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William Rolleston : a New Zealand statesman



Apart from his own individual temperament, Rolleston represented a type that was much in evidence in earlier days, particularly in Canterbury. The chief characteristics of this group were that they were all the product of the page xvEnglish Public Schools and Universities. To those who can recall the type of which I am speaking, it would appear as if those great seats of learning—the Universities of the Old World—produced at that time a finer vintage than the output of later years. They were men who were at once cultured scholars and men of affairs. Of simple habits, they dressed plainly, eschewed personal ornaments and all forms of affectation. They were of a peculiarly masculine type, and hated vulgarity and ostentation. Towards rich and poor, young and old, they displayed that grave and charming courtesy that was so marked an attribute of what were called "gentlemen of the old school".

I remember, for example, that illustrious and venerable old man, Sir Joshua Williams, who was a lifelong friend of Rolleston. When I was a mere office boy, he would raise his hat and sweep it almost to his knees in acknowledgment of my shy salute. In like manner he would treat a prisoner at the Bar, or a witness in the box, with such perfection of manner that it seemed almost a privilege to appear before him in any capacity.

There are others that might be mentioned of lesser calibre but of like courtesy and simplicity. When men of this class took an interest in public affairs, they naturally carried great weight and influence. It will be interesting to see, as years go by, whether in New Zealand we will reproduce this type or something as good or better.