Sir George Grey Pioneer of Empire in Southern Lands
Chapter XIX — Character of Sir George Grey
Character of Sir George Grey
Sir George Grey essentially a missionary—His passion for humanity, and life-long devotion to an ideal—Analysis of his resourceful and complex nature—Sense of beauty and religious convictions—Belief in an over-ruling Providence and the immortality of the soul—Bravery and foresight—His outward appearance no real index to the greatness of his soul—Strength and intensity of his feelings—Overwhelming sympathy for the simple-hearted and the poor—Courtly and chivalrous manner toward all who were not in a position to thwart his will—Impatience of opposition the tragic fault in Sir George Grey's nature—His morbid sensitiveness to criticism and proneness to suspicion—Incessant quarrels with officers associated with him in power—Necessity for discriminating clearly between his temperament and convictions—Turning point in the history of Sir George Grey's career—Severe blows, public and private, in 1860—Permanent value of his work in South Africa and Australasia—His Carlylean hatred of shams, splendid reliance on inward resource, and fidelity to the great purpose of a lifetime—Sir George Grey belongs not to a party, but to humanity—In the Australasian democracies he is mighty still.
When Sir George Grey was about to vacate the office of Prime Minister in New Zealand, he told the members of the House of Representatives in the course of an eloquent speech that "what we have in this world is like so much stage property lent to us to play our parts with—lent to us to see what good we do with that entrusted to us." There were times during his parliamentary career when he wandered far from his spiritual and ethical ideals, but in his loyalty to this conviction he never wavered. Jealous of power and eager for fame he was: he could brook no rival in the exercise of authority, and would ofttimes stand in imagination at the bar of history listening with trembling ears to the verdict of posterity. In forming an estimate of his character these are important considerations; but they are subsidiary. Sir George Grey was a missionary inspired with the belief page 269that he was sent to establish a new order of things in the Southern Hemisphere, whereby the grievances of the Old World might be redressed. To this end his life was dominated by a passion for public service, and the pronouncements that pealed most authoritatively through his being were those "of all-judging Jove."
Grey had one child, a little boy who died at the age of five months, and was buried in the cemetery at Adelaide on July 25, 1841. The silent man became even more reserved, and he suffered acutely; but he sought relief where strong natures rarely fail to find it. Among his private papers there is a stray sheet signed "G. G." at the end of a few lines containing a reflection on this painful experience. "The voice within me said—cease grieving for the child, weep not for the dead, but rather weep for those who live or are to live. Arouse thee, rise up and struggle to ease the sufferings of the countless millions of thy countrymen who are now here or are to come—to endure the miseries which foolish men have prepared for them in this life." There is no antidote for a great sorrow so efficacious as the pursuit of a generous ambition. The tears of suffering are flashed into rainbows when the steady light of idealism shines through them from the soul. Grey was an idealist of the strenuous type; his mind was cast in a heroic mould, and each stroke of pain was made the occasion for more spirited endeavour.
There are quiet natures which find content and some measure of happiness in contemplation for its own sake. Not so Grey's. The law of his being was fulfilled only when the current of his thought had been discharged in some form of activity. Inaction fretted him, enforced inaction page 270racked him, "for the mind, ever prone to prey upon itself, does so far more when you are compelled to sit down and patiently submit to misfortunes against which there are no means of resistance." So he wrote at the age of twenty-eight, and the reflection affords one explanation of his ceaseless activity and his devotion to his ideal. But while the clearer consciousness of his mission came through struggle and sorrow, it was born not of pain but of sympathy. The baptismal fire entered his soul while he was serving as a lieutenant among the peasantry in Ireland, burned fiercely within him for half-a-century, and never glowed more brightly than in the evening of his days after his return to England in 1894.
And, like a true missionary, he was prepared to sacrifice every personal possession on the altar of his ideal. There are not wanting those who would find the key to his character in an insatiable desire for power; but fact—the most telling facts—are against it. "Gladly shall I resign a power if it is only to be retained by pandering to things to which I for one will not pander." So he informed the Parliament of New Zealand in 1879; and in similar language he had addressed the Secretary of State for the Colonies twelve years before: "If those who may be temporarily placed at the head of the Colonial or War Department, misled by a system of secret correspondence which has recently sprung up, require a blind uninformed acquiescence on my part in breaches by others of the laws of the Empire … I owe no obedience in such matters, but I owe a duty to the Queen and Empire, and it is right that I should with-stand those who commit violent acts, or who support those page 271who do so, with a will as strong as their own without caring what consequences may fall upon myself." In both cases he suffered deprivation and—deservedly; for in those days self-control was so far relaxed that he failed to discriminate between strong will and obdurate self-will. But his ethical position is clear: power was a means, the end was service. The key to Sir George Grey's character is not to be found in a love of power; but rather in a passion for public service.
And this is even more manifest in consideration of his positive acts and declarations: "A governor should be at the disposal of Her Majesty's Government to serve in any place to which he might be appointed without any reference to the emoluments of the post, or the private convenience of the particular officer whom they might think it right to employ." This was no vain boast, for the Colonial Secretary took him at his word, and, in the following year, sent him from South Africa to an inferior post in New Zealand—not because of any distrust of his ability; but from a conviction that he could do more than any other man to avert the impending disaster of a Maori war.
