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The Life and Times of Sir George Grey, K.C.B.

Chapter I. — Lite's Commencement

page 9

Chapter I.
Lite's Commencement.

"Like leaves on trees the race of man is found,
Now green in youth, now withering on the ground.
Another race the following spring supplies;
They fall successive, and successive rise."

Early in the second week of April, 1812, several English ladies, wives of officers on active service with Lord Wellington, were sitting together in a balcony at Lisbon. They were talking of the last news from head-quarters, when they became aware, from conversations in the street beneath, that the town of Badajoz had been, for the third time, assaulted by the English forces. One of these English women was Mrs. Grey, whose husband, the Colonel of the 30th Regiment of Foot, was at the scene of active operations. Anxiety and eager interest were at once aroused, and each one listened with intense expectation to any sounds which arose from the street beneath.

A group of officers rode slowly by. "We have suffered terrible loss," said one, "in the storming of Badajoz. Poor Grey is gone at last!"

No sooner were these words heard than Mrs. Grey sank fainting from her seat. The statement was all too true. Colonel Grey who, at Alexandria, had led his regiment in the first bayonet charge page 10against the revolutionary troops of France, had volunteered to lead the storming party at Badajoz, and, at the head of his column, had fallen in that terrible breach.

A few days afterwards, on the 14th of April, his son was born.

While it was natural that the lad should be trained to the profession of arms, several circumstances during childhood and early manhood served to give a decided tendency to the character and life of George Grey.

When staying, as a child, with a relative of his father, a banker in London, whose place of business was in 'Change Alley, his attention was often attracted to the tropical fruits exposed for sale by an aged woman, who, from long usage, had acquired a species of prescriptive right to keep her stall at the entrance of the alley. The child's imagination wandered away to the lands from whence the pineapples, the bananas, the oranges, and the cocoanuts had come, and he silently resolved that when he became a man he would travel to those distant regions which produced such treasures,

In early boyhood he was brought much under the notice and care of Dr. Whately, afterwards the celebrated Archbishop of Dublin, and from constant intercourse with that distinguished scholar he most probably received that logical and exact method of thought, as well as the ardent love for all scientific studies, which characterized him in after life.

Destined to follow in his father's steps, he was duly entered at Sandhurst, and achieved at that military college singular and unusual distinction.

George Grey gained the affection and esteem of his tutors, and kept up a regular correspondence with some of them during many years. They were pleased to find the promise of his earlier years more than fulfilled in his colonial career, and were deeply interested in the results of his labours. There are in the Public Library in Auckland several very affectionate letters to Captain Grey from his former mathematical master at Sandhurst, Professor Narrieu, the author of a History of Astronomy, who evidently took the warmest interest in his former pupil's honourable and successful career. In a letter dated the loth May, 1843, he expressed great pleasure at having received a communication from Captain Grey, and says he is much gratified by his appreciation of the course of studies page 11pursued at Sandhurst. He says that it is very difficult to keep up the standard of proficiency in mathematics, as many think it unnecessarily high, but he has tried to do so; and adds, "You will not, therefore, be surprised to find that the number of officers who have carried away our highest class certificate—such as that which you had—is but few."

Nor was George Grey a favourite with the authorities alone. A clever, studious lid, more occupied and interested by books than out-door sports and games, is often regarded as a prig by his contemporaries; but there is no trace of this feeling towards Grey at Sandhurst. His superiority was frankly admitted, and always displayed in a way that challenged admiration certainly, but did not arouse jealousy or dislike.

We have a pleasant picture of the young military student at this time, given thirty-four years afterwards by a college mate, who recalled gratefully the days when Grey, "a bright, rosy-cheeked young subaltern of the 83rd Regiment, 'A1' in mathematics, fortifications, military survey, languages, and general knowledge, so kindly led my tottering steps over the 'Asses' Bridge.'"