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Sir George Grey Pioneer of Empire in Southern Lands

Chapter XVIII — The Evening of His Days — 1894-1898. ætat 82-86

page 255

Chapter XVIII
The Evening of His Days
1894-1898. ætat 82-86

Sir George Grey's unexpected visit to England in 1894—Expression of his views on Imperial and Political questions—His attachment to the Federal System of government— His lasting belief in education, and the possibilities of human nature—Avowal of his life-long determination "to keep the Old World out of the New"—His dislike of the armed camps and dynastic quarrels of Europe—His arguments in favour of Imperial Federation—Dream of an Anglo-Saxon unity—Tranquil, happy close of a stormy career— Burial in St. Paul's.

One bright morning in 1894, when the weight of years had bent his erect figure, the old man of eighty-two announced to his friends at St. Stephen's Avenue, Auckland, that he intended to take a trip across the island for the benefit of his health, and that he desired to go alone! This was somewhat disconcerting. Much more so was the telegram from Wellington a few days later stating that he had booked his passage in a New Zealand liner, and intended to proceed to England. The news was flashed across the world, and on his arrival at Plymouth there were many friends and admirers waiting to do honour to the Grand Old Man of the Southern Hemisphere. Fifty-seven years before, only a few days after the accession of Queen Victoria, he had left that port on his Imperial mission to the South. For more than half-a-century he had been engaged in Empire-building, and throughout that time had retained the good-will of his Sovereign, even when the breach between him and Her Majesty's ministers had become absolute. Her Majesty was still presiding over the destinies of a page 256people enthusiastically loyal, and the Great White Queen had not forgotten the loyalty inspired by her Proconsul among the dark races in the distant lands of her dominions.

The atmosphere of political England was much more congenial than Grey had found it hitherto. Since 1868 the Colonial Office had left him severely alone, and though he earnestly desired it, and had even asked for it, no position had been offered him. He was too old for office now or the past might have been forgotten, for the Imperial mind of England had changed greatly since the administration of the Earl of Beaconsfield. In the seventies there had been much talk of casting off the Colonies. In the nineties, under the direction of Mr. Chamberlain and the Earl of Rosebery, men of both parties were beginning to realize that the great problem of the twentieth century would be the unity of the British Empire. And who better qualified to express an opinion upon that than the man who had spent the best years of his life in laying the foundations of Empire in Australia, South Africa, and New Zealand?

Sir George had returned to England intending only to pay a visit and go back to New Zealand. Rewi, the great fighting Chief of Maniapoto, had asked that their bones might be laid in the same grave, and there was good reason why Sir George Grey should be laid to rest in the land where he had been twice a governor and once a premier. But it was not to be. He had reached the age when life's meaning becomes clear by reflection on the past. Strong forces had been working in and through him; and the time had come when, lifted above the strife, he could pause and ask whither these forces had been tending. Work there page break
Rewi ManiapotoFrom a Portrait in possession of the Hon. Seymour Thorne-George, Auckland

Rewi ManiapotoFrom a Portrait in possession of the Hon. Seymour Thorne-George, Auckland

page 257was yet to do; but the evening was closing in, and while the light remained he set himself to examine in the retrospect how the Master had been working; so that he might give "hints of the proper craft" in the building of nations and the consolidation of the British Empire.

And England wished to know. Her statesmen honoured him, and reporters waited upon him to place before the world such thoughts as might be helpful in the solution of the great problem of Imperial Federation with which they were confronted.

Sir George Grey was profoundly interested in Federation, and it will be clear at this stage that he preferred that form of government to any other. "In local decentralization," he said, "coupled with general centralization, there is the secret of future stability and vitality." Political antagonists in New Zealand could not understand how a man of autocratic temper could be the champion of liberal institutions. Here is the explanation. He was convinced beyond all doubt that every Colony should be allowed to contrive for itself. Therein lay the mainspring of its vitality. He realized this before he left Ireland, and notwithstanding his autocratic temper he worked honestly and assiduously toward self-government in every Colony whose affairs he administered. For this reason, too, he preferred the Federal to the British form of government, "Decentralization," he declared, "was the essence of Federation."