As with office, so was it with his personal possessions. They were means to the same great end. During his lifetime he spent large sums of money in the purchase of rare and valuable books. One collection he presented to the people of Capetown, the other to the people of Auckland. At least on two occasions he drew heavily on his private resources in order that the schemes which he had inaugurated for the benefit of the natives might not be overthrown.1
1 These sums were afterwards refunded by the Imperial Authorities.
He gave liberally to all philanthropic movements, and died worth only. £5,000.
His hold on material wealth was the more easily relaxed because he had so much resource within himself, and this is a consideration of primary importance in his as in any other missionary's life. Sir George Grey's nature was unusually rich in interests of a lofty kind. He was a lover of books, and especially of old books. Early one Christmas morning he clambered up the slopes of Table Mountain, taking with him an old volume of prayers and psalms which was printed in 1490. " I wonder that so few people love old books," he mused, "and that so many ridicule me for loving them." Turning over the leaves he chanced on the passage beginning with "Quia in manu cujus sunt omnes terrae "; and as he read his heart warmed under the inspiration of the message. " Faithful old volume that has for nigh four centuries never ceased to speak divine truths. How many men have treasured thee! If thou hast comforted them, how many must have tended thee with provident care! What pious eyes having read these words of truth and comfort have wept tears of joy upon thee! How many broken and contrite hearts have sobbed in woe above thy pages! Dear old friend of mine, how I love thee!" And there were many such treasures in the libraries which he gave to the people of South Africa and New Zealand.
But Sir George Grey was a writer as well as a collector of valuable books. At the time he assumed the government of South Australia in 1841 an account of his Travels in North-West and Western Australia in two volumes was being printed; and a vocabulary of the language spoken by page 273the tribes in the vicinity of King George's Sound appeared the year before. As a result of his researches in New Zealand he published four volumes on the mythology and traditions of the Maoris, and one of them, the Polynesian Mythology and Ancient Traditional History of the New Zealand Race, has not yet been superseded as a text-book on the subject. After his assumption of the High Commissionership of South Africa he was too busy with practical affairs to write any more books; but he devoted himself assiduously to the collection of pamphlets and papers on the language and customs of the Kaffir and Hottentot races, and they constitute the most valuable asset of the South African Public Library at Capetown. In the contemplation of his Imperial and political work there is some danger that the value of Sir George Grey's literary contributions may be underestimated. Somewhat careless of grammatical construction, he was yet a clear and forceful writer, and what he gave to the world was based upon protracted and original research.
Grey was an earnest and painstaking student, and the confession of his faith may be found in the Presidential address which he delivered to the New Zealand Society in 1851. "If we measure our knowledge with that now possessed by illustrious men who adorn the scientific circles of Europe our learning may be but scant indeed. But measure their knowledge by the boundless limits of the truths of science and nature, and what do they appear to know?" He had worked enough to realize "how little can be known"; but he had also grasped another and more important truth which has inspired scholars to work in their lonely garrets page 274in every corner of the world. "We are parts of a complex scheme," he said; "our truths may be slight, but hitched on to other truths by a greater mind may be infinitely important," and all the facts we record "may serve to fill up links which were the only ones wanting to furnish the true clue to some mystery of nature, or to establish some truth which may prove of the greatest usefulness to the human race." For such a man no fact was too trivial to record, no subject too commonplace for investigation. While on the high seas between Cape Colony and Hanover Bay a floating log was hauled on board the Lynher. His active mind set to work upon it, and after careful examination he jotted down in his diary that "no portion of the globe is more thickly inhabited, or affords in proportion to its size a greater amount of animal enjoyment than did this wave-tossed isle." Men see just as much as they have the power of seeing. Grey looked out upon a world teeming with interests. But he had something, too, of the poet's appreciation of the beautiful. The solemn grandeur of nature impressed him in the stillness before a storm, and it was beautiful to watch the sailors "clustered on the rigging like bees," reefing the topsails and making the vessel snug. Coasting down the west of Australia his open boat was hurled like a cork on the storm-tossed waves, and a feeling of anxiety for his party stole over him; but "the excitement of so grand and wild a scene was highly pleasurable." On land he would watch with wondering eyes "the brilliant fireflies moving about in the dark foliage of the trees," and in the lonely regions traversed only by the explorer there was a beauty in the starlit night "which would have made any one possessed of page 275the least enthusiasm fall in love with a bush life." Grey had that inward eye which is the bliss of solitude, and the light that never was on sea or land invested his world with romantic interest and splendour.
Hardly less keen was his sense of the dramatic. Among his private papers at Auckland there is a play in his own handwriting. It may or may not have been composed by him; but he certainly had a lively sense of dramatic situation. "How beautiful! how beautiful!" he would exclaim as he contemplated the motions of an aboriginal stalking the kangaroo. When traversing a precipitous ridge on the way to the Glenelg River one of the heavily laden ponies stumbled and fell on its side. "I thought for a moment that the poor beast would have fallen down the precipice, but luckily its roll was checked in time to save this. There it lay, however, on a flat rock four or five feet wide—a precipice of 150 feet on one side of it, and the projecting rock against which it had struck on the other—whilst I sat upon its head to prevent it from moving. Its long tail streamed in the wind over the precipice; its wild and fiery eye gleamed from its shaggy mane and forelock, and ignorant of its impending danger it kicked and struggled violently whilst it appeared to hang in mid-air over the gloomy depth of this tropical ravine. Anxious as I felt for the safety of my pony, I could not be unconscious of the singular beauty of the scene during the few minutes that elapsed whilst I was repressing its struggles on a narrow ledge of rock, of which the dark brow projected threateningly above me, whilst the noise of a rushing torrent was audible far below."
