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Sir George Grey Pioneer of Empire in Southern Lands

High Commissioner of South Africa — (Continued) 1854-1861. ætat 42-49 — Chapter XIII — Defence and Expansion of The Empire

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High Commissioner of South Africa
(Continued) 1854-1861. ætat 42-49
Chapter XIII
Defence and Expansion of The Empire

Outbreak of the Indian Mutiny—Appeal from Lord Elphinstone to Sir George Grey—Grey's philosophy of Empire—Diversion of British troops from China to Calcutta—His extraordinary activity in defence of the Empire, 1857-58—Generous recognition of his services by Imperial ministers and Her Most Gracious Majesty the Queen—The High Commissioner's schemes for the extension of Empire in South Africa—Opposition of the Imperial authorities—Adoption of Sir George Grey's policy after his departure for New Zealand—Splendid public recognition of the value of his services to South Africa.

Grey's insubordination would no doubt have resulted in his recall at a much earlier date had it not been for the splendid services he rendered to the Empire during the progress of the Indian Mutiny.

In July 1857 Lord Elphinstone wrote a dispatch to Sir George Grey informing him that the whole of the Bengal army had mutinied, or had been disarmed lest it should do so; that a "bloody and inconclusive action" had been fought at Delhi on June 23; that Sir John Lawrence was beginning to think he would be obliged to abandon Peshawar and all the country beyond the Indus; and that, in short, the British power in India had never before been so seriously endangered. He therefore urged the High Commissioner to send two infantry regiments to Bombay, and a force of artillery with draught horses and specie to Calcutta.

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Grey was an ardent enthusiast for Empire, and he readily responded to an urgent appeal in defence of it. Relying on the good-will and loyalty of the people of Cape Colony, he called for volunteers to do garrison work, took £60,000 out of the Colonial treasury, and shipped it by the Penelope to Calcutta. Captain Travers was sent in charge of fifty of the best draught horses in the Colony; and two regiments of infantry were dispatched without delay, and more were promised. Lord Elphinstone's dispatch was dated July 3; by August 10 Grey had 1,665 men on the way to Calcutta and Bombay!

Situated midway between Great Britain and the East, Grey had already realized the advantages of his position in case of emergency. "The British Empire is so vast, and so unwieldy, that it is all-important that the whole world should see it has not overgrown its strength; but that it possesses quite as much energy and power at its extremities as at its centre; and that if any vital portion of it is seriously endangered, all parts of it can without communicating with the centre simultaneously stir themselves to meet the emergency as if each part were the head and centre of action for the whole body." So Grey wrote on August 7, 1857, in the heat of enthusiasm. The language betrays an attitude of mind which shows how difficult it must have been for his superior officers to work with him; but it also explains why on his own responsibility he decided to interfere with the destination of Imperial troops who were on their way to China. Owing to the irregular procedure of a Chinese official who had insulted the British flag, and declined to apologize, war between England and China was page 186imminent, and troops had been dispatched from Great Britain. Grey now determined that "all vessels arriving here with troops for China shall proceed direct to Calcutta instead of Singapore." In his own justification he urged that if on arrival it was found they were not required for the suppression of the Mutiny, the voyage to China would only have been lengthened by nine days.

Then followed a period of acute anxiety. One month after the arrival of Lord Elphinstone's letter Grey received a communication from the Governor-General of India. It contained no appeal for assistance, nor any allusion to the disturbances prevailing in India. Grey was astounded, and no doubt realized for the time being what might happen in the administration of a great Empire wherein each part acted as if it were "the head and centre for the whole body."

The language of his next dispatch to the Colonial Secretary indicates an attitude of mind rarely manifested in his correspondence, official or otherwise. "I apprehend in my anxiety to promote Her Majesty's service, and the security of her Indian possessions, I may have gone too far, and I shall now be cautious what further steps I take until further instructions reach me." He was not kept long on the rack. The dispatch containing this admission was written on September 22; two days later he received a "confidential" from Downing Street authorizing him to take such measures in conjunction with the Indian authorities as were needed for the removal of troops. "It was a great satisfaction to me to receive that dispatch," he replied on the same day; but how much would he have given to recall the one confessing that he "may have gone too far"!

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The amount of work performed by Grey at the end of 1857 and throughout the year 1858 is amazing. Every appeal from India was promptly complied with, at a time when the boundary dispute between the Boers and the Basutos was engaging his attention. Without sparing himself he galloped to and fro between Port Elizabeth and the Caledon River. The boundary line was drawn under his personal supervision, and he directed the operations for the departure of troops to India from the south-east. Anxious as he always was to secure peace by having a force strong enough to overcome the natives, he was willing to part with nearly all the effective troops in the Colony provided the Imperial authorities would send him untrained men to make a show of force, and worn-out soldiers to do garrison work. As with troops, so with supplies; every horse was taken from the field batteries, and two hundred of the Cape Corps dismounted in order that their horses might be dispatched to India.