And decentralization was essential to the maintenance and development of the British Empire. The war of American Independence had proved once for all that British colonists would rather sacrifice their lives than surrender the right topage 258govern themselves. That fact was indisputable, and the stability of Empire depended upon its recognition. The Empires of the ancient world and the Empires of Spain and France made unity impossible by enforcing uniformity. They gave too little opportunity for the exercise of initiative, by transferring a system of government from the Old World to the distant parts of their dominions, without making due allowance for the difference of circumstances and the will of the colonists. That was one cause of their comparative failure, and the lesson to be derived was—whatever form the Council of the British Empire might assume it must be superimposed on Democratic foundations. Under any other system stability and activity were alike impossible.

For education was indispensable to the maintenance of vitality, and in Grey's opinion "the highest education in earthly matters that can be given to man is that education which trains him to consider his duties, position, and rights as a citizen of a corporate community." Without self-government such an education was impossible; and in England as in New Zealand he stoutly maintained that every office in the country, including that of Governor or Governor-General, should be open to its citizens as a reward for merit. He had found men of the poorer classes in the Colonies discharging duties which were performed only by the middle and upper classes in England; and because they discharged them so efficiently, he saw no adequate reason why they should not be entrusted with higher, and even the highest, responsibilities.

Grey's faith in the possibilities of human nature was unbounded. Granted the opportunities, individuals would page 259rise to them; and in unlimited opportunity he saw a safeguard against apathy, decline, and national impoverishment. "Every separate state, having complete Home Rule, would contain its own vital life within itself, would offer the highest opportunities to the labour of its citizens."

But there was another reason why Sir George Grey insisted on the rights of the colonists to contrive for themselves.

The conditions of the New World were vastly different from those of Europe, and he would have them remain so. He had little respect for the dynastic quarrels and obsolete policies of European countries, and he regarded their armed camps with suspicion and dread. The Old World could not break with its past, but the New World was not to be a dumping ground for the unfortunate traditions of Europe. For this reason he strove to keep the Germans and the French out of the Pacific in order that there might be no rival to British authority, and no excuse for reviving European jealousies and feuds.

It may be contended that Sir George Grey was only able to keep the Old World out of the New because Britain was armed to the teeth. Nevertheless there was much wisdom in his contention, and his policy has not been without effect. Nothing impresses the Australian, on his first visit to England, more than the change of political atmosphere. In the Colonies he has been concerned with the development of his own country, and his interests are centred in domestic legislation. The necessity for maintaining peace by being-prepared for war startles him. The "bellum omnium contra omnes" is a theory with which the study of the page 260Leviathan in academic institutions has made him familiar; but in practical politics it has hardly ever been a serious consideration. It requires some time before he is able to adjust himself mentally to a condition of affairs in which neighbouring nations are really preparing to blow each other to the moon in case of a conflict that is always imminent. It would appear that this, too, is the experience of the American citizen on his arrival in Europe.1

Sir George Grey had been trained to war, but he hated it; and no man felt more keenly than he the pain and the shame involved in the destruction of human life. In North-West Australia he had been obliged to shoot an aboriginal in self-defence, and he suffered mental agony for weeks afterwards. His passion for the amelioration of human suffering was so strong that he turned with loathing from the "armed camps," and the horrors of war which are associated with them. If only the Old World could be kept out of the New, then there might arise nations in the Southern Hemisphere without any traditions of war, and for whom the horrors of war might not be mitigated by any predisposition to regard it as a necessary evil. But if the entanglements of the Old World were to be kept out of the New, the colonists must be allowed to work out their own destiny, and evolve a national consciousness of their own. The result would be gain for civilization: the more speedy triumph of Christianity; and the closer approximation to the brotherhood of man.

