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Sir George Grey Pioneer of Empire in Southern Lands

Second Administration of New Zealand — (Continued) — 1861-1868. ætat 49-55 — Chapter XVI — The Governor's Insubordination

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Second Administration of New Zealand
1861-1868. ætat 49-55
Chapter XVI
The Governor's Insubordination

Sir George Grey's high-handed acts of disobedience—Instructions for the removal of troops not complied with—Unauthorized drafts on Imperial funds continued—Embarrassment of Imperial ministers—Charges against the Governor and his ministers made by Colonel H. E. Weare—Grey commanded to institute a serious inquiry—He "absolutely and solemnly" declined to do so, and "reprimanded" his superior officer—End of Sir George Grey's career as an Imperial officer—Observations on the extraordinary difficulties of the Governor's position—Vacillation of the Colonial Parliament—Justification of Imperial ministers.

Whatever impression Grey had made on the colonists by his capture of Wereroa the Imperial authorities were not dazzled or even favourably impressed by it. General Cameron had complained that the Governor's conduct was subversive of all discipline in the army, and Mr. Cardwell promised to address him later "on the propriety of assuming so large a share in the personal direction of the military operations in the presence of the regular forces and of their officers." The matter was brought under investigation, when Grey asked that there should be full inquiry into the reproof administered by the Lieutenant-General to Colonel Weare for holding communication directly with the Governor. His Royal Highness the Commander-in-page 226Chief of the forces in England gave judgment that "the view taken by Sir Duncan Cameron was correct."

From the time of his quarrel with the Lieutenant-General, Grey began to lose control over himself, and to incur the displeasure of the Imperial ministers. The strain of opposition had already begun to tell on his temper and his spirits, and a feeling of personal bitterness impaired his better judgment. This must have been apparent to the Colonial Secretary, for it may easily be detected in the Governor's dispatches. General Chute succeeded Sir Duncan Cameron, and shortly after his arrival achieved a series of successes on the Western Coast. He was described by the Governor as a great general, "whether in ability in conceiving plans, in energy in carrying them out, or in that power of command which inspired those under him with an energy and determination equal to his own." Then with a side thrust which does him no credit, he added that General Chute's success was "without precedent in New Zealand."

But, if his eulogy was inspired by a lingering desire to discredit Sir Duncan, Nemesis followed swiftly. The military head-quarters were at Auckland, and Grey wanted them to be fixed at Wellington, which was the seat of government. Against this General Chute protested, and his reason becomes apparent after perusing his dispatches to the Secretary of State for War. "I need not invite attention," he wrote, "to its being against all the dictates of common sense, military precedence, and prudence that two forces acting under different heads should at the same time undertake the same services acting in the same locality." The Governor took a high tone: "I shall now require page 227him," he informed the Colonial Secretary, "to reside at the seat of government until further orders are received from home unless he is in the field, and at all risks I shall enforce this determination." But he failed. General Chute held steadily on his course in defiance of the Governor, and when orders did arrive from home they practically, though indirectly, relieved the Governor of command over the Imperial troops, and placed them under the "undivided control" of the General. Grey was not deprived of his title, but the soldiers were to be treated as though they were en voyage and had temporarily disembarked at Wellington. It was a severe stroke, and Grey was stung to the quick; but matters had reached such a pass that no other course was possible if the orders of the Imperial Government were to be obeyed.

As early as December 1864 the Imperial Government had resolved to effect a considerable reduction in the number of troops in New Zealand, and in the early part of 1865 Sir Duncan Cameron was instructed to embark five regiments without delay. This he proceeded to do, but the Governor formally protested as Her Majesty's representative "on the ground of public danger." The General had no alternative but to suspend operations, and inform His Excellency that the sole responsibility for their detention rested with him. Shortly afterwards Sir Duncan left the Colony and General Chute arrived under similar instructions. But he too was unable to put them into effect.

