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William Rolleston : a New Zealand statesman



He made so great a success of his Provincial immigration policy that he came to be regarded as an expert. Indeed, when at a later date the General Government took up the question, it adopted wholesale his regulations and methods. He told Dr Featherston he was somewhat mortified that the Government made no recognition or acknowledgment of the fact that they had copied Canterbury methods.

In 1868 Parliament had authorised the Provincial Councils to use part of their land revenue for immigration. Rolleston eagerly availed himself of this power. "The present and future prosperity of the Province", he said to his Council, "so largely depends on the introduction of population and a supply of labour suited to the requirements of existing industries that I have no hesitation in urging you to make liberal provision for this purpose."

Two years later he declared that nothing but stagnation could result from neglecting our duty to promote immigration. His next step was to urge the Government to allow free passages to immigrants nominated by their friends. There was no response by the General Government, so he initiated the plan himself.

The Immigration and Public Works Act 1870 largely relieved the Provinces of the duty of constructing railways and bringing in immigrants. Rolleston foresaw that, if this Act was wisely administered, it would have most beneficial effects in reviving commercial prosperity. In his view it was by this means, and this means alone, that the great and page 54growing burden of the public debt could be made tolerable. He was therefore well pleased when, for example, in 1874 no less than twenty-six immigrant ships came to Lyttelton, containing ten thousand and ninety immigrants to Canterbury. Owing to his fine organisation, these were all readily absorbed.

But he warned the Government that a large influx of immigrants might lead to a reduction of wages. Therefore the utmost caution should be exercised in selecting immigrants and looking after their welfare after arrival. He complained that Vogel's policy ignored these precautions. Hordes of unskilled labourers were imported without any plan for their permanent absorption.

We have a lot of unemployed (he wrote), the result of Vogel's order to Featherston to send ten thousand immigrants at once. The difficulty is increased by the selfish, niggardly determination of the large landholders to have no married people and no cottages, and by their refusing accommodation to swaggers.

However, another halfpenny on the property tax will liven them up, though this of course works another way in deterring capital. Go to! ye rich men, and howl, as it was in the beginning, is now, and ever shall be. What shall it profit?

Both in Provincial days and when he was a Minister in the 'eighties, he was pestered by people who wanted a free trip to England on the plea that they would secure many immigrants by lecturing and canvassing. It usually ended by their expenses far exceeding the allocation. This led to criticism in Parliament, and Rolleston found it wise to leave the selection to the Agent-General. The latter complained of one self-appointed agent's mischievous interference, and Rolleston, with biting sarcasm, replied: "He is a tortuous, scheming little creature, but, since he affects the society of dukes, earls, and princes, it is blasphemy to speak ill of him."

Again, on 18 April 1882, he wrote to his brother, the Reverend Robert Rolleston:

page 55

There is a fossicking, ferreting kind of fellow here Called P—come from your part of the world. I have supplied him with no end of information, but I don't intend to entrust him with the task of speaking for the government. These lecturing people sacrifice truth to effect, unintentionally but none the less mischievously. Real agricultural labourers are the only people who must get on. I mean men who can plough, use ordinary agricultural implements and be generally handy. Families with girls in them who are certain of high wages need have no fear, but any of your neer-do-wells are sure to do worse here. I should be glad to see any Church movement which brought out people with a common bond maintaining the reverence which is much destroyed by the freedom and licence of a new country.