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Sir George Grey Pioneer of Empire in Southern Lands

Chapter I — Introduction

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Chapter I

Influence of the French Revolutionary teaching on England and on Sir George Grey—His love of nature and his enthusiasm for humanity—Continuity of his work shown by reference to his public policy—His views on the Land Question, Extension of the Franchise, and Education of the masses—His enthusiasm for Empire, and his attachment to the principle of self-government—His arguments reviewed in relation to the problem of Imperial unity—Merits and defects of Sir George Grey's native policy—His extraordinary personal influence over primitive and, aboriginal races—General observations on the work which he accomplished in South Africa and Australasia—His place among the builders of Empire in the Southern Hemisphere.

Frequently it has happened in the history of contending races that those who have been overcome in battle have succeeded in imposing their ideas on the conquerors. Over the law of natural selection operates another which is known as rational selection. The barbarians captured Rome; but Rome conquered the world a second time by means of her religious institutions, and, in the second conquest, the victorious barbarians became her willing instruments. The Turks from Central Asia overran Syria and Asia Minor; but they became the champions of Islam in the great struggle between Christianity and Mohammedanism in the Crusading era. The history of modern times affords a striking if somewhat imperfect illustration. Napoleon was overthrown at the battle of Waterloo in 1815: but from that time the ideas underlying the French Revolution at its inception began to exert a powerful influence on the minds of the English people.

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Those ideas sprang from a deep-rooted conviction that the highest ideal may be reflected in the lowliest forms of life, and they fostered a belief in the essential worth and dignity of human nature. In Rousseau's fierce denunciations of the artificial restrictions and conventions of his age, he exalted the "natural man" to such a degree that his view of the social contract and its influence on the history of man was fundamentally at variance with that of Hobbes in the middle of the seventeenth century.

As in philosophy so was it in art. Jean François Millet turned away from the pageants of city life, and the display of courts, to find inspiration for his best work among the reapers and gleaners in the fields of Barbizon not far from the forest of Fontainebleau. In various ways the movement represented a return to nature, and its influence may be detected in England during every decade of the nineteenth century.

Wordsworth contemplated the excesses of the Revolutionary party with disappointment and horror, and his aversion from Napoleon was so great in 1803 as almost to destroy his belief in the wisdom and beneficence of a Divine Ruler who could tolerate the supremacy of such a man. But, his politics notwithstanding, Wordsworth preserved the feelings and convictions which made him the close companion and admirer of the incomparable Beaupuis in 1790; and his life's work may be interpreted as one long grand struggle to reveal the intrinsic worth of the most lowly forms of life in Nature and in Human Nature. Like sympathies inspired the verse of Robert Burns; and even Sir Walter Scott, with all his love of chivalry and the page 3pageants of the past, is at his best in depicting the pathos and humour of humble life, and investing with beauty and splendour the heath-clad hills of his native country.

Immediately associated with the idealization of Nature and the natural man, was a struggle for the realization of Liberty, Equality, and Fraternity. Rousseau had shown that the ultimate source of political power was the General Will; and, despite the difficulties involved in the application of such a theory, men believed in it. The idea took hold of the imagination of those who could not distinguish between the actual conduct and control of government, and it became one of the most potent influences operating in favour of democratic government during the last century.

It followed almost as a corollary that the chief end of legislation was the welfare of the governed. "Government by the people for the people" was a battle-cry on the field of English politics as early as the reign of Edward the First, but it rang out far more victoriously in the nineteenth century. The throne of a long line of kings tottered in France and fell. The English king remained the social and dignified head of the nation because the Prime Minister had supreme control over the business administration in Parliament. Everywhere the rights of property and vested interests were scanned by thinkers and teachers who proclaimed their subordination to the rights of man. Under the influence of the doctrine of utilitarianism, sweeping changes were made in English legislation, and chief among the exponents of the new order was Jeremy Bentham, whose views on utility were summed up in the well-known phrase, "the greatest happiness of the greatest number."