Grey's accomplishments and his refined susceptibilities page 276were sources of strength; but he derived even greater support from religious convictions. The former made him to a large extent independent of external circumstances; the latter constrained him to endure to the uttermost. After the wreck of his party at Gantheaume Bay in March 1839 they were forced to make their way on foot to Perth. Their sufferings, especially from thirst, were agonizing, and on one occasion they were only saved from destruction by the discovery of some liquid mud after being without water for three nights and two days. "It may be asked," he wrote in 1841, "if during such a trying period I did not seek from religion that consolation which it is sure to afford. My answer is—yes; and I further feel that, but for the support I derived from prayer and frequent perusal and meditation of the Scriptures, I should never have been able to have borne myself in such a manner as to have maintained discipline and confidence amongst the rest of the party; nor in all my sufferings did I ever lose the consolation derived from a firm reliance upon the goodness of Providence." Then in language which indicates the possibilities of his nature at the age of twenty-eight he adds: "It is only those who go forth into perils and danger amidst which human foresight and strength can but little avail, and who find themselves day after day protected by an unseen influence, and ever and again snatched from the very jaws of death, by a Power which is not of this world, who can at all estimate the knowledge of one's own weakness and littleness, and the firm reliance and trust upon the goodness of the Creator which the human breast is capable of feeling. Like all other lessons which are of great and page 277lasting benefit to man, this one must be learnt amid much sorrow and woe; but having learnt it, it is but the sweeter from the pain and toil which are undergone in the acquisition." In the study of Sir George Grey's character there are few things more significant than that he should, at so early an age, have realized from painful experience that there was an over-ruling Providence directing and supplementing human endeavour. The conviction became one of the strongest bulwarks of his faith, against which the waves of the nineteenth century dashed only to be broken and hurled back. Oceana was published by James Anthony Froude in 1886, some few months after he had visited Sir George Grey in his island home at Kawau. "A simple but genuine evangelical piety controlled the issues of all his speculations," he wrote. "He believes absolutely in Providence."
A plant of slower and more uncertain growth was his belief in personal immortality; but it gathered strength with age, and struck its roots deep in later life. Those who worked with Grey in politics are inclined to doubt the sincerity of this conviction; but they are thinking mainly of the days when the tragic fault of his nature was working most powerfully. More intimate friends knew better. Among the picturesque valleys on the eastern slope of the Mount Lofty Range in South Australia lived Mr. Robert Davenport of Battunga, with whom Grey shared a life-long friendship. "'You say what a different world this is from our first interview," wrote Sir George in 1886. "That is in some respects true. Yet it remains the Creator's world, a training place for another world. Even in this one, page 278approaches can be made to bringing our wills into conformity with God's will, and we can greatly benefit all His creatures here. It is therefore a world of noble desires, in the very least of things as we think them, and we two old men can work diligently in the little time that is left us. Is it not therefore a grand world after all?" Grey's belief in an after life was always strong enough to exercise a far-reaching influence over his conduct in this.
Dominated by such convictions, and fortified by so wide a range of interests, it is not surprising that Sir George Grey was a man of simple tastes who placed but little store on the outward goods of life. Intellectual and spiritual resource gave a content and richness to his inward life, and fortified him against many of those cravings which place inferior natures in the power of those who can gratify them. With an active brain, a seeing eye and a "thinking heart," he could make things exciting by investing them with interest; and that marks him off from a multitude of weaklings who if they want excitements must come and—buy them. All this made for strength; but it does not explain what Carlyle meant when he said that Grey was "born of the tetragonidae, built four-square solid as one fitted to strongly meet the winds of heaven and the waves of fate."
There are some qualities more intimately associated with "the inner man that is the spirit of the soul," and bravery is one of them. Grey was absolutely without fear. There may have been times (though they were exceedingly rare) when he faltered and held back, and he was sufficiently alive to a sense of danger when the pressure of responsibility was upon him; but in his personal and official conduct he feared page 279the face of no man, nor any number of men. Before making an attack on Wereroa Pah he used all his moral influence to induce the rebels to yield, and it appeared that, because of a quarrel among themselves, they would do so. Maipara, the chief, came out, and after a little conversation with the Governor invited him to dismount and take possession. But, during his absence, the hau-haus had got the upper hand, and when he came within thirty paces of the entrance, some of them, with their faces blackened, manned the rifle-pits and sounded the war cry. Calling out in shrill tones to Maipara, they bade him spring aside and expose the Governor; but the chief declined, and spread out his arms to shield him. Grey calmly told Maipara to consult his own safety and go inside, for it was clear that his people had broken away from his authority, and were no longer under his control. Then he turned away to mature his plans for the attack. In all his dealings with them Grey moved about among the natives with perfect confidence, and while the war in New Zealand was still raging he journeyed across the country on foot from Auckland to Wellington!
Rash he was in his personal conduct many a time; but hardly ever in the exercise of public duty. Some of his political measures may have been, and were, premature; but they were the result of careful deliberation and of long experience. Throughout his administration he had many crises to grapple with in the conduct of native affairs, and the measures which he adopted to prevent war or suppress rebellion were invariably characterized by a rare exercise of prudence which left a deep impression on Imperial ministers.page 280
In the dispatch announcing his recall Sir Bulwer Lytton acknowledged "the mixture of firmness and benevolence which has characterized your dealings with the native races. The sagacity with which you have foreseen and averted probable collisions, and the able policy by which you availed yourself of unexpected and strange incidents in their history so as to use them at once for their advantage, and the security of the Colony." This was nothing more than adequate recognition of a valuable trait. Grey's foresight was by no means unfailing, but it was remarkable.
