Sir George Grey - Encyclopedia

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SIR GEORGE GREY (1812-1898), British colonial governor and statesman, only son of Lieutenant-Colonel Grey of the 30th Foot, was born in Lisbon on the r4th of April 1812, eight days after the death of his father at the storming of Badajoz.

He passed through Sandhurst with credit, and received his commission in 1829. His lieutenancy was dated 1833, and his captaincy 1839, in which year he sold out and left the army. In the early 'thirties he was quartered in Ireland, where the wretchedness of the poorer classes left a deep impression on his mind. In 1836 the Royal Geographical Society accepted his offer to explore the north-west region of West Australia, and accordingly he landed at Hanover Bay at the end of 1837. The surrounding country he found broken and difficult, and his hardships were aggravated by the tropical heat and his ignorance of the continent. In a skirmish with the natives, in which he was speared near the hip, he showed great courage, and put the assailants to flight, shooting the chief, who had wounded him. After a brave endeavour to continue his journey his wound forced him to retreat to the coast, whence he sailed to Mauritius to recruit. Next year he again essayed exploration, this time on the coast to the north and south of Shark's Bay. He had three whale-boats and an ample supply of provisions, but by a series of disasters his stores were spoilt by storms, his boats wrecked in the surf, and the party had to tramp on foot from Gantheaume Bay to Perth, where Grey, in the end, walked in alone, so changed by suffering that friends did not know him. In 1839 he was appointed governor-resident at Albany, and during his stay there married Harriett, daughter of Admiral Spencer, and also prepared for publication an account, in two volumes, of his expeditions. In 1840 he returned to England, to be immediately appointed by Lord John Russell to succeed Colonel Gawler as governor of South Australia. Reaching the colony in May 1841, he found it in the depths of a depression caused by mismanagement and insane land speculation. By rigorously reducing public expenditure, and forcing the settlers to quit the town and betake themselves to tilling their lands, and with the opportune help of valuable copper discoveries, Grey was able to aid the infant colony to emerge from the slough. So striking were his energy and determination that when, in 1845, the little settlements in New Zealand were found to be involved in a native war, and on the verge of ruin, he was sent to save them. The Maori chiefs in open rebellion were defeated, and made their submission. Another powerful leader suspected of fomenting discontent was arrested, and friendly chieftains were subsidized and honoured. Bands of the natives were employed in making government roads, and were paid good wages. The governor gained the veneration of the Maori tribes, in whose welfare he took a close personal interest, and of whose legends and myths he made a valuable and scholarly collection, published in New Zealand in 1855 and reprinted thirty years afterwards. With peace prosperity came to New Zealand, and the colonial office desired to give the growing settlements full self-government. Grey, arguing that this would renew war with the Maori, returned the constitution to Downing Street. But though the colonial office sustained him, he became involved in harassing disputes with the colonists, who organized an active agitation for autonomy. In the end a second constitution, partly framed by Grey himself, was granted them, and Grey, after eight years of despotic but successful rule, was transferred to Cape Colony. He had been knighted for his services, and had undoubtedly shown strength, dexterity and humanity in dealing with the whites and natives. In South Africa his success continued. He thwarted a formidable Kaffir rebellion in the Eastern Provinces, and pushed on the work of settlement by bringing out men from the German Legion and providing them with homes. He gained the respect of the British, the confidence of the Boers, the admiration and the trust of the natives. The Dutch of the Free State and the Basuto chose him as arbitrator of their quarrels. When the news of the Indian Mutiny reached Cape Town he strained every nerve to help Lord Canning, despatching men, horses, stores and L60,000 in specie to Bombay. He persuaded a detachment, then on its way round the Cape as a reinforcement for Lord Elgin in China, to divert its voyage to Calcutta. Finally, in 1859, Grey almost reached what would have been the culminating point of his career by federating South Africa. Persuaded by him, the Orange Free State passed resolutions in favour of this great step, and their action was welcomed by Cape Town. But the colonial office disapproved of the change, and when Grey attempted to persevere with it