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William Rolleston (19 September 1831 – 8 February 1903) was a New Zealand politician, public administrator, educationalist and Canterbury provincial superintendent.

William Rolleston
seated portrait photo of a dark-haired clean-shaven man aged 69
William Rolleston in retirement in 1900
6th Minister of Justice
In office
15 December 1880 – 23 April 1881
Prime MinisterJohn Hall
12th Minister of Native Affairs
In office
February 1881 – 19 October 1881
Prime MinisterJohn Hall
3rd Leader of the Opposition
In office
31 August 1891 – 8 November 1893
Preceded byJohn Bryce
Succeeded byWilliam Russell
Member of the New Zealand Parliament
for Avon
In office
8 June 1868 – 27 June 1884
Member of the New Zealand Parliament
for Geraldine
In office
22 July 1884 – 15 July 1887
Member of the New Zealand Parliament
for Halswell
In office
5 December 1890 – 8 November 1893
Member of the New Zealand Parliament
for Riccarton
In office
4 December 1896 – 15 November 1899
4th Superintendent of Canterbury Province
In office
22 May 1868 – 1 January 1877
Personal details
Born(1831-09-19)19 September 1831
Yorkshire, England
Died8 February 1903(1903-02-08) (aged 71)
Canterbury, New Zealand
Spouse(s)Mary Rolleston (married 1865)
RelationsGeorge Rolleston (brother)
Joseph Brittan (father-in-law)
Frank Rolleston (son)
John Rolleston (son)

Early lifeEdit

Rolleston was born on 19 September 1831 at Maltby, Yorkshire as the 9th child of the Rev. George Rolleston and Anne Nettleship. His brother was the physician and zoologist George Rolleston.[1] He attended Rossall School and Emmanuel College,[2] where he graduated in 1855 with second class honours in the classical tripos. He had intended to move to Canterbury but his father advised against it so he took up tutoring. However, this was merely a means of raising enough money to leave England in order to reject 'Conservatives and Ecclesiastics'.[3]

Political careerEdit

New Zealand Parliament
Years Term Electorate Party
1868–1871 4th Avon Independent
1871–1875 5th Avon Independent
1875–1879 6th Avon Independent
1879–1881 7th Avon Independent
1881–1884 8th Avon Independent
1884–1887 9th Geraldine Independent
1890–1893 11th Halswell Independent
1896–1899 13th Riccarton Independent

Rolleston first joined the Canterbury Provincial Council when he was appointed to the Canterbury Executive Council on 4 December 1863. His tenure on the Executive Council finished on 16 June 1865.[4] On 23 January 1864, he was elected as a provincial councillor in the Heathcote electorate and remained a councillor until 23 June 1865.[5] On 22 May 1868, he was elected unopposed[6] as the 4th (and last) Superintendent of the Canterbury Province. He held that office until the abolition of the provinces on 31 October 1876.[7]

Rolleston represented the Avon electorate from a by-election in 1868 to 1884. In 1878 as an MP Rolleston proposed a school for deaf children. The government agreed to open a state school for the deaf in Christchurch, and the Sumner Deaf and Dumb Institution opened in 1880.[8]

In the 1879 general election, he was returned unopposed.[9] He then represented Geraldine from 1884 to 1887. The Geraldine electorate was abolished in 1887 and replaced with the Rangitata, where he was defeated by Searby Buxton. He then represented Halswell from 1890 to 1893. The Halswell electorate was abolished in 1893, and he contested Ellesmere, where he was defeated. He then represented Riccarton from 1896 to 1899. He had won the 1896 election against George Warren Russell, but was defeated by him in 1899 by just one vote.[10]

Rolleston served as Minister of Justice in the government of Premier John Hall from December 1880 to April 1881. He was also appointed Minister of Native Affairs in January 1881 after the resignation of John Bryce, heading the department as the Government prepared to invade the Māori settlement of Parihaka in November. Rolleston stood aside as minister on the night of 19 October 1881 after the Hall government's Executive Council held an emergency meeting in the absence of Governor Sir Arthur Gordon to issue a proclamation against Māori prophet Te Whiti and the inhabitants of Parihaka, ordering them to leave Parihaka and accept the sale and dismemberment of their land or face "the great evil which must fall on them".[11] He was replaced as minister by his predecessor, John Bryce, who three weeks later led a raid by 1600 Armed Constabulary on the settlement, the centre of a passive resistance campaign against the sale of Māori land.

An 1893 cartoon depicting William Rolleston urging women to vote for the Conservative Party to whom they "owe the franchise".

In 1891 he was elected unopposed as Leader of the Opposition.[12]

In 1893 he supported women's suffrage, and subsequently claimed the credit in the 1893 election.

Later life and commemorationEdit

He married Elizabeth Mary Brittan in 1865 at Avonside, Christchurch; she was the daughter of Joseph Brittan. They had five sons and four daughters, including John and Frank Rolleston. William Rolleston died at his Rangitata farm at Kapunatiki on 8 February 1903. He is buried at Holy Trinity Avonside.[13] A statue was erected in his honour in front of the Canterbury Museum.


  1. ^ "The Hon. William Rolleston". The Cyclopedia of New Zealand : Canterbury Provincial District. Christchurch: The Cyclopedia Company Limited. 1903. p. 38.
  2. ^ "Rolleston, William (RLSN851W)". A Cambridge Alumni Database. University of Cambridge.
  3. ^ Gardner, Jim. "Rolleston, William". Dictionary of New Zealand Biography. Ministry for Culture and Heritage. Retrieved 31 July 2011.
  4. ^ Scholefield 1950, p. 191.
  5. ^ Scholefield 1950, p. 196.
  6. ^ "Superintendency of Canterbury. Election of Mr. Rolleston". The Evening Post. IV (86). 25 May 1868. p. 2. Retrieved 22 April 2010.
  7. ^ Scholefield 1950, p. 188.
  8. ^ "1880". Christchurch City Libraries. Retrieved 26 August 2016.
  9. ^ "The General Elections". The Star (3551). 28 August 1879. p. 2. Retrieved 14 November 2011.
  10. ^ Rice, Geoffrey W. "Russell, George Warren". Dictionary of New Zealand Biography. Ministry for Culture and Heritage. Retrieved 27 May 2010.
  11. ^ The Taranaki Report: Kaupapa Tuatahi by the Waitangi Tribunal, chapter 8.
  12. ^ "The Opposition Leadership". The Press. XLVIII (7962). 9 September 1891. p. 5. Retrieved 5 November 2017.
  13. ^ Crean, Mike (30 July 2011). "Anguish over unique church". The Press. p. C12.


  • Scholefield, Guy (1950) [First ed. published 1913]. New Zealand Parliamentary Record, 1840–1949 (3rd ed.). Wellington: Govt. Printer.

External linksEdit

Political offices
Preceded by
William Sefton Moorhouse
Superintendent of Canterbury Province
Provincial Councils abolished
Preceded by
John Ballance
Minister of Education
Succeeded by
Thomas Dick
Preceded by
John Sheehan
Minister of Justice
Preceded by
John Bryce
Minister of Native Affairs
Succeeded by
John Bryce
New Zealand Parliament
Preceded by
William Reeves
Member of Parliament for Avon
Succeeded by
Leonard Harper
Preceded by
William Postlethwaite
Member of Parliament for Geraldine
In abeyance
Title next held by
Arthur Rhodes
New constituency Member of Parliament for Halswell
Constituency abolished
Preceded by
George Russell
Member of Parliament for Riccarton
Succeeded by
George Russell