So long as he was carrying out measures that were in accordance with his own will, bravery was tempered with foresight and discretion. It was in his official relations that daring was carried most frequently to the point of indiscretion, and—beyond it. He never shirked responsibility, and not even Horatio Nelson could have acted with more confidence in his ability to rise to an emergency. At every stage of his career he undertook risks that could only be justified by imperious necessity, and sometimes only by conspicuous success. Disobedience may sometimes be glorious, and Grey had his share of good fortune; but after the Indian Mutiny he was more and more disposed to act as though he were the head and centre of the Empire; and that led to a conflict between him and his superior officers which left them no alternative but to demonstrate in the clearest manner that in the last resort his will must yield to theirs.
There was little in Sir George Grey's appearance to indicate the greatness of his soul. The piercing eye, firm chin, erect figure, slight frame and mobile lips gave page 281some impression of his strength and versatility; but where were the outward visible signs of his almost volcanic force of passion and sympathy? There is a curious difference of opinion among those who knew him as to whether his eyes were blue or grey. His niece, who lived with him for many years, affirms that they changed from blue to grey when he was angry. "Look out for yourselves," the servants at Kawau would say, "the old man's eyes are, grey this morning." But the lightning rarely flashed forth even there; and those who looked into his piercing, but cold and expressionless eye, and listened to the quiet, measured tones of his high-pitched voice, little dreamed of the tempest that might even then be raging in his soul. When their quarrel was at its height, General Cameron called upon the Governor to know his will in regard to some weighty and urgent affairs of State. "Will you step into the garden and see my dahlias?" said the Governor, in quiet and almost tinkling tones. The General protested that he had come to consult His Excellency on serious business. "Then put it into writing, and I will consider it later," he replied, and the tone of his voice was unchanged. Grey was by nature reserved, and his military training helped him to maintain a wondrous self-control, but in high-wrought moments he fell back on another resource. The zealous missionary was a born actor. Like Hamlet, he wore a mask, and for similar reasons. He played with his enemies, and enjoyed the sport, partly for its own sake, mainly because it brought relief when the strain on his inward life was like to reach the breaking point. But he never indulged in acting so page 282far as to undermine his convictions or blunt his keen sense of public duty.
Sir George Grey's feelings were as strong as his convictions. He could be so moved by pity that it made him ill to decline the petition of any unfortunate person, and his friends were obliged to protect him against their appeals in later life by denying them access to his room.
It was the depth and strength of his compassion that made him idealize people in humble life and especially those in need. The Irish peasant victimized by iniquitous land laws became a paragon of all the virtues, and the Irish servant girl who went abroad to earn money to make a home for her parents beyond the seas was "a winning illustration of how the hard task-master, Necessity, had been an architect for building up new races" in distant lands. "I have mixed with the Courts of Europe; I have been with the greatest of the earth on the Continent and in England, and I have been in the simple cottage—and there I have seen a perfect lady!" Members of the New Zealand Parliament complained, not unreasonably, of an opponent who went through the country talking such "wretched twaddle." But Mr. Rolleston failed to see that there was sincerity in the remark; and Grey protested that "the honourable gentleman is spoiling a beautiful speech of mine."
It was a similar feeling of compassion that aroused his sympathy for the Boers of South Africa. Conscious of their limitations, he nevertheless felt irresistibly drawn to a simple and hospitable race attached to the soil, and free from conventional affectation or display. The attrac-page 283tion was mutual. Sir George Grey is revered alike by Boers and British in South Africa. In 1894 it was rumoured that he intended to pay a visit to their country. "I wish he would," said President Reitz, "he would have a great reception. Our farmers remember him with affection." Nothing remains of the old Grey College which was originally built at Bloemfontein; but the new structure bears his name, and it is a standing monument to his genuine desire to serve even where official duty did not constrain him. Wherever there were simple hearts there was a magnetic force to attract the High Commissioner, and a power to awaken all that was most generous in his nature.
As with the poorer classes among the Europeans, so was it with the native races. They were in need of his services, and, though, they were led by wily chiefs, the people were simple-hearted too. Among the papers which have been handed over to the Public Library in Auckland, there are some to which Grey committed a few attempts at story-telling. Sandilli was a powerful Kaffir chief in British Kaffraria, and he had a daughter, Emma, who was one day to be given in marriage for as much as fifty head of cattle to a man whom she did not know, and perhaps would never care for. Grey had a horse called Thunderbolt, which Sandilli was anxious to buy, and he urged his petition till at last the Governor propounded a bargain. "Place Emma on Thunderbolt behind me, give us a short start, and then let two hundred of your best warriors pursue us on their fleetest horses. If they should catch us, then Thunderbolt is yours, and Emma shall do your bidding. If not, then page 284you lose both, and Emma is free to marry the man she loves." Sandilli became thoughtful, and at first assented, but afterwards his mind reverted to the fifty head of cattle, and he wondered too what the paramount chief of Kaffirland might think. At last the offer was declined, and "we parted company—I to mount on Thunderbolt, Sandilli to return to calculate what chief was likely to give the highest price for gentle Emma, who, if I'd had my way, should have chosen her own lover." The story may have had some foundation in fact.