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Grey was a child of the nineteenth century renaissance. And nothing impresses the student of his career more than his unbounded faith in the possibilities of human nature, his deep and lasting sympathy for the masses of the people, and his splendid devotion to the welfare of the native races in the Southern Hemisphere. He, too, was caught up in the Romantic Revival which idealized the commonplace in nature; and in the depths of primeval forests, trodden only by himself and aboriginal tribes, he experienced an exaltation of spirit that relieved the pains and hardships of travel. The greatness and the grandeur of the world impressed him, and he was grieved to find so much wretchedness and misery among his fellow-creatures. But therein lay his opportunity. In his own way he struggled earnestly for the approximate realization of liberty, equality, and fraternity among men of various races and degrees of civilization, and his steadfastness of purpose was altogether admirable.

Yet, curiously enough, no charge is more frequently made against him than that of inconsistency. Men who knew him in the early days are inclined to believe that the autocratic servant of the Colonial Office became the Leader of the People in 1876 because he loved and would have power. The mistake arises in the majority of cases from the inability of his critics to understand that a man whose temperament was essentially autocratic might be dominated by convictions extremely radical. Sir George Grey did love power; but a critical examination of his public policy proves beyond doubt that the founder of the Radical party in New Zealand was true to himself. Closer settlement, one man one vote, education of the masses: these were the principal page 5measures in the programme which he put before the electors during his campaign 1876-77. They were the inevitable outcome of the opinions which he had advocated during the twenty-seven years over which his colonial administrations extended.

In 1837 he left Ireland with a deep-rooted conviction that the alienation of the people from the land was a grievous blunder, and it was by enforcing a policy of closer settlement in South Australia that the Colony was retrieved from financial embarrassment in 1843. "There as elsewhere," he said, "I endeavoured to carry out what I regarded as a cardinal principle in the making of a new country: to create capital direct from the natural products of the soil; not by raising too heavy loans." From South Australia he went to New Zealand. During his first administration there he was continually at war with the great landowners; and he tried measure after measure to induce small farmers to settle on the land. In South Africa he went so far as to set aside the most explicit instructions from the Colonial Office in order to bring immigrants from Europe, and settle them along the border belts of British possessions. It is clear, therefore, that "the bursting up of big estates" was only the last stage in the evolution of Sir George Grey's ideas on the land question; and it was ultimately effected in New Zealand by the Compulsory Purchase Bill which was passed during the administration of Mr. Seddon.

The same tenacity of purpose was exhibited in his determination to extend the franchise. He attributed the lack of ambition and want of initiative among the Irish page 6peasantry to their practical exclusion from political life, and in the new Anglo-Saxondom he took precaution to guard against a recurrence of the evil. While directing the administration of South Australia he recommended the admission of elected members to the Legislative Council, and invited the public to their debates. In proposing a constitution for New Zealand in 1846 he made the franchise qualification as low as possible, and avowed, in clear and forceful language, his preference for the poorer classes of voters, who came out, not merely to make a fortune and go away, but to make their homes in the Colony. As Prime Minister of New Zealand in 1877 he prepared a bill for the establishment of one man one vote, and it was passed. That was entirely consistent with his earlier views, as were also his utterances at a later time in support of a measure for the extension of the franchise to women.

