Other formats

    TEI XML file   ePub eBook file  


    mail icontwitter iconBlogspot iconrss icon

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

Chapter VII. — Grey Appointed Resident At King George's Sound—His Method Of Dealing With Native Races

page 46

Chapter VII.
Grey Appointed Resident At King George's Sound—His Method Of Dealing With Native Races.

"The proper study of mankind is man."

"Ill can he rule the great, that cannot reach the small."

While recruiting, after the close of the second expedition, George Grey received his commission as Captain of the 83rd Regiment. Soon afterwards, he was requested by the Governor of Western Australia to assume the position of Resident at King George's Sound. This he readily assented to, as it provided him with employment, and afforded further opportunities of becoming acquainted with colonial life, and with the character and adaptability of the native races. His appointment was dated August 31, 1839.

While occupying this position, he determined to ascertain, by practical experiment, the possibility of engaging the settled attention of a nomadic savage race in the employments of civilized life. Carrying out the ideas which he had already formed during his travels, he commenced the task of employing the Australian natives in the simplest work which the public service could offer. A number of the aborigines were set to work at roadmaking. In dealing with the child-like minds of these people, utterly unused to the idea of waiting for reward, he found it necessary to present the neentive of prompt and immediate payment. Twice every day were his native workmen paid. When half the day's toil had been page 47accomplished, they received sixpence each, and, when the dinner hour was past, they knew that, if they recommenced their labour, at the end of the day they would receive the further sum of a shilling

The work being simple, the task being lightened by the good temper and good management of overseers, chosen by the Resident with due regard to their necessary qualifications, and the reward given being adequate to supply the wants of savages, little difficulty was experienced in utilizing the labour of one of the least intelligent amongst uncivilized races.

The plan which Captain Grey definitely adopted, while Resident, as the best method of dealing with savage tribes, he never forsook, and never found to fail. To give employment suited to the natural or acquired capacity of the persons employed; to bestow a sufficient reward for the work accomplished, in a speedy and certain manner, and to hold out the prospect of some further reward in the future, as the consequence of continued industry and good conduct, seemed theoretically, as it proved in practice, to be a reasonable and successful method of dealing with barbarous peoples.

Believing that a great portion of his life would be spent in the management of the aboriginal inhabitants of the colonies, Grey devoted his time, attention, and study, to the habits of life, and the methods of thought of these races. His experiment was entirely successful. The natives worked steadily, and worked well. The two payments daily provided for all their requirements, and were always certain. They were not overtaxed; they were treated kindly, and with a certain amount of respect. Thus, during the first short apprenticeship which he served, before assuming the actual duties of a Governor, Grey ascertained, from personal experience, a certain and efficacious method of peaceful settlement, and peaceful employment of native races.

The few months during which Captain Grey filled the position of Resident at Albany swiftly passed. Receiving notification that Her Majesty's Government did not think it expedient to prosecute further the exploration of North-Western Australia, he returned to England.

The series of experiments which he had conducted, in dealing with the natives, and the knowledge which he had obtained of their character, found expression in a memorandum, Avhich he transmitted to the Secretary of State for the Colonies, as a report, on the 4th of page 48June, 1840, upon the best means of promoting the civilization of the Australian natives This report attracted considerable attention, and copies of it were sent to the various Governors of the Australian Colonies, for their consideration and guidance.

Grey arrived in England in September, 1840. At this time he was preparing his book, "Explorations in Western and North-Western Australia, "which was published in 1841, after his return to Australia. The end of his employment by the Government in the work of exploration left him. without a tangible connection with any of the colonies, or with the Government. He had not long, however, to remain in doubt as to his future career.

The despatches which he had forwarded to the Colonial Office; the able memorandum, before mentioned, on the civilization of the Australian natives; the remarkable courage and capacity which he had shown through the fearful ordeal of the two expeditions, had all been noted at headquarters; and, although he was himself unaware, from official intimation, of, the feelings held towards him by the Colonial Office, it was an understood fact in that department that in Captain Grey they possessed an officer, whose presence of mind, firmness of character, and genius for command, would authorize Her Majesty's Government in placing him in any position which the colonial exigencies might require.

