William Rolleston : a New Zealand statesman
VI — Land Settlement
It was not until Rolleston became Minister of Lands in 1879 that he began to concern himself with forms of land tenure, and thereby raised a storm of controversy which did not die down for nearly a quarter of a century. But page 59during his Provincial days he was chiefly engaged in seeking to prevent land aggregation and land monopoly. Two different problems arose, one relating to the land within the Canterbury block originally granted to the Canterbury Association (the Canterbury block ran from the Waipara to the Ashburton—the Province of Canterbury from the Hurunui to the Waitaki), and the other regarding the pastoral lands within the Province but outside this block. Within the Canterbury block the price of land had been fixed under the Wakefield Scheme at £3 an acre, but after the Provincial Council was constituted, it reduced this "sufficient" price to £2, an acre. At a later date, suggestions were made for still further reducing this price, but this proposal did not meet with favour. Rolleston was always opposed to any reduction because of his view that such a course would play into the hands of large capitalists. He pleaded that the land was "a. sacred heritage", and that the large landowners should be kept out "as the glory of Canterbury is its working population". The lands of the Canterbury block were therefore disposed of on this basis.
1 State Experiments, vol. 1, p. 214.
In the pastoral lands outside the Canterbury block still more interesting and difficult questions arose. Here the Pastoral Leases were controlled by the general land regulations issued in 1853 by Sir George Grey. These regulations reduced the price of rural lands to 10s. an acre, or, when certified by the Commissioner of Crown Lands, to 5s. an acre. Grey's motives have been defended by his biographer, but the merits and demerits of his plan have always aroused fierce conflict of opinion.1 In Rolleston's opinion, these regulations opened the door to all the evils of land aggregation, and he always strongly denounced them.
1 See Condliffe, New Zealand in the Making, p. 101.
Other forms of spotting consisted of pre-empting the only land with a supply of water so as to render adjacent land of no value to anyone but the owner of the water. Squatters were also entitled to certain areas of land for every chain of fencing erected or shepherds' huts, and, by an ingenious distribution of these, they obtained the first right to buy all the most desirable sites.
"Gridironing" consisted in buying a series of twenty-acre sections along a road frontage in such a way as to leave eighteen acres between each twenty-acre section. Under the Land Regulations these eighteen-acre blocks could only be bought at auction, and they were therefore almost certain to fall into the hands of the capitalists.
But there was another side to the story. The squatters contended that they had to adopt all these expedients of spotting and gridironing in self-protection. They complained that otherwise small men or speculators would come in and buy key positions controlling a whole area, and then blackmail the squatter by demanding large sums before they would grant access or egress for his stock.