William Rolleston : a New Zealand statesman
Atkinson's Budget of 1877 was called "the rest and be thankful Budget". This was due to his statement that the real need of the country was political rest. Certainly Atkinson himself might reasonably hope for a rest. For in carrying through the abolition of the Provinces and all the legislative changes consequent thereupon he had carried page 125out an immense task. It is difficult to-day to realise the great complications with which he had to cope.
Moreover, once the new order was established all parties broke up in confusion. To add to Atkinson's troubles his great Native Minister, Sir Donald McLean, died. This damaged the Government severely, owing to the fact that the public had had faith in his administration. In fact, his presence was practically essential to the existence of the Government. "There was a thorough paralysis of political feeling", said Rolleston. "There was no clearly defined line of parties. The Government did not know from day to day even among their own friends where to turn for support."
Another factor which injured Atkinson's Government at this time was the general feeling of disappointment. The reality of the effects of abolition did not come up to expectations. It was felt too that the Ministry was merely the shell of the old Vogel Government, drawing even on the Opposition for recruits.
As may well be supposed Rolleston with his constant scruples and too finely balanced mind found the political situation puzzling and obscure. He described the Ministers as his personal friends—as "men of integrity who deserved well of the country". Nevertheless he realised the general desire for change. The Government had been too continuous and had become tarnished by time.
At this stage a curious position developed. A new middle party arose which Rolleston considered as of questionable value. Yet he could not follow Grey on account of the futile desire of Macandrew and Grey to urge separation. He was equally loath to join Atkinson as he had just fought him on the abolition of the Provinces. Hence he was reluctantly driven to vote with the middle party, which, like himself, would support neither Atkinson nor Grey. Indeed, at that time he thought there were enough men available to form a good stable Ministry apart from either of these leaders. But he was mistaken. For though this middle party page 126succeeded in ousting Atkinson, the man who moved the vote of no-confidence was Larnach—"a. man unknown to the political world", said Rolleston. Larnach was powerless to form a Ministry and to the great annoyance of the middle party Grey's followers availed themselves of the confusion and forced Grey on the House as Prime Minister. The position was almost farcical, for all those who believed in the unity of the Colony resented the accidental victory of Grey. Indeed, he had actually been on the point of sailing to England with Macandrew to present resolutions for the creation of Otago as a separate Colony, as a result of what was called The Otago Convention. It was only Grey's ill-health that had blocked this strange adventure.
When the middle party realised the mischief they had done they joined with Atkinson in an endeavour to oust Grey. But they were too late. Grey was in office, and though not very safe in the saddle he survived the attack. Rolleston voted against Grey and fully expected to see him defeated. "It was by a fluke", he said later, "that the vote of no-confidence in the Grey Government was not carried."