In the first quarter of 1866 he begged most urgently to be allowed to concentrate the troops in the larger towns such as Wanganui, New Plymouth, and Auckland, and also, if the page 228Governor desired it, at Wellington and Napier. This, he declared, was absolutely necessary, as no provision had been made by the Imperial Government for transport. Grey replied that as the troops would be useless to the Colony if withdrawn from outposts, he agreed with his responsible advisers in not acquiescing at the present moment. When the Imperial Government became aware of this toward the close of 1866 they issued instructions to General Chute to remove the troops on his own authority, and the Governor was commanded to see "that the General received every facility that your government can afford him in giving effect to his instructions." One concession was made: the Governor and his ministers might retain one regiment on condition that £50,000 per annum should be voted for native purposes. Grey complained bitterly of the disgrace to which he had been subjected, but without just cause. As early as February 1865 instructions for the removal of five regiments had reached New Zealand; at the close of 1866 those instructions had not been carried into effect!

Nor was this the only difficulty. At the beginning of the war the Colonial government paid for Imperial troops at the rate of £5 per head. The Secretary of State for War prepared his estimates for 1865 on the understanding that only a small portion of the force would be retained in New Zealand, and that the Colonial government would pay for that at the rate of £40 per head. But Grey continued to make drafts on the military chest, and in the beginning of 1866 Mr. Cardwell complained that he was doing at the Antipodes what no one has any authority to do at home or abroad—drawing money out of the public page 229treasury without the sanction of Parliament and after the fullest instructions to the contrary. This was not the first remonstrance, nor was it destined to be the last. As late as April 1867 the Colonial Secretary received a letter from Commissary-General Strickland affirming that the expenditure of Imperial money for Colonial purposes was still going on, and no monthly repayments were made; that a portion of the troops was still engaged in aggressive warfare; and that it was impossible to see an end to the present state of things! Earl Carnarvon was then in office, and an incident had occurred which brought matters to a crisis and enabled the Colonial Secretary to strike a blow that no doubt had been long impending.

Colonel H. E. Weare, who was serving under General Chute at Patea, wrote a private letter to his brother in England denouncing the Governor, General Chute, and Colonial ministers generally for their cruel conduct toward the natives. Some were shot in cold blood in order to avoid the expense of maintaining prisoners, others were roasted alive, and in one case, after a Maori's ears had been cut off, they were returned to him dried, and he was instructed to wear them on his watch-chain! "Since the leaving of Sir Duncan," wrote the Colonel, "the true sentiments of the Governor and his government have come out toward the Maoris in their urging General Chute on to all these atrocities of killing and no prisoners." This letter was forwarded to the Secretary of State for War, and finally reached Mr. Cardwell, who decided to call for an inquiry.

Whether Mr. Cardwell was or was not justified in page 230asking for a serious investigation into such charges cannot be determined without some consideration of the rumours in England concerning the conduct of the war and the treatment of the Maoris; for if the British people were hypercritical, public opinion was nevertheless a force to be reckoned with by ministers. And it is important to notice that, notwithstanding the friction caused by the detention of troops, the dispatch calling for an inquiry into these charges was written in no unfriendly spirit. "I cannot for a moment suppose," wrote Mr. Cardwell, "that such imputations either upon General Chute or upon your government can be made without meeting such a complete reply as will show Colonel Weare's statement to have been altogether founded in error; but on the other hand I am not warranted in considering that they are made in bad faith, and must regard them therefore as calling for immediate and most serious inquiry."

This is the language of reason and conciliation. But Grey was in no conciliatory mood. He declined to treat Mr. Cardwell's dispatch as confidential, and after having laid it before his ministers entered a minute on the proceedings of the Executive Council denying every charge "absolutely and solemnly," and concluding with a sentence of uncompromising defiance. A copy of this minute was transmitted to the Colonial Secretary, and also a covering letter in which the Queen's representative in the Colony informed the minister from whom he received the Queen's commands that "with all due respect for your office, I must maintain my own, and I decline to answer or in any way notice the charges against myself."

