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William Rolleston : a New Zealand statesman



The principle of responsible government existed in New Zealand from the year 1853 as to all ordinary colonial affairs. But it was not until 1863 that the control of Native problems and Native policy was taken out of the hands of the Governor, as representing the Imperial Government, and entrusted to the Ministry of the day. This final step in self-government was initiated by a notable despatch, dated 26 February 1863, from the Duke of Newcastle. In this despatch he issued instructions that, in future, the Governor would be generally bound to give effect to the Native policy recommended by his responsible Ministers.

Following upon this important change, when Sir Frederick Weld became Prime Minister at the end of 1864, he launched his famous "self-reliant" policy, under which the Imperial troops were to be withdrawn from New Zealand as soon as was reasonably possible. This no doubt led to the decision to create a new post, namely, that of Under-Secretary of Native Affairs. Hence it was that, soon after Rolleston returned from the West Coast goldfields, he received a letter from the Prime Minister, Sir Frederick Weld, which led him into this new sphere of work.

page 63
Wellington, May 11th, 1865.

My dear Rolleston,

I write in a great hurry to say that I hope to be able to find possibly an Under-Secretaryship for you, but when I visit Canterbury, as I hope to do in a fortnight for a day or two, I shall be able to speak more definitely. From what Stevens says, you want to take a more political office—so of course you will not be in the "Lords", as that would ban an Under-Secretaryship if I establish an extra one, which I am considering. Allow me to congratulate you on your marriage.

Yours very faithfully,

Fred. A. Weld.

During the short tenure of office of Sir Frederick Weld, the Maori War was still dragging on in desultory fashion in various districts; but under Weld's new policy the colonial troops were almost uniformly successful. Weld issued a proclamation of peace and amnesty to the natives, except in the district between Wanganui and Taranaki. There, owing to the fanaticism of some tribes, said Weld, we confiscated that territory, intending to put self-depending settlements upon it, and to induce as many as possible of the former owners to settle down between them on grants of land with individualised titles. We sent Mr Parris, a gentleman distinguished by his love for, and his knowledge of the native race, to negotiate with them to this effect. We had reason to anticipate success from his efforts, though the worst section of the fanatics treacherously murdered envoys bearing the proclamation of amnesty sent to them by General Waddy.