Hardly less characteristic was the chivalrous feeling which he manifested toward all who were not in a position to thwart his will. It was with no air of condescension that he rendered service to the ignorant and the weak; and his contemporaries noted with some surprise that he always treated the natives as gentlemen. He was passionately fond of children, and some of his happiest hours were spent in their company. It has been recorded that the younger Pitt was once enjoying a spirited battle with some children when a messenger of state entered the room. In a moment the cushions were dropped, and the great statesman assumed an air of formality and deep reserve. Grey, too, was accustomed to find relief and enjoyment by sharing the abandon of the children. To them he was ever an entertaining and gentle-hearted companion. They would run after him as he walked along the street, place a tiny hand in his, and chatter without reserve to a willing listener.
But it was in the conception of his duty to Her Majesty the Queen that the chivalrous quality of Grey's nature is most strikingly apparent. His attitude of mind recalls the page 285devotion of Thomas Wentworth to King Charles, and it would appear that Grey was to some extent misled by his loyalty to the Queen into a belated conception of sovereignty which was incompatible with the true spirit of constitutional government in the England of last century. While in South Africa he proclaimed his defiance of Imperial ministers, and announced that he would go on doing his duty to the Queen as before! Shortly afterwards he went to New Zealand, and the Maoris protested their loyalty to Her Majesty at a time when the Governor's jurisdiction was set at defiance! Even then he failed to realize the unconstitutional character of his procedure, for in 1867 he again justified his defiance of the Earl of Carnarvon by a declaration of fidelity to Her Majesty and the Empire! But his devotion to the service of the Queen was productive of great and permanent good. In all the Colonies whose affairs he administered a feeling of loyalty was sedulously cultivated, and in times of peril it was an invaluable support. That feeling was to some extent independent of the personality of any governor, but Grey lost no opportunity to maintain and strengthen it. And he had his reward. Her Majesty was graciously pleased to recognize his devotion, not only by words and gifts, but by a large measure of trust and confidence which helped him in his disputes with the Imperial authorities.
The review of Sir George Grey's character is now sufficiently advanced to indicate the resource, strength and complexity of his nature, and it will be clear that he was not without some of the qualities that distinguish a practical mystic, though he was never sufficiently absorbed in his page 286ideal to be reckoned among them. Practical mystics differ very widely in their individuality; and if such comparisons be permitted at all, Grey resembled Frederick II more closely than Oliver Cromwell.
By no means so majestic as the great-hearted Puritan, and much less reliable, he had a subtler brain and a manner more refined. There was a moral grandeur about Cromwell which exalts him almost beyond comparison with Grey; but the "Lord of the Fens" did not exceed in tenderness toward sufferers more than the Great Proconsul. Passionate devotion to a "glorious cause" and a deep-rooted belief in an over-ruling Providence were common to both; but there was a great gulf between them. Cromwell was so fully absorbed in the service of the Infinite that the shadow of self never darkened the way along which he was destined to travel: though only a "poor worm" or a "creeping ant upon the earth," he was "conqueror and more than conqueror through Christ that strengthened him." Here is the evidence of that spiritual union between Cromwell and his Ideal to which Sir George Grey never attained. Grey had all the glowing enthusiasm of a strenuous idealist, and the unsatisfied yearning of a man whose reach ever exceeds his grasp; he, too, regarded himself as an instrument of Divine Will, and felt his littleness in the presence of that Mighty Power which ruled the stars; but he never reached those sublime heights of spiritual being in which considerations of self are lost in an all-absorbing desire to serve the Infinite. Self was never entirely subdued or overcome, and in 1867 he fell a victim to personal resentment and obdurate self-will.page 287
But his character was great enough to reach tragic dimensions, and the quality that ultimately led to his official undoing was an impatience of opposition altogether unreasonable. It did not involve the ruin of his soul, because he was resourceful enough to regain in retirement what he had lost under the strain of controversy; but it led him into by-paths along which his better self strayed and for a time was lost. Sympathy aroused all that was best and noblest in him, and made him strive to the uttermost for good; opposition fretted him, worried him, and dried up all the springs of generosity in his nature. He had none of that large-hearted tolerance which characterized the conduct of Cromwell in committees and out of them. Full of tenderness and compassion toward those who were in need of his services, he showed an utter lack of sympathy and consideration for those who thwarted his will. Mr. Gardiner has said that Cromwell never rode the high horse in committee-rooms and councils. Grey was never off its back until he was hurled from his seat by those who were associated with him in power. And he made any other course impossible. Those who would not fish in his pond were made to feel that they were safer outside his park.
In a passage of some difficulty Hamlet soliloquizes on the "vicious mole of nature" in some men "from which their virtues else—be they pure as grace as infinite as man may undergo—shall in the general censure take corruption." The vicious mole of Grey's nature was an official intractability that broke down the pales and forts of reason, undermined his self-control, and left him the prey of arrogance, vanity, and personal resentment. His policy was page 288essentially the same from the beginning to the end of his public career; but his otherwise noble nature was so o'erleavened with this "dram of eale" that the proconsul of the forties and fifties is hardly recognizable in the politician of the seventies.