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Grey's indignation had been aroused not merely by the nature of the charges, but also by what he considered a violation of the rules of the Civil Service which required that charges made against the Governor by any one within the Colony should be transmitted through him. On this ground also he had objected to the charges made by Sir Duncan Cameron to the War Office, and had seized the opportunity to administer a rebuke to the Secretary of State for War, classifying him with Sir Duncan as a "wrongdoer." By this time he had come to the conclusion that a conspiracy was afoot to discredit him by means of indirect correspondence with the Imperial authorities, and he boldly "reprimanded" his superior officer for receiving complaints against his government that had not been transmitted through him. Grey's conduct throughout the correspondence on Colonel Weare's charges was not only defiant, but disrespectful.

It is not unnatural that he should have been pained by instructions to conduct an inquiry into charges that were so utterly at variance with his life-long solicitude for the welfare of the natives. But there was a better way of maintaining his dignity than the one he chose to follow. He knew that the charges were utterly and entirely false. Had he obeyed instructions and conducted the inquiry in a calm, dispassionate spirit the result would not only have been to discredit and humiliate his opponents, but to allay anxiety in the minds of the British people.

In point of fact there was investigation. Colonel Weare was called upon by the Secretary of State for War to "substantiate or withdraw," and he replied by expressing his page 232deep regret that at a moment of great excitement he should have in a family letter connected His Excellency's name, that of his government, and Dr. Featherstone with the utterance of thoughts that came hurriedly into his mind, and which he should not on more calm deliberation have felt himself justified in making or entertaining. Such a confession only served to strengthen the Governor's hands. That Grey gave way to temper and did not embrace the means for eliciting such a confession by regular procedure, only proves that self-control had been relaxed to a dangerous extent, and that the long conflict had given rise to suspicions which demoralized him and made effective government from England impossible so long as he remained in that attitude of mind.

Earl Carnarvon, who had succeeded Mr. Cardwell, recognized this; and in a temperate and cautiously worded dispatch reviewed the situation in a manner that the Governor was not likely to misunderstand. "I will add no more now," he concluded; "I hope that a cooler consideration of this painful question will have convinced you of the impropriety of the language which you have used, and will lead you to take what appears to me to be the course which is due not less to yourself than to others, viz. that of recalling both your minute and your dispatch of the 30th. In this hope I now refrain from considering what would be the duty of Her Majesty's Government should you unfortunately come to a different conclusion." Grey fully understood the import of these words; but refrained from acting on their suggestion. Shortly afterwards the Duke of Buckingham and Chandos announced his successor; and page 233quite characteristically Grey insisted on designating as a recall what was simply an intimation of the expiration of his term of office. He was never again employed by the Imperial authorities. Loud and fierce have been the denunciations of Downing Street for this, and Mr. Froude has shouted with the crowd: "South Africa is moving again," he wrote to Grey in 1889; "you might set all straight, but the Office, 1 suppose, would as soon invite the help of the King of Darkness." Without denying that Grey could have done much to avert impending disasters in that unfortunate country, it is still possible to believe that Downing Street was amply justified in paying high tribute to his services in 1867, and—finally dispensing with his services. But while admitting this, it is only fair to draw attention to the extraordinary difficulties of the position in which he was placed. Self-government had been granted to New Zealand in 1853, but the conduct of native affairs was reserved for the Crown's representative. It was on Grey's own recommendation that Colonial ministers were admitted to a greater share in this department of the administration. But the dual government was a failure, and, as early as 1863, he complained that while struggling to maintain peace he had "never been able to act in native affairs with that vigour and promptitude which he believed to be essential to a successful conduct of affairs." Nor is it quite fair to urge that being ultimately responsible he could act independently of his ministers. Such a statement is technically right but practically wrong, for the pressure of ministerial opinion was ever with him, and he was obliged to reckon with it, or violate the spirit of constitutional government.