There is, perhaps, no part of Sir George Grey's work

1 See an article by Mr. Andrew Carnegie on "The Cry of 'Wolf'!" in the Nineteenth Century for August 1906.

page 261which is more profoundly significant or more debatable than this. It may be true in Europe that the best way to preserve peace is to be prepared for war. But America and Australia are new qountries far removed from the Old World, and their governments are inclined to act as though something could be done for the world's peace by directing the national mind to problems other than war. Arguments in favour of the necessity for being prepared for war, once accepted, become the very means by which war is perpetuated. People who breathe the atmosphere of war develop a warlike spirit. Sir George Grey believed that, by keeping out many of the Old World traditions, nations would rise in the Southern Hemisphere for whom war was something afar off and forgotten. But to attain this they must be emancipated to a considerable extent from the control of those whose policies were shaped by European traditions.

But he did not carry this doctrine so far as to deny responsibility in any of the Colonies for the safety of the Empire; and while he contended so forcefully that the Colonies should manage their own affairs, he admitted that there were Imperial interests to be maintained, and Imperial problems that could only be solved by their co-operation with the Mother-country. He advocated local decentralization not only because vitality must be maintained and the war traditions of Europe forgotten, but also because it was a step—a necessary step—toward the realization of Imperial Federation. Throughout his colonial administrations he had realized that friction was caused by the interference of the Home Government in minor matters which British ministers did not understand. Guided by the experience of the page 262American people, Sir George Grey realized that if Home Rule were granted this difficulty would be removed. National affairs would be administered by a national government; but there would still be left over certain matters of general interest for the consideration of an Imperial Council.

And here lies the principle of the scheme which he advocated for the unity of Empire.

In 1859 he had been recalled from South Africa because he had encouraged federation. British ministers were afraid that this might lead to separation; and while they were opposed to any extension of the Empire, they were determined to maintain its integrity. Sir George Grey knew that their fears were unfounded, and future developments have proved that he was right. Canada did not cease to be loyal when the States were united under a federal constitution; nor is there any Colony in which the sentiment of Empire is stronger to-day. As with Canada, so has it been with Australia. Before the end of the nineteenth century British ministers were in favour of the Federation of the Australian States, and the sentiment of Empire is growing stronger as the sense of nationality deepens. The Federation of South Africa is now desired by those who are striving for Imperial unity. This in itself is a very high tribute to the prescience of Sir George Grey, and it shows how unerring was the imperial instinct by which he was guided. But the review of his arguments on the subject of Imperial Federation is not yet complete. He declared that before Imperial Federation was possible, the British Constitution itself must be federalized. Federal governments distinguished page 263between general and local affairs, the British Constitution did not. British ministers were empowered to make treaties with Foreign States, and they passed laws protecting the birds' nests in Farne Islands! They had far too much work to do, and some measure of relief was absolutely necessary. This could be attained by the adoption of a Federal Constitution, which entrusted the management of local affairs to local governments. Grey therefore argued that Home Rule should be granted to Ireland,1 Scotland, and Wales; and that England itself should be divided into provinces each with its own local legislatures. Such a change would no doubt affect the position of England in relation to the other parts of the Empire. England would become one of many nations, and not necessarily the head and centre of an Imperial administration. This, however, was deemed a necessary corollary of his fundamental contention that Imperial government must be superimposed on democratic foundations. The ideal was neither Imperium nor Libertas; but Imperium et Libertas, with the emphasis on Libertas.

As to the constitution and scope of the Imperial Parliament, Sir George Grey did not express himself very fully. It might consist of one or two Houses. On that point he would not speak dogmatically, though he preferred one; but it must be composed of representatives from every part of the Empire, and each State, Commonwealth, or dependency must be permitted to appoint its representatives

1 It would appear that this idea is gaining ground: Sir Wilfrid Laurier is reported to have said at a meeting in Ottawa, October 1906, that Home Rule for Ireland was a step on the way to Imperial unity.

page 264in any way it pleased. The administration of the army, the navy, and the customs would come within the scope of that Parliament; and he saw no insuperable barrier in the fact that England was free trade while the Colonies were in favour of protection.