Within a month of his landing, on October 20th, when he had scarcely ceased telling his mother and many friends of the strange adventures and the wonderful scenes through which he had passed, he received a most flattering letter from Lord John Russell, then principal Secretary of State for the Colonies. The letter opened with these words: —"The high opinion which is entertained of your ability and energy by those who have had to transact business with you, regarding the affairs of Australia, induce me to propose to recommend you to the Queen for the Government of South Australia, in the place of Colonel Gawler."

This intimation, not merely of the esteem in which he was held by those high in office, but of the probability of the fulfilment of his loftiest hopes, filled the heart of George Grey with delight and gratitude. To that of his mother it must have brought a feeling of sorrow and anxiety, mingled with the pride which she felt in her son's success.

page 49

South Australia had been, from the day of its foundation, gradually, but surely, drifting into perilous circumstances. Colonel Gawler, though an excellent officer and a man of great courage, did not possess those qualifications which were necessary to guide the destinies of a young settlement. The affairs of the colony were in a desperate condition, and ministers had resolved to recall Colonel Gawler, and to appoint some man of position and of character, who would be able, far removed from the assistance and the authority of Downing Street, to retrieve and to carry on successfully the affairs of the infant colony.

Sir Charles Napier had been requested by Lord John Russell to undertake the task. Sir Charles was eminently a soldier. His main idea, correct in itself, was that Government must rest on force. He Avas informed of the mutinous and insubordinate state into which the colonists had passed, and after accepting the position of Governor of South Australia, he requested that he should be permitted to take troops with him to Adelaide.

To this Her Majesty's Government demurred. That feeling of anxiety, which, ever since the American Revolution, has so powerfully influenced the colonial policy of Great Britain, at once compelled ministers to refuse this demand to land an armed force in a free colony. Thereupon Sir Charles Napier resigned the Governorship.

With these circumstances Captain Grey was made acquainted. Conscious as he was of the dignity of the position offered, and the high appreciation thus shown of the work he had already accomplished, he naturally regarded with some doubt the responsibilities of the proposed task. He repaired to London, there sought and received advice from a statesman well acquainted with colonial questions, and with the colonial policy of successive Governments. This revered friend expressed his opinion that Sir Charles Napier was wrong in refusing the Government because he could not take with him the troops he required. "Do not," said he, speaking to Captain Grey, "do not refuse this great opening for usefulness in the public service because you cannot take troops with you, to preserve order, and to enforce the laws. When you have assumed the command, if you find it to be necessary to employ force, you will be the master of the situation, and forces must be placed at page 50your disposal. Sir George Gipps, an able man, is the Governor of New South Wales. He will listen at once to your request, and you can avail yourself of Ms assistance, and of some of the troops which he has under his command."

His only doubt thus removed, Grey answered the letter from Lord John Russell. While expressing his sense of the high honour sought to be conferred upon him, he alluded with diffidence to his own age and comparative inexperience, but trusted that the advice and counsel of Her Majesty's Government would enable him to cope successfully with whatever difficulties he might meet, and that ministers would be lenient in their judgment of his actions.

His acceptance of the offer gave satisfaction to the Cabinet. Her Majesty was advised to appoint Captain Grey as Governor of South Australia, to succeed Colonel Gawler; and, at the close of the year, on December 29th, Grey received a letter from Lord John Russell, enclosing his commission as Governor of that colony.

After the receipt of his commission, it took but little time for the new Governor of South Australia to arrange all business matters in England, and to start upon his second voyage to Australia, not now as a young officer and adventurer, about to explore unknown countries, but to assume the important position of a Colonial Governor—a position, the responsibility of which was greatly added to by the unfortunate series of mistakes and blunders which had characterised the administration of the colony since its commencement. Once more he had to bid farewell to his mother, this time, finally, for when Sir George Grey returned to England, from New Zealand, in 1854, his mother was no more.

Thus, at the age of twenty-eight, George Grey left England as the ruler of her youngest colony, himself the youngest Governor ever appointed to a similar position.