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Sir George Grey arrived in New Zealand at a time when the limits of Imperial and Colonial authority had yet to be defined. The old order was changing, yielding place to the new, and the transition was marked as usual by many a painful struggle. In the Memorandum Book Grey has recorded that "his health and spirits were impaired by the ungenerous and unbecoming treatment which he conceives he has received from ministers at a time when he had such great and serious difficulties to meet." There were no doubt two sides to this, and a greater man would have been less sensitive to personal injury. But he also suffered severely from the vacillation of the Colonial Parliament. Mr. Fox, in his book on the war, complains bitterly of the lack of generosity shown by the Imperial authorities; but this must be added to the great number of unreliable criticisms to which that author commits himself. In the beginning of the war England displayed a generosity that admits of no question whatever, and Imperial authorities only began to restrain themselves when they found "no sufficient sense of the duty of the colonists to protect themselves, or to submit to necessary sacrifices when their lives and property were at stake." This criticism was justified by facts. The troops for which the colonists were paying only £5 a head were costing the British Government half-a-million a year, and so much were the Colonial authorities disposed to rely upon Imperial blood and treasure that, while hostilities were impending in 1862, the training of the militia by local ordinance was dispensed with! No doubt the colonists realized a fuller sense of their responsibilities before the end of the war, but that was only after Imperial ministers had page 235taken a decided stand against the "want of energy" which they had displayed.

It was natural that Mr. Fox should make the most of the burdens borne by the colonists, but his condemnation of the Imperial authorities finds no justification in fact. Much more to the point was the opinion expressed by the Duke of Newcastle in a private letter to Sir George Grey. "What the colonists are aiming at," he said, "is this—that they through their responsible government shall in fact administer affairs, leaving with the Home Government such a shadow of responsibility as shall support a claim to have the wars which their policy has caused carried on at Imperial expense." There may be some exaggeration in attributing to their policy the cause of the war; but it is only necessary to refer to the conduct of Parliament on two important questions to realize not only the substantial justice of the Duke's observation, but also the difficulties in which the Governor was involved by reason of the vacillating policy of the Colonial government.

In 1861 Colonial ministers transmitted a dispatch to the Imperial authorities contending that the Native Secretary department, free as it was from all control on the part of responsible ministers, was a very serious evil. The recommendation which the Governor sent immediately after his arrival has already been explained; but the Colonial Secretary reserved his decision until he should be in receipt of more definite information concerning the views of Colonial ministers on the question of the amount of financial responsibility that should accompany control. Thereupon the Colonial Parliament suddenly became aware that the page 236alteration in the administration of native affairs was being made merely "at the Governor's request," and announced that after mature consideration they desired "to be free of responsibility! "But the Duke was not to be trifled with, and he insisted that they should assume a measure of the responsibility for which they clamoured in 1861, and a corresponding but by no means excessive share of the burdens too. In the same dispatch he congratulated himself that New Zealand had a Governor whose personality was forceful enough to overcome the difficulties and perplexities that presented themselves under such a condition of affairs. Even more embarrassing was the vacillation of the Colonial government concerning the adoption of the self-reliant policy during the administration of the Duke of Newcastle's successor, Mr. Cardwell. After 1864 it became apparent that the only way to end the war was by following the Maoris into the interior. For such work Sir Duncan Cameron was not disposed to use his troops, and so the Colonial ministry arrived at the conclusion that the Imperial troops, gallant as they might be, were rendered useless by a policy of inaction. They decided, therefore, to rely upon their own soldiers and the friendly Maoris for the prosecution of the war; and after his speech at the opening of Parliament in August 1865 the Governor was thanked by both Houses for promising to issue orders at once for the return of five regiments to England. Mr. Cardwell was unable to understand why the Governor thought it necessary to object to the removal of troops when Sir Duncan Cameron had thought it safe and feasible, and, so far as appeared, Colonial ministers were anxious to get rid of page 237them. It was not long, however, before he learnt that the Weld Ministry was turned out of office because the Colonial Parliament decided not to accept the responsibility of his self-reliant policy.