But in these last years Sir George Grey was dreaming of a wider unity than that of the British Empire. He had noted with interest that the disputes about the Canadian Boundary and the Behring Sea Seal Fisheries had been settled by arbitration; and on this he based his faith in the realization of some form of Anglo-Saxon unity. He was not so sanguine as to believe that we are within measurable distance of any comprehensive and definite scheme; but he was of the opinion that an Anglo-American Council might come quietly into operation when there was need of it, and disappear, for the time, when the immediate difficulty was overcome. That at least would be one step in the direction of Anglo-Saxon unity. Such a unity would, he believed, be a guarantee for the peace of the world; for it would enable the British and American peoples to hold the balance of power, by which the arbitrament of reason might be substituted for the arbitrament of the sword in the settlement of national disputes.

It would do more. Sir George Grey was a man of literary tastes, and he was dominated by religious feeling. The federation of English-speaking peoples would mean the triumph of Christianity, which was the highest moral system known to man, and it would imply the dominance of the Anglo-Saxon language, which he regarded as the richest in the world. Then "given a universal code of morals, and a page 265universal tongue, and how far would the step be to that last great federation, the brotherhood of man, which Tennyson and Burns have sung to us." Here, truly, is the spirit of the man who in the tranquil hours of reflection in the bungalow at St. Stephen's Avenue, Auckland, wrote on a half-sheet of note paper—

"How hard it is to long, to yearn,
And yet to fail to reach your end."

Sir George Grey was ever a dreamer, and never more so than in the evening of his days. When he expounded his views before the members of the Liberal Club and the reporters of daily papers and magazines in London, he made but little allowance for the frailties of human nature; he overlooked the distinctions of race and interests; and he repudiated the influence of passion and patriotism. This is true of his dream, as it is of many dreams; and to some extent he was aware of it. "My eyes may not see the fulfilment of my dream," he wrote in the Humanitarian, "but, nevertheless, it will be fulfilled." Home Rule was the basis of all his political schemes, but only the basis. He believed that the day of small kingdoms and states with their petty and parochial jealousies was past, and that the future belonged to the great empires of the earth. Among these great empires he saw the one which he had helped to build towering far above the rest. He had unbounded faith in the possibilities of the Anglo-Saxon race, not only because of their capacity for colonization which had been amply proved in history; but also because their government represented the highest form of freedom and civilization which had yet been attained within the memory of man.

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These possibilities could only be realized in and through unity, and it was by Federation, and Federation alone, that the great nations forming the constituent parts of that Empire could be welded into one mighty whole.

The last four years spent by Sir George Grey in England were probably the happiest of his life. He had been made a member of the Privy Council in 1894, and shortly after his return to England he was reconciled to his wife. The heart of political England opened to him, and his chivalrous manner attracted numberless friends and admirers who loved to hear the tales of adventure in distant lands from the lips of the Great Proconsul. Storm clouds had burst over him in the noonday of his career, and in the darkness he had wandered from the track; but toward evening he had found his way home again. The air was calm, the clouds lifted, and the sun went down through a belt of clear sky, leaving an after-glow warm, tender, and bright.

At half-past ten on the night of Monday, September 18, 1898, Sir George Grey passed quietly away. Seven days later his mortal-remains were borne toward the Metropolitan Cathedral of the Empire. Technically speaking, his was neither a state nor a public funeral; but the procession included representatives of Her Majesty the Queen, the Colonial Office, and the City of London; and thousands of people watched it from the wayside. The coffin, as it lay in St. Paul's, was surrounded by many beautiful wreaths. One of them, composed of white orchids, was sent by Mr. Chamberlain as "a mark of sincere respect and esteem"; others bearing the inscriptions, "Friend to the people," and "Leader of the people," were conspicuous. It was fitting page 267that those who knew should pay such appropriate tributes of respect to the great Radical imperialist of the Southern Hemisphere.

But the last tribute was the greatest of all. At the conclusion of the service the coffin was lowered into the crypt, and placed beside the remains of Sir Bartle Frere, not far from the dust of Nelson and the Duke of Wellington.