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William Rolleston : a New Zealand statesman



In University education, the part played by Rolleston has been fully recorded by various writers.1

page 47

At the time when he was invited by the Prime Minister to become a member of the first University Senate, Rolleston evidently had good grounds to question the financial integrity of some of his proposed colleagues. For, after some inquiries, he sent the following startling and almost blasphemous reply to the Prime Minister: "Let this cup pass from me—why should I be hanged between two thieves?" However, the matter was smoothed over, and Rolleston became one of the most useful members of the Senate.

It is a curious fact that, while Canterbury in its early days had in her midst a large number of graduates from British Universities, it was in the Scotch settlement of Otago that a University was first established.

The Otago Provincial Council in 1869 passed the University of Otago Ordinance, and created endowments to supplement the funds set aside by the Presbyterian Church for the same purpose.

This practical action by Otago forced the hand of Parliament, which had been for some years debating the problem of higher education. A storm of controversy arose, and, in the long debates that ensued, Rolleston and other men who had been trained in English Universities denounced the creation of the Otago University root and branch. "To them a University was purely an examining degree-giving body under which were ranked training colleges." At an earlier date, they had argued that New Zealand was not yet ripe for a University. They had favoured a system of granting scholarships to New Zealand students to be held in English Universities. When legislation created a New Zealand University, it provided for amalgamation with the existing University in Otago. But lengthy negotiations proved futile, and, in the final result, the New Zealand University was created as a purely examining body on the lines urged by Rolleston and his colleagues, and the Otago University became one of its affiliated colleges.

page 48

It was owing to Rolleston's enthusiasm for education that many rich endowments were set aside by the Provincial Council for the maintenance of primary and secondary education. His name is closely associated with Canterbury College, the School of Agriculture, the Library, the Technical School of Science and the Museum. It was he who caused to be engraved over the entrance to the Museum the words: "Lo, these are parts of His ways: but how little a portion is heard of Him?"

All through his career Rolleston was frequently called on to speak on educational questions and in his speeches he dealt with every aspect of the subject. Sometimes he emphasised the need for technical training and showed a remarkable knowledge of all that was being done in other countries. At other times he dwelt on the great value of the Classics. For example, at the Jubilee of Christ College he said:

There are two great books without a knowledge of which the rising generation will be very different from their fathers—the one is Homer and the other the Psalms of David. I think these two books are typical of the classical education which I hope will always prevail in Christ College. The time is coming when the public will realise that it is monstrous that people should grow up without the equipment furnished by a knowledge of Latin and Greek.

1 G. E. Thompson, History of the Otago University, and J. C. Beaglehole, History of the New Zealand University.