Not less striking was the continuity of his interest in the education of the masses. He believed in closer settlement as a means of developing the resources of the country, he believed in education as a means of developing the resources of the people. Always and everywhere he gave enthusiastic support to those who were striving to uplift the various classes of the community spiritually and intellectually. He was the friend and ally of the missionaries; churchmen of every denomination sought his advice, and received financial assistance from his government. He was the founder of Grey College, Bloemfontein, in the Orange Free State; and he gave liberally of his private means towards the foundation of schools and colleges in New Zealand and South Africa. He died a poor man because page 7he had spent large sums of money in the purchase of books and literary treasures which were afterwards presented to the libraries at Capetown and Auckland. The riches of the mind always meant more to Sir George Grey than material wealth, and he knew that no individual, nation, or empire could be truly great, that did not rely ultimately and chiefly on inward resource. "Secure your outposts on the frontiers of civilization," he said in 1894, "and not only by military force, but by museums, libraries, and schools for civilizing the people." But he expected most from the education of self-government, and that is why he insisted on every office, including that of Governor and Governor-General, being within the reach of aspiring citizens. He would have no rung taken out of young ambition's ladder; for it was only in pursuit of the highest ideals that the noblest and strongest capacities could be developed. Had Grey gained his point another link in the chain that binds the Colonies to the Mother-country would have been removed; but the chain need not necessarily have been any weaker. On the contrary, he argued, and with much force, that the best way to foster imperial unity was to encourage self-government in its completest form. The British Empire was, in his opinion, different from any that had existed within the memory of man, and that which distinguished it from all others was the recognition of the vital principle of self-government. A thoroughgoing application of his views would, no doubt, have involved the federalizing of the British Constitution, but it has yet to be shown that Imperial Federation is possible as long as the government of the United Kingdom remains unitarian in form.

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Sir George Grey never formulated any definite scheme for the solution of the problem of Imperial Federation; but he had a growing enthusiasm for the British Empire, and lost no opportunity to maintain and extend it. While in New Zealand he endeavoured without success to induce the Imperial authorities to annex some of the islands of the Pacific; and in South Africa he prepared a scheme for the extension of British influence beyond the Kei River, which was rejected for the time, but adopted almost immediately after his departure for New Zealand. He deplored the abandonment of the Orange River Colony in 1853, and was recalled for trying to recover it, by the institution of a Federal system of government for South Africa, in defiance of instructions from the Colonial Office. One of the most daring acts in his official career was performed in defence of the Empire. On his own responsibility he diverted Imperial troops on their way to China, to India. They arrived at Calcutta in time to render valuable service at the siege of Lucknow. Like Cecil Rhodes, he was profoundly impressed with the possibilities of the Anglo-Saxon race, and he regarded the British Empire as a great and beneficent power in the world by which the influence of Christianity might be extended, and the standard of living raised throughout the world.

In the light of later developments it is interesting to reflect on Sir George Grey's enthusiasm for self-government as well as the Empire. After the war of American Independence, statesmen in various parts of the world were inclined to believe that colonies, like ripe fruit, would drop away as soon as they had reached maturity. Grey's instincts page 9were truer, and his penetration deeper. He saw in the success of that rebellion the triumph of a principle which, if jealously guarded, would insure the permanence and the integrity of the British Empire in the future. Under the old colonial policy, uniformity had been enforced to such an extent that unity was impossible. The United States were lost, but the principle of vitality had been won. With the fullest recognition of the rights of self-government the Empire of the future might be established on enduring foundations.

The recognition of the principle was one thing, its application another. Sir George Grey lived at a time when Crown Colonies were aspiring to constitutional government, and readjustments had frequently to be made as the principle of self-government was extended. Conflicts arose between the local and Imperial authorities, and although he was the servant of the Colonial Office he almost invariably took the side of the Colonies. Each case must be considered on its merits; and only an advocate would seek to justify his conduct at the close of his second administration in New Zealand. But he paid the penalty, and at least deserves the credit for a long and painful struggle in defence of a principle which is no longer questioned. The problem of Imperial Federation is yet to be solved; but it is useless to propose any scheme which is not superimposed on democratic foundations.

Grey had other reasons for demanding that the Colonies should be allowed to contrive for themselves. The traditions of the Old World barred the way to reform; but he foresaw that in the new lands of the Southern Hemisphere a page 10fresh start might be made. Young and vigorous nations would arise, and through them an influence would be exerted on the United Kingdom. He has not been mistaken. For better or worse the experimental legislation of Australia and New Zealand has powerfully affected English political thought during the last twenty years, and the advent of a Labour Party in the British Parliament is a striking example of the influence of colonial politics in England. No doubt a Labour Party would have arrived in process of time; but would it have arrived as soon?