Grey's impatience of opposition has generally been ascribed to an inordinate love of power. Provided it is recognized that his missionary zeal was a more potent influence, there is some truth in the observation. But it was not the only cause. "I must, however, once more implore you and advise you—as a friend whose sincerity I think you ought not to doubt—to dismiss this notion that in everything I do write there is a hostile spirit to yourself. If I were as thin-skinned as you are how could I bear all that I read in your papers and reports of speeches in the Legislature? I assure you that although my health is very indifferent I do not attribute to their abuse any aggravation of my malady. They cause a smile but nothing worse, and I feel neither less nor more inclined to renew the cause of offence. All success continue to attend you. I feel for your difficulties. Be of good cheer, and God help you." So wrote the good Duke of Newcastle in a private letter to Grey during the early years of his second administration in New Zealand, and the occasion for it would not have arisen but for the Governor's morbid sensitiveness to criticism. The Duke had spoken plainly in one of' his dispatches concerning the conduct of colonial ministers. Characteristically, but without any justification, Grey had read into the language a censure on himself, and complained of the frequent humiliations to which he had been subjected!page 289
Grey was a student and he did not escape the besetting vice of men who spend a disproportionate amount of time in seclusion. He was in no sense a "clubbable" man; and, mixing rarely with his fellows, had acquired but little of the give and take of ordinary social life. Nothing pleased him so much in his leisure hours at Capetown as an evening with his scholarly friend, Dr. Bleak, or a walk up the slopes of Table Mountain with a customs-house officer who, like himself, had a taste for natural scenery. There was nothing of the bluff, hearty manner about him which carries some men over a multitude of difficulties; and though he was able both to see and make a joke he was deficient in a sense of humour. He had most of the qualities that make for strength and independence, but the sense of proportion was to some extent endangered by the very intensity of his feelings and convictions. John Milton had a great soul, and he was heroic, but his magnificent struggle for liberty was marred by venomous and undignified attacks on his adversaries, when he was smarting under the lash of personal criticism. So was it with Grey. Before the quarrel broke out between him and Sir Duncan Cameron, Sir Duncan asked the Governor whether he should attempt to refute the criticisms on his conduct of the war which were appearing in the public press. "Take no notice," replied Grey, "go on quietly doing your duty." If only the Governor could have acted on that advice how different his future might have been! But he could not, and the effect on the public service was most pernicious. "The only dispatches of length which Sir George Grey wrote during his second administration in New page 290Zealand were those concerning his disputes with other officials." Coming as it does from the pen of Mr. Fox this criticism is not without a touch of humour, for he once defended himself against the Governor in a dispatch to the Imperial authorities which amounted to more than six hundred pages! But there is far too much justification for the observation, not only in the dispatch books, but in the memoranda and parliamentary papers.
During his second administration of New Zealand, Grey quarrelled bitterly with nearly every individual associated with him in the exercise of power, and entered into wordy warfare not only with Mr. Fox, but also with Commodore Seymour, Lieutenant-General Cameron, General Chute, Mr. Cardwell, and Earl Carnarvon. The Imperial authorities were eventually driven to make every dispatch "confidential" which touched on controversial subjects in order to put a stop to his impassioned explanations and recriminations.
Instead of profiting by his own or the Duke of Newcastle's advice he went from bad to worse: from sensitiveness to suspicion. It has been said that Grey was one of those men who bordered on genius and madness. This may or may not be true; but suspicion did become a kind of mania in the more degenerate days. Even while he was in South Africa he had complained that there must be an enemy in the War Office. The Colonial Secretary made inquiries, assured him it was not so, and begged that he might close the correspondence on a subject so distasteful. Toward the end of his second administration in New Zealand he had come to the conclusion that there was a gigantic conspiracy to ruin him. The black list included Sir Duncan page 291Cameron, Commissary-General Strickland and other military officers, as well as those of the Imperial ministers who, in violation of the rules of the Civil Service, were encouraging a secret correspondence from his enemies. The same attitude of mind characterized his tenure of office in the New Zealand Parliament. He could not understand that men who opposed him did so from right motives and sound convictions. They were all intent on ''ostracizing," "injuring," and even "destroying" him!
1 The Long White Cloud, by W. P. Reeves, p. 324.
And they were amply justified, for where he differed from his superior officers Grey was determined to have his own way. Many and interesting are the devices to which he resorted in order to get it. Instead of carrying out instructions that were distasteful, he would express some anxiety lest he had not fully explained the situation and signify his intention of awaiting the Colonial Secretary's reply to his more elaborate explanations. In the days prior to the introduction of steamboats this gave him a respite of twelve or even eighteen months. So far he was within his rights; but he abused the privilege.
During his first administration of New Zealand he had objected to the use of the proceeds of the land sales for the payment of a debt to the New Zealand Company after the surrender of its charter in 1851. But after considering the arguments advanced by the Governor, the Colonial Secretary still insisted that the debt should be paid. On the receipt of the second dispatch there was still a lingering anxiety in Grey's mind lest he should not have made everything quite clear to his lordship, and he wrote another evasive reply. "I very greatly regret the determination at which you have arrived," replied the Duke of Newcastle, "as I cannot in your present dispatch, or in any former dispatch, see any reason to justify you in adopting the resolution thus directly to disobey the orders of Her Majesty's Government. I have page 293no alternative but distinctly to require you to transmit without delay all the sums in your possession on this account." That dispatch was written in December 1853, but before it reached the Colony Grey's term of office had expired, and he was on his way to England on furlough!