Sir Edward Bulwer Lytton recalled him. A change of ministry during his voyage to England displaced Sir Edward Bulwer Lytton. But though the duke of Newcastle reinstated Grey, it was with instructions to let federation drop. In 1861 the colonial office sent him, for the fourth time in succession, to take up a post of exceptional difficulty by again entrusting him with the governorship of New Zealand, where an inglorious native war in Taranaki had just been succeeded by an armed truce. Grey did his best to make terms with the rebels and to re-establish friendship with the Maori king and the land league of tribes formed to stop further sales of land to the whites. But the Maori had got guns and powder, and were suspicious and truculent. In vain Grey, supported by Bishop Selwyn and by Fox and the peace party among the settlers, strove to avert war. It came in 1863, and spread from province to province. Ten thousand regulars and as many colonial riflemen were employed to put it down. The imperial troops were badly handled, and Grey, losing patience, became involved in bitter disputes with their commanders. As an example to the .former he himself attacked and captured Weraroa, the strongest of the Maori stockades, with a handful of militia, a feat which delighted the colonists, but made him as much disliked at the war office as he now was at Downing Street. Moreover, Grey had no longer real control over the islands. New Zealand had become a self-governing colony, and though he vindicated the colonists generally when libellous imputations of cruelty and land-grabbing were freely made against them in London, he crossed swords with his ministers when the latter confiscated three million acres of tribal land belonging to the insurgent Maori. Yet through all these troubles progress was made; many successes were gained in 1866, chiefly by the colonial militia, and a condition of something like tranquillity had been reached in 1867, when he received a curt intimation from the duke of Buckingham that he was about to be superseded. The colonists, who believed he was sacrificed for upholding their interests and good name, bade farewell to him in 1868 in an outburst of gratitude and sympathy; but his career as a colonial governor was at an end. Returning to England, he tried to enter public life, delivered many able speeches advocating what later came to be termed Imperialism, and stood for Newark. Discouraged, however, by the official Liberals, he withdrew and turned again to New Zealand. In 1872 he was given a pension of 1000 a year, and settled down on the island of Kawau, not far from Auckland, which he bought, and where he passed his leisure in planting, gardening and collecting books. In 1875, on the invitation of the Auckland settlers, he became superintendent of their province, and entered the New Zealand House of Representatives to resist the abolition of the provincial councils of the colony, a change then being urged on by Sir Julius Vogel in alliance with the Centralist Party. In this he failed, but his eloquence and courage drew round him a strong Radical following, and gave him the premiership in 1877. Manhood suffrage, triennial parliaments, a land-tax, the purchase of large estates and the popular election of the governor, were leading points of his policy. All these reforms, except the last, he lived to see carried; none of them were passed by him. A commercial depression in 1879 shook his popularity, and on the fall of his ministry in 1879 he was deposed, and for the next fifteen years remained a solitary and pathetic figure in the New Zealand parliament, respectfully treated, courteously listened to, but never again invited to lead. In 1891 he came before Australia as one of the New Zealand delegates to the federal convention at Sydney, and characteristically made his mark by standing out almost alone for "one man one vote" as the federal franchise. This point he carried, and the Australians thronged to hear him, so that his visits to Victoria and South Australia were personal triumphs. When, too, in 1894, he quitted New Zealand for London, some reparation was at last made him by the imperial government; he was called to the privy council, and graciously received by Queen Victoria on his visit to Windsor. Thereafter he lived in London, and died on the 10th of September 1898. He was given a public funeral at St Paul's. Grey was all his life a collector of books and manuscripts. After leaving Cape Colony, he gave his library to Cape Town in 1862; his subsequent collection, which numbered 12,000 volumes, he presented to the citizens of Auckland in 1887. In gratitude the people of Cape Town erected a statue of him opposite their library building.

Lives of Sir George Grey have been written by W. L. and L. Rees (1892), Professor G. C. Henderson (1907) and J. Collier (1909).

(W. P. R.)

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