The time may come when the magnitude of Sir George Grey's services will be determined by reference to the questions here mentioned. At present his title to fame would seem to rest rather on the merits of his administration of native affairs. That he achieved extraordinary success in this important branch of his work there can be no reasonable doubt; but a careful examination of the results of his policy shows that his control over the natives must be attributed to personal influence rather than to public policy. The scheme which he devised for their government during his second administration in New Zealand failed; and the settlement of the Maori difficulty at the close of the war was fundamentally different from that for which he had striven.

But the most serious defect in his policy was the rapid destruction of the authority of the native chiefs in New Zealand and South Africa before another authority, equally or approximately effective, had been substituted. And this was done against the clearest advice to the contrary from Earl Grey. The result was that as soon as his personal page 11influence was removed anarchic tendencies manifested themselves, as they did in New Zealand before the outbreak of the Maori war. There is a deepening conviction among men who are responsible for the administration of native affairs in different parts of the Empire that it is better to preserve the authority of the chiefs, and influence the tribes through them.

In other respects Grey's policy was far-seeing and magnanimous. Education and regular industry were the means by which he hoped to raise the natives in the scale of civilization, and in all cases of conflict between them and the white races he declined to treat them otherwise than as British subjects. In times of war he followed the British practice in India of making use of the friendly natives against those who were in arms. On the battlefield he struck hard and quickly; but on the first signs of submission he treated his foes with unbounded generosity. The system which he adopted in British Kaffraria during his administration of South Africa affords the best opportunity for a study of his views on the improvement and civilization of the natives.

The record of Sir George Grey's personal influence over the natives is above criticism, and it must ever remain one of the brightest traditions in the history of the British Empire. He had all the enthusiasm of the French revolutionaries for the "natural man," and the pity which he felt for the condition of the natives made the pursuit of their happiness and welfare a perpetual delight. He moved freely amongst them; learnt their languages in order that he might understand them the better; and took infinite pains in the collection of material by which their history might be page 12studied and known. In return, they trusted him, and their trust brought out all that was noblest and most chivalrous in his nature. Just as the tender-hearted autocrat loved the children who placed their hands in his and chattered without a fear, so he loved these children of nature who entrusted him with their most sacred relics and called him "father." The time is not far distant when the Australian aboriginals will be extinct; and it is doubtful whether the Maori race will long survive. The Kaffirs are still a vigorous people, and the probability of their disappearance is hardly more than a philosophical speculation. But whatever their fate the record of their customs and institutions is preserved. One of the most valuable literary possessions of the Southern Hemisphere is Sir George Grey's collection of books, pamphlets, and reports on the native tribes in Australasia and South Africa; and his book on Polynesian mythology is still the standard work on the subject.

The time has not yet come to speak with complete assurance of the merits of his work; but judging by the history of the last fifty years, and the trend of events in Australasia and South Africa to-day, it would appear that Sir George Grey is entitled to rank as the foremost among the pioneers of Empire in the British Colonies that lie to the south of the Equator. Sir Henry Parkes and Cecil Rhodes may have done more to mould the destinies of this colony or that; but Grey was the founder of far-reaching policies in South Africa, South Australia, and New Zealand, and he left the impress of his personality on them all.

In South Africa he founded a policy which was essentially the same as that pursued in later times by Sir Bartle Frere, page 13Cecil Rhodes and Lord Milner. Before he assumed control of its administration, Cape Colony was regarded as a military settlement, and a war was considered essential to its existence. Grey taught the people of South Africa to believe that their best interests would be served by putting an end to war and developing the resources of the country. So, too, he was the first of a line of illustrious statesmen who strove for a united South Africa under the British flag. A recent writer on South Africa has said that Sir George Grey "dreamed" of Federation in the middle of the last century! In Government House, Capetown, there is a dispatch under date August 14, 1858, which extends over nineteen pages. It is the most brilliant ever written by Sir George Grey, and it shows how wide awake he was when he "dreamed" of Federation. It was no dream, but a long-cherished ambition, for which he laboured and suffered. In defiance of instructions from the Colonial Office he pushed on the scheme, and it had reached the stage of discussion in the Cape Parliament when he was recalled.

