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William Rolleston : a New Zealand statesman



Both in his Provincial days, and later as a Minister of the Crown, Rolleston constantly urged the importance of a vigorous and well-regulated system of immigration. Land. page 52settlement—education—immigration—these three items were for many years the cardinal principles of his policy. In some respects, his problem was simpler than that of the modern administrator. In his day there was more land awaiting settlement, and there were more people anxious to migrate. But, on the other hand, transport facilities were more primitive, our export trade in primary products was still in the struggling stage of development, and our manufactures were almost negligible.

Hence Rolleston realised the dangers of indiscriminate importation of large masses of people. He saw clearly that the migrants must be carefully selected, that constant vigilance must be exercised to see that the shipping accommodation was adequate, that on the long voyage the matrons, doctors and other officials must keep a watchful eye on the health and morals of young and old, and that, after their arrival, the immigrants must be housed and cared for until they were settled on the land or in other occupations.

"Colonisation", he said, "is not the importation of labour to make roads and bridges, but the creation of a united people bound together by personal ties and by the love of the same laws and institutions." Merely to pour immigrants into the towns in large numbers, with no provision for their welfare, would inevitably lead to evil consequences.

In spite of the utmost precautions, there were occasional lapses and failures. But that has been true at every period of large-scale migration. The letters of the English Agent of the Canterbury Provincial Government (and at a later stage the letters of the Agent-General) show with what ingenuity chronic invalids or bad characters sometimes managed to evade the regulations as to health and character.

Also on the long voyage to New Zealand scandals occurred in spite of the strictest regulations. "Please note", says Rolleston on one occasion, "that there were millions page 53of lice on the people who came by the ship S——. Some of the girls were not virgines sanctae, but on the whole they were a wonderfully good lot."

Rolleston took a deep personal interest in the welfare of the immigrants, visited their ships, minutely inspected their accommodation and their diet, and took vigorous action to remedy deficiencies.