There is no doubt that immediately after the capture of Wereroa Pah Grey had been in favour of the policy of Mr. Weld, and even went so far as to correct a passage in one of Mr. Cardwell's dispatches stating that it was he and not his ministers who had expressed the conviction that "nothing is more to be desired than that the Colony should rely as much as possible on its own resources, energy, and courage." Whether he really altered his opinion, or simply made up his mind to throw in his lot with the Colonial government in the hope of squeezing as much as possible out of the Imperial Government, cannot be determined. But in any case he had the best of reasons for believing that in abandoning the self-reliant policy he was placing himself in direct antagonism to the wishes of the Imperial Government. "It is clearly to be understood," wrote Mr. Cardwell at the end of 1865, "that no change in the New Zealand ministry will alter the views of the Imperial Government in respect of the policy embodied in the Resolutions of the General Assembly in December 1864." There can be no doubt that in taking this stand the Imperial authorities were fully justified, for instances are not wanting to prove that the colonists were all too readily inclined to impose on England's generosity.

In 1849 there was an earthquake in Wellington which destroyed £50,000 of property, and the inhabitants sent a petition through Earl Grey praying that the British Parliament might make good their losses. Before the institution of page 238Responsible Government in 1853 all military expenses in New Zealand were defrayed by drafts on the Imperial Exchequer; during the next four years the administration of native affairs cost England £434,360, andin 1862 there were 5,500 Imperial troops in New Zealand, involving an expenditure of £35,000 per year. On the renewal of the war in 1863 the forces were raised to 10,000 and the burden of the British taxpayer increased proportionally. On their part the colonists were expected to contribute £5 a head for Imperial troops, and to bear the expense of maintaining the local militia. They did not contribute a penny to the Imperial treasury directly; they were not obliged to carry their goods to English markets; nor were they compelled to give any preference to English manufactures. All the advantages derived from trade and immigration were mutual.

Yet the colonists complained loudly of the burdens imposed upon them, and in the interval during the suspension of hostilities withdrew the local ordinance for the training of the militia!

Realizing that the time had come to emphasize the duties of self-government, the Duke of Newcastle wrote a dispatch expressing in the clearest language his view of the situation and the decision of Her Majesty's Government respecting Imperial and Colonial responsibility. Angry protests were made by the Colonial Parliament and the cry of "ruin" was raised; but the Colonial Secretary was firm, and his successor, Mr. Cardwell, declined to yield. There were not more than 2,000 rebels in the field, and there were 2,500 military settlers armed and organized in New Zealand. That was a force sufficient for defensive purposes, and henceforth page 239no Imperial troops were to be used for aggressive purposes, and those who were retained in the Colony were to be paid for at the rate of £40 a head.

It was absolutely essential for the colonists to make greater sacrifices henceforth; and they did; for at the end of Sir George Grey's administration the debt of the Colony amounted to £6 5s. od. per head of the population. But they were far from "ruin," as a comparison of figures for 1858 and 1867 may serve to show:—

Year. 1858 1867.
European population … … … 59,413 218,637
Number of acres of land fenced in 235,561 3,455,538
Number of sheep in the Colony … 1,500,000 8,500,000
Other live stock … … … … 1,000,000 8,000,000

Situated as he was between the Imperial and Colonial ministers—bound to carry out the instructions of the former, and consult the advice of the latter—the Governor occupied a most unenviable position. The colonists were jealous of the rights of self-government, but they were unable or unwilling to bear those burdens which are rightly associated with the acquisition of political freedom. The opportunity came for the full attainment of constitutional government by the adoption of the self-reliant policy in 1865; but the Colonial Parliament wavered, and drew back. In strict justice Grey should have stood by the Imperial authorities, and forced the colonists either to rise to the emergency or acknowledge their insufficiency. He chose instead to ally himself with the Colonial ministry, defy instructions from home, and render the Queen's Government ineffective in page 240New Zealand. In so far as this was due to personal pique or unworthy suspicion he was very much to blame; but for the rest—let him throw the first stone who has held the balance more fairly under circumstances of corresponding difficulty throughout so long a period of transition and of storm.