In view of the settled policy of Her Majesty's Government no other course was open to Sir Bulwer Lytton than to recall a governor who defied the instructions of his superior officers on matters of such grave importance; but had Sir George Grey been allowed to proceed with his scheme there would, in all probability, have been no Boer war, and South Africa would have been united under the British flag long ago. The Orange Free State had petitioned the Cape Government for admission, and circumstances would have compelled the Boers of the Transvaal to throw in their lot with the rest.

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Sir George Grey's best work was done in South Africa, but his influence on Australasia has been much greater.

Shortly before his tragic death Mr. Seddon visited Adelaide, and delivered one of his most successful speeches in the Town Hall. After outlining the policy which he had pursued in New Zealand during his long tenure of office, he confessed that the credit for its initiation belonged entirely to Sir George Grey. That was magnanimous, but it was also just. Closer settlement on the land, the extension of popular influence in government, and the education of the masses are the questions on which the fortunes of political parties turn to-day in New Zealand and Australia, and they were, as we have seen, the most important measures in the radical policy which was founded in 1877. The evolution of that policy is proceeding at a rapid pace. Social politics occupy the field in Australia, and the battle between the Socialists and the Anti-Socialists has begun in earnest. The struggle will be a protracted one, and the results will only be apparent when the history of the twentieth century has been written.

Meantime one thing is clear. The Democracies of Australia and New Zealand have ceased to believe in the paramount rights of one class to rule another. Many experiments in popular government have been tried, some of them with conspicuous success; and the people are settling down to the conviction that Sir George Grey was right when, in his triumphal progress through New Zealand in 1876, he proclaimed that the ends of justice would never be attained until there was a fair field for all and favour to none. Equality is an unrealizable dream in Australia as elsewhere; page 15but equality of opportunity is not, and the people of the new Anglo-Saxondom are determined to have it. Mistakes have been made hitherto in the choice of means by which the end is to be attained, and they will be made again, for Democracies, like other forms of government, are fallible; but the ideal is there shining like a star of the first magnitude in the political sky. It was the star by which Grey steered his course over the troublous sea of strife and disappointment, and it is more clearly discernible now than it was in 1876.

For the vision of the people has been strengthened and clarified by the illuminating power of education, which was always an essential part of Sir George Grey's scheme for the improvement of all sorts and conditions of men. There is some danger in young countries that the resources of the people may be neglected in the struggle with Nature and the race for wealth. It is singularly fortunate that, while the Southern Colonies were still in the making, they should have been entrusted to the direction of a governor who never forgot that the treasures of a lofty mind were more to be desired than material and physical comforts. "Shall we leave to our descendants the lands we have won from forests, the choice breeds of cattle we have imported from the remote ends of the globe, the houses we have built amid the agitations of war and the shocks of nature, the wealth we have accumulated—all the material and physical comforts—and not strive to hand down to them the far nobler treasures of a lofty mind, of a highly cultivated intellect, of aspirations after the great and good, which could alone prompt them to use wisely for their own and the general advantage this page 16fertile country and the hardly-won material wealth which they will inherit from us?" Herein may be detected his sense of proportion, and he remained true to it from the beginning to the end of his life.

Sir George Grey's enthusiasm for education is shared by his followers. The accession of the Labour Party to power is the inevitable outcome of the success of his policy. Whatever their limitations in the wider field of politics, they are a party inspired by ideals, and they have always displayed a genuine and lively interest in education. The results are already apparent. The primary system of education in Australia is better than it is in England, and the universities are coming more and more into touch with the people. Sir George Grey is the political genius of the Southern Hemisphere. With his administration of South Africa a new and brighter era might have begun in the history of that unfortunate country; but his policy never had a fair trial, and its merits have only been recognized in recent years. He has done far more than any other man directly and indirectly to mould the destinies of Australia and New Zealand, and he who would understand the trend of events in those parts of His Majesty's dominions now and for a century to come, must begin with a study of the life and work of the Great Proconsul.