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William Rolleston : a New Zealand statesman



This proposal to make use of Fox to oust Stafford bore fruit quickly. Soon after Parliament met an attack was launched and in June 1869 the Stafford Government was defeated by a large majority, of whom Rolleston was one. He declared that he had consistently voted against the Government because he had no confidence in them. He denounced their native policy and their lack of policy in Provincial matters. "The Government", he said, "is ruling on sufferance; protracting a wretched existence in spite of the loss of their page 81principles, of their self-respect and of the respect of the country at large."

But although he denounced the Government in these strong terms it is clear that he was taking a leap in the dark, in fact he admitted that there was no clear alternative and added: "Let us know whether there are other men in the House who would command greater confidence. I do not say that there are." In short, the change over to Fox and Vogel does not appear to have enabled Rolleston to see any clearer line in politics or to have afforded him any satisfactory alternative. "Rolleston and other Canterbury members formed a kind of Cave of Adullam, showing little more inclination to support Fox than Stafford. Many predicted that some sort of coalition would ultimately be formed. It was not realised that the whole Colony would soon be dancing to Vogel's tune."1 Perhaps the dilemma created for Rolleston and his colleagues consisted in the fact that Fox had secured as his Native Minister Sir Donald McLean, who was the one indispensable man if the Maori War was to be brought to a peaceful conclusion. Peace was imperative if the Colony was not to be ruined financially. McLean's mana among the Maoris stood incredibly high. His powerful influence worked like a charm and he soon brought about that peace which had been so long desired. The reader may therefore regard the native problem as having been got rid of for ten years, or more. So far as Rolleston is concerned it did not arise again till the Parihaka incident of 1882.

In a letter to Selfe, Rolleston describes McLean as "extravagant and without an idea except that of palavering people into peace. The day for that is gone by." Now whatever McLean's shortcomings may have been it is undeniable that he was brilliantly successful in "palavering" the Maoris "into peace" and that no one but him could have done it. But at the time of which I am writing even McLean,

1 Morrell, p. 192.

page 82in spite of his great success in pacifying the Maoris, does not seem to have been acceptable to Rolleston. Hence if Rolleston continued to denounce Stafford and his colleagues on the one side and Fox, Vogel and McLean on the other, it was obvious that members of the House would hardly listen with patience to his plea that they should "sink all party ties and unite for the good of the country".1 That plea has been urged by independents at many times in many parliaments but seldom with any result. The times were indeed sadly out of joint for a man of Rolleston's fastidious temperament. The constantly changing groups and factions—the confused and varying issues—the absence of clear party lines—the need to compromise and to make strange political bedfellows—all this perplexed and dismayed him. Moreover, intolerable as he found the position at this stage worse difficulties were soon to follow. Indeed, it was not long before he found himself thrown back into the arms of Stafford whom he had so recently helped to overthrow.

1 Hansard, 16 June 1869.