Definite instructions were sent by the Imperial authorities from time to time; but he did not scruple to set them aside where they conflicted with his own opinions after consultation with the authorities in India. He took great liberties with the Cape Parliament, and made full and frank confession of it in the speech. which he delivered at the opening session in March 1858. In their reply the House recorded that he was "fully justified by the extraordinary pressing circumstances under which the responsibility was incurred." The troops which he had directed to Calcutta rendered timely service, and Lord Canning acknowledged the value of the assistance which he had rendered to the page 188Indian Government "just in the way and at the time help was required." Even the War Office did not fail to express its entire approval of his measures in 1857. But most gratifying of all was the message transmitted by the Queen through the Colonial Secretary, "to express to you the sense which Her Majesty entertains of the zeal and public spirit which you have evinced on this occasion … and Her Majesty's entire approbation of the measures which you have taken to render most prompt and efficient succour to the administration of India."

So long as Grey was engaged in a vigorous defence of the Empire he was encouraged by the Imperial authorities, but they would have nothing to do with his schemes for the extension of its boundaries. While in New Zealand he had recommended the assumption of Sovereignty over some of the Pacific islands, and prepared the way for it by the establishment of an educational system for the training of Polynesian children. But though the native chiefs applied to be brought under British jurisdiction, the Imperial authorities declined to take the responsibility. As in Polynesia, so was it in regard to the native districts in South Africa. A few months after Grey's arrival Lord John Russell informed him that it was for no object of dominion that Great Britain wished to maintain possession of British Kaffraria, but merely from a sense of duty to the colonists. It was only a few months before Grey's departure to New Zealand that the Duke of Newcastle replied in a similar vein to his dispatch suggesting a scheme for the control of the Zulus. "I cannot help fearing," he said in May 1861, "that the tendency of your plans would be the extension of frontier, page break
Sir George Grey in1861From a Photograph in possession of Mr. S. W. Mamergh, Capetown

Sir George Grey in1861
From a Photograph in possession of Mr. S. W. Mamergh, Capetown

page 189and Her Majesty's Government would deprecate that unless it were absolutely necessary for the safety of the colonists."

Grey answered boldly by avowing a conviction on a very difficult subject. It may be with Empires, as it is with individuals, that there is no choice between progress and decline. At least Grey thought so, and declared that it was a sheer impossibility to maintain the status quo. The Kaffirs lived beyond the Kei, and the Zulus beyond the Tugela. He had long cherished a scheme for the settlement of the former district by Europeans, and affirmed that it could be done with the consent of the natives, and for their good. This would have followed as a matter of course had his policy of Federation been accepted. But the Imperial authorities had willed otherwise, and so he advocated the extension of the Kei boundary on grounds of humanity. The natives and the Europeans, he said, were bound to mingle for good or ill; and it was England's duty as the more civilized power to see that it was done for their mutual good. He did not deny that his plans would lead to the extension of Empire; he simply argued that extension was unavoidable, beneficial, and could be carried out with the consent of the native chiefs. But the Duke was obdurate. Imperial ministers were ready, he said, to act in accordance with views of "comprehensive and vigilant humanity" within the Empire; but "if beyond that limit the natives choose to slaughter each other, and Boers or other Europeans choose to assist them, it is not our part to have any recourse to any active interference, nor could we do so with any good result."

But however the Duke and his predecessors might argue, the logic of fact turned out very speedily to be on the page 190side of the High Commissioner. In December of that same year the Duke wrote a dispatch to Sir George Grey's successor, pointing out that the time had come to include the country between the Kei River and the Bashee in British Kaffraria, and to annex the land ceded by Faku in 1850 to Natal! He went further. The time had not yet come to impose even the crudest form of government upon Panda, king of the Zulus; but a British resident might be sent to advise, and if possible direct him!

So true is it that during his administration of South Africa the High Commissioner knew his own mind much better than the Imperial authorities knew theirs.

The duties of the High Commissioner were so absorbing that little need be said of the Governor of Cape Colony, whose powers were limited by the existence of representative though not responsible government. The constitution of Cape Colony was anomalous in character, yet the most cordial relations subsisted between the Representative of the Crown and those who administered the affairs of the local government. This was probably due in some measure to the fact that there was so much scope for the exercise of his initiative elsewhere, but in view of later developments it is worthy of notice.

With the people of Cape Colony Grey was exceedingly popular, and they showed their appreciation of his services in a way that leaves no doubt of the estimation in which he was held. In the Botanical Gardens at Capetown, directly opposite the entrance of the South African Library, stands the statue of Sir George Grey which was erected during his lifetime. It is not a work of great artistic merit, but it page 191bears testimony to the genuine appreciation of a grateful people, who described him as "a governor who by his high character as a Christian, a statesman, and a gentleman, had endeared himself to all classes of the community, and who by his zealous devotion to the best interests of South Africa, and his able and just administration, has secured the approbation and gratitude of all Her Majesty's subjects in this part of her dominions."