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William Rolleston : a New Zealand statesman



Not long ago I listened to a speech broadcast by a New Zealand Cabinet Minister, in the course of which he said: "Let us recall the names of our great New Zealand statesmen of the past." But, to my surprise, his retrospect went no farther back than 1890, and, after mentioning Richard John Seddon and one or two of his colleagues or successors, the speaker's interest in, or knowledge of, other statesmen abruptly faded out. Now, it is true that a new epoch in New Zealand politics began in 1890, and that period is rightly regarded as a sort of political watershed; it is, however, an egregious error to regard the earlier political landscape as being wrapped in mediaeval darkness and to reserve all the sunshine and splendour for this side of the great divide. Without idealising the early statesmen, it is true to say that, at almost any given period before 1890, there were far more giants on the political stage than can be found at any given period since that date. This can easily be put to the test. Let the reader ask any reasonably informed citizen for the names of the Cabinet Ministers he can recall who have held office since 1890, and he will be hard put to it to mention more than two or three, apart from the successive Prime Ministers. The rest are, for the most part, vague and transitory shadows. On the other hand, it requires but a glance at our earlier history to see that the political sky was then studded with stars of permanent brightness and many of the first magnitude. Even if they are now merely dim ghosts to the present generation, all students of history page xirecognise that the men who patiently and courageously, built the foundations of our modern State were such men as Sir Edward Stafford, Sir Frederick Weld, Sir Robert Stout, Sir Julius Vogel, Sir Harry Atkinson, Sir Frederick Whitaker, Sir George Grey, Sir Donald McLean, Donald Reid, W. S. Moorhouse, J. E. Featherston, Sir W. Fitzherbert, J. E. Fitzgerald, and William Rolleston. These men were progressive and far-sighted statesmen who, with few precedents to guide them, faced and solved problems of the greatest magnitude and complexity. Consider, for example, the many phases of the Native question and the Maori Wars, the early and varied provincial problems of land settlement and tenure, the control and government of the picturesque and turbulent population of the goldfields, and the long struggles between provincialism and centralism.