.

In spite of all the conflicts and disappointments of his life as Superintendent, Rolleston must have been gratified at the public recognition of his work by the people of Canterbury when the Provinces were abolished in 1876. On Anniversary Day a great fête was held in Latimer Square, and, in the presence of 12,000 people, Rolleston was presented with a gift of plate and money valued at page 42£800. He was described as the man who had watched over much of the progress of Canterbury "with the breadth of view of a statesman and the fidelity of a patriot". The Lyttelton Times said: "The educational system of Canterbury the records of the Native Office, and the history of the Legislatures, General and Provincial, bear ample testimony to his great industry, his skill in administration, his zeal for the public service and the store of information and thinking power that he brought to it."