The town’s namesake, William Rolleston, immortalised in stone as one of the leading figures in Canterbury politics

Quietly revolutionary

by Andy Bryenton

What’s in a name? It’s a question posed famously by Shakespeare, and one which we often ponder when encountering people who have a surname matching their job, such as bakers called Baker and keen anglers with the name of Fisher.

How does this phenomenon (nominative determinism, it’s called, by those with large dictionaries), affect whole towns and municipalities? However, can the spirit of a town’s namesake really affect its character, more than 100 years later?

Perhaps this is the case with Rolleston, which carries the name of a quietly revolutionary political thinker, who stood up for fairness during his career and refused to be knocked back by setbacks. Is it a coincidence that Selwyn’s ruling seat and home to the youngest mayor in Kiwi history (Sam Broughton claimed the honour back in 2016) has the moniker of one of the architects of women’s right to vote and a man who left behind a solid career in England simply to reject ‘conservatives and ecclesiastics’?

William Rolleston didn’t suffer injustice gladly, and so he was a voice for giving women the vote when most of the world thought such an idea laughable or morally wrong.

When he, as Minister of Native Affairs in 1881, heard of the government’s intentions to force the peaceful protestors under Te Whiti from their land at Parihaka by armed force, he resigned in protest.

Exonerated, he was the unanimously acclaimed leader of the opposition in 1891.

The town, which bears Rolleston’s name is quietly revolutionary in its own way, though that quiet has, of recent years, been replaced by the clamour and industry of new building. Once gently poked fun at for the large hoardings proclaiming Rolleston the town of the future, this place has become exactly that. Currently, the 27th largest urban area in the land, watch for that number to rise. Moreover, in this case, the characteristics of Rolleston, the man; forward thinking, original, egalitarian and ahead of his time, definitely apply to Rolleston the town as well.