Grey's diplomatic ability helped him to cloak some of his more flagrant acts of disobedience; but, failing this, he was prepared to assume an attitude of defiance. "The local men may propound their views at length," wrote Sir Bulwer Lytton, "but ultimately must do their best to carry instructions out and not disregard or neglect them." Grey was by this time an old offender. The important dispatch which Earl Grey wrote advising the maintenance of the authority of the Maori chiefs was not even acknowledged; the conditions for the settlement of the Anglo-German Legion in South Africa were ignored; repeated orders to effect a reduction in the Kaffrarian expenditure were not complied with; and in order to get settlers for the South-East he entered into a contract with a private firm at Hamburg to send out German families when he knew that the Imperial authorities had decided against it; the preparation of a scheme for the federation of South Africa was recommended to the Cape Parliament though the Colonial Secretary had instructed him to take no step without first consulting Her Majesty's Government.
Grey's recall from South Africa was a warning, especially as he was only reinstated by the Duke of Newcastle on the understanding that his scheme for federation could and would be dropped. But he failed to profit by it, and became even more intractable in New Zealand, whither he was sent in page 2941861. Imperial ministers prepared their estimates on the understanding that their instructions for the removal of troops would be obeyed; but the Governor would not allow them to be concentrated in the Colony; and although he had definite instructions to the contrary he continued to make drafts on the Commissariat chest. Imperial ministers reminded him again and again in public dispatches and in private letters that they were beset with difficulties in the Parliament because of his procedure; and that, with every desire to render assistance to New Zealand, they owed a duty to the British taxpayer which was paramount. Their arguments were unavailing, and they were obliged to give General Chute undivided control over the troops in New Zealand before they could get them out of the country.
The unfairness of Grey's attitude toward the Imperial Government becomes at once apparent in consideration of his conduct on the least sign of insubordination among the officers under his control. Edward John Eyre was appointed Lieutenant-Governor at Wellington during Grey's first administration of New Zealand, and in that capacity sent a communication direct to the Colonial Office instead of transmitting it regularly through the Governor-in-Chief. There was a clause in Earl Grey's Charter which afforded Grey an opportunity for revenge. During the visits of the Governor-in-Chief the authority of the Lieutenant-Governor in any province was suspended. Grey proceeded to Wellington and remained there for an indefinite period! This placed his subordinate officer in a most humiliating position, and he wrote to the Colonial Office asking for removal because he had been superseded for the past four-page 295teen months, and had done nothing to earn his salary. He had frequently asked the Governor-in-Chief if he might be of any service, but was invariably "answered with a simple negative"; and when he proposed to leave the city and visit the outlying parts of his province, he was informed by his superior officer that it would be very inconvenient for the public service! Eyre was not successful in the conduct of his administration, and the Imperial authortties carefully guarded themselves against any expression of opinion on the merits of the dispute; but the Colonial Secretary hoped that the Governor-in-Chief would not be unmindful of "the official courtesy that was due to his subordinate."
Sir George Grey was an autocrat, and it was almost impossible for men of independent judgment to work harmoniously with him; but he was also the champion of liberal institutions and seized every opportunity of extending the influence of the people in politics. Here lies a paradox in his political position which needs to be explained in order to remove a false impression.
On December 21, 1878, an article was published in the Rangitikei Advocate contending that "the autocratic servant of the old Colonial Office who stood years between the people and Representative Government now appeared proclaiming himself the man of the people and the friend of universal liberty." This was either written or inspired by his old antagonist, Mr. Fox. But the assumption is founded in error. Grey always was the man of the people, and he was not at any time an autocrat in the sense that he was opposed to the extension of popular influence in the government of the country. While he was administering the affairs of page 296South Australia the public were encouraged to attend during the discussions in the Legislative Council; in 1851 he advocated a broad franchise in his proposals for the establishment of Representative Government in New Zealand; one man one vote was the most important measure which he carried through Parliament during his tenure of office 1877— 1879; and he declined to support the Australian Federal scheme at the Sydney Convention in 1891 because it was not based on universal suffrage. The explanation of the paradox is clear: Sir George Grey was autocratic in temper; but by sympathy and conviction he was a radical.
There was no inconsistency in the policy which he advocated in the New Zealand Parliament, but there was inconsistency in his conduct arising from the essential incongruity between his temper and the position in which he was placed by the success of his measures. He was heart and soul for the people, but he was unwilling to share responsibility in the exercise of power. Had the constituents returned only one man to power, and that man Sir George Grey, all would have been well; but at most he was a primus inter pares, and while he was anxious to give the people votes, he declined to work harmoniously with the people's representatives in Parliament. The one action stultified the other, and the deposition of 1879, caused by the desertion of his followers, was inevitable.
Under Grey's influence the sovereign assemblies of Australia and New Zealand became more and more democratic; but the spirit of constitutional government was not in him. Just as he made the Queen's government impossible in 1867, so he made Cabinet government impos-page 297sible in 1879; and just as he was left severely alone by the Imperial authorities for the rest of his life, so he remained a lonely and even pathetic figure in the Parliament of New Zealand till his retirement in 1890.
Grey was generously, not scurvily, treated by the Imperial authorities, and the time came when he was willing to acknowledge it. In 1894 he returned to England, and there, with the strain of opposition entirely removed, he was able to scan the past "all passion spent." He was frequently interviewed by reporters on the staff of London newspapers, and one of them wished to know what in all his life had impressed him most. "I think," he replied, "that which strikes me most is how I have been helped"; and he was loath to admit of any exception to this even in regard to the officials of Downing Street. And what a difference it made when the incubus on his soul was removed! What a rush of generous idealism characterized those few remaining years! If only he could have believed this when the strain of opposition was upon him how much greater a man he might have been!
There is a turning point in the tide of Sir George Grey's affairs which is sufficiently well marked by the year 1860. Up to that time he had worked under conditions that admitted of wide discretionary authority and personal initiative; but even then the splendid services which he rendered to the Empire suffered some disparagement from his official intractability. The circumstances under which he laboured after his return to New Zealand offered less scope for the qualities of an autocrat and exposed the weaker part of his nature to attack from many quarters. Incongruity between page 298character and circumstances accounts for much; but it ought not to be forgotten that toward the close of his administration in South Africa Grey sustained two blows from which men of his temperament suffer severely. He was separated from his wife, and all the plans which he had matured for the unity of South Africa were shattered. To so passionate an idealist the destruction of private and public ideals must have been hard to bear. From that time he became more quarrelsome and intractable, and complained of depressed spirits and declining health. His missionary zeal was never abated; but in the relaxation of self-control the tragic quality of his nature exerted more power, and hurried him on to his official doom.
The defects in Sir George Grey's character have been unsparingly dealt with, but not more severely than is justified by an impartial study of the most reliable evidence; and it is high time that the reputations of sincere and honest men at the Colonial Office were vindicated against the unjustifiable censures passed upon them by an author who has assumed the rôle of an advocate.
Sir George Grey stands in no need of an advocate. The work which he accomplished was great enough to bear the test of searching investigation and impartial criticism, and any attempt to justify him in the face of the most convincing evidence, or to exalt him by unwarrantable detraction of his opponents, can only serve, in the long run, to bring discredit on a great man's life. Grey was no faultless hero, no saint, but a strong, brave, sincere man, who strove earnestly and faithfully to fulfil a great purpose; and, notwithstanding the dênouement of 1867, he carried it page 299through to a finish. He rose phoenix-like from the ashes of his official grave, entered Parliament, became Prime Minister of New Zealand, and in two brief years of office set his final seal upon the work of a lifetime.
Nor must it be forgotten that the qualities which unfitted Grey for Constitutional government were those that made for success in the administration of a Crown Colony 10,000 miles away from Downing Street. He came out to Australia at a time when the governor was a despot entrusted with wide discretionary powers. There was a Legislative Council to assist him; but no Representative Parliament to control him. He was the servant of the Colonial Office; but how far was his will fettered by that when it took twelve and sometimes eighteen months to get a reply to a dispatch? Under such conditions the governor was practically an autocrat, forced to act on his own initiatives and to take risks. This was precisely the position for which Grey was fitted, and he filled it with conspicuous success. Such a man was needed in the early stages of Colonial development, and no more suitable man could have been found than he. The faults which brought about his official undoing in 1868 were tragic faults, arising out of an incongruity between character and circumstance.
And, even then, nothing is more essential to a right estimate of his position than to discriminate clearly between temperament and conviction. The failures which were due to self-will must not be ascribed to any inherent defects in his public policy. He was recalled from South Africa in 1859, and dropped by the Colonial Office in 1868. On both occasions he fell fighting for a winning cause. The page 300Federation of South Africa is a consummation devoutly to be wished, and Colonial self-government is a sine qua non of Imperial Unity.
And the same observation is true of his parliamentary career. Self-will led to his desertion and deposition; but his policy remained, and was never more powerful than it is at the present time. In South Australia a Labour Ministry is in power at the time of writing with Mr. Thomas Price at its head, and his policy is almost exactly the same as that founded by Sir George Grey in 1877—extension of popular influence in government, closer settlement, and educational reform. In New Zealand Mr. Seddon controlled the administration for thirteen years, and on his own confession his policy was simply a revival of that which was founded by his friend and chief, Sir George Grey. South Australia and New Zealand are two of the most progressive countries in the world. Other states in the Commonwealth are following their lead, and it would appear that the political history of Australasia in the twentieth century will be, for the most part, the evolution of the policy which sprang from the brain of the Great Proconsul.
And in a sense it must be so, for Democracy has come to stay, and there is nothing in that policy which is not implied in the connotation of the term. Government by the people for the people: that is the meaning of Democracy, and that is what Sir George Grey strove to attain. It is true that he was a radical politician, but truer still that he was a humanitarian. He worked mainly for the poor and the oppressed, but he sought the good of all. Looking out upon the world with the eye of a man of wide and varied page 301experience he saw that many were sick because they surfeited with too much, others were starving because they had too little. In equality of opportunity he detected an antidote for the ills of both: a curb on the excesses of the rich and the proud, a spur to the ambition of the down-trodden and the lowly—a means by which the essential dignity of human nature might be asserted against the claims of rank, wealth, or other extraneous aids.
It may well be that he carried his attacks on privilege too far; but at least he was true to himself and his mission. Aristocratic traditions were his, but he made no use of them; riches he might have acquired, but he preferred to endow the public with gifts rare and imperishable. He lived as a poor man of simple tastes, and died as he had lived. It was all part of his great and magnanimous scheme. "Would you speak with the voice of authority?" asked St. Bernard, "be what you would teach." With the same content the apostle of equality of opportunity divested himself of all accidental and external aids that gave him undue advantage over his fellows. And he had his reward. To the people he spoke with unrivalled power, and in the consciousness of real and inward strength he rose up against shams, impostures, and hypocrisies, smiting them hip and thigh in the political world, as did his friend Thomas Carlyie in the world of letters.
Sir George Grey's strength was prodigious, his consistency rare, and his reliance on inward resource magnificent. His personal faults died with him, but his work lives, and will live. In the history of Australasia he is mighty still.page 302