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

Chapter IX. — The Summons to New Zealand

page 66

Chapter IX.
The Summons to New Zealand.

"A man, he seems, of cheerful yesterdays
And confident to-morrows."

The circumstances in which Captain Grey received the first intimation that the English Government desired him to proceed to New Zealand and assume the government of that colony were somewhat peculiar, and gave a spice of adventure to the new step. A man-of-war, commanded by an old friend of the Governor, was at Port Adelaide when the first news came from New Zealand of the burning of Kororareka, the attack on Ohaewai, and the slaughter of our men. The news affected the two friends deeply. Their hearts were filled with sorrow and the determination to help the New Zealand Government in its extremity. In a conversation with the commander of the man-of-war, Grey said, "The only thing for you to do is to go as quickly as you can to New Zealand, taking with you all the Government arms and everything useful that we have here."

This fell in exactly with Captain Hay's own wishes, and no time was lost in setting off.

Three or four days later, as the Governor and his step-brother were out riding they met a man driving a tax-cart at a furious pace. He pulled up on seeing them, and said, "Have you heard, sir, that the Elphinstone has come in? "Captain Grey enquired what she, an East Indian man-of-war, was doing in those waters. "She brings the most important news, sir, and I have all the despatches here in the cart for you." Upon hearing this the two gentlemen page 67dismounted, and sitting down on a bank under a hedge by the roadside, opened the letters, which contained the information that the Home authorities had sent out Colonel Holt Robe to take the government of South Australia for a time, while Captain Grey proceeded to New Zealand to take command there. The following extracts from Lord Stanley's despatch are sufficient to give an idea of the tone of the whole communication. It was dated June 13th, 1845, and began: —"After the repeated testimonials I have borne to the value of your public services in administering the government of South Australia, it would be very gratifying to me to prove my esteem for your capacity and your public spirit by proposing to you some other office of higher rank and of increased emolument.

"Still I am convinced that I shall give you a yet more welcome proof of the confidence which Her Majesty reposes in you by inviting you to undertake public duties more arduous and responsible than those in which you have hitherto been engaged, though recommended to your acceptance by hardly any other consideration. The urgent necessity which has arisen for invoking your aid in the government of New Zealand is the single apology I have (to a man of your character it will be an ample apology) for calling on you, with no previous notice, to incur the sacrifices and inconveniences of proceeding thither with the least possible delay after your receipt of this despatch."

After alluding to the Wairau massacre and to the burning of Russell, it pointed out that the colonisation of New Zealand was not undertaken voluntarily by the English Government, but forced upon Ministers to prevent the evils which seemed to threaten the previous inhabitants from unauthorised settlement, and declared it had been "the anxious and unremitting desire of Her Majesty's Government to avoid, if possible, any actual conflict with the native tribes."

It went on to show that the colony was involved in "financial difficulties of the most serious kind." After regretting the circumstances which precluded him from personally talking over matters with Captain Grey, Lord Stanley writes: —"I am happy in the assurance that that disadvantage will in your case be in great measure compensated by the experience you have gained in the page 68conduct of affairs not altogether dissimilar, and by the energy, capacity, and circumspection which you have exhibited in the conduct of them.

"I devolve on you a responsibility which it seems impossible for me to narrow, and of which I am persuaded you will acquit yourself in such a manner as to enhance your claims to the approbation of the Queen and the gratitude of Her Majesty's subjects."

In the event of Captain Grey being unable or unwilling to undertake the responsible task on such short notice, the Secretary for the Colonies requested him to communicate with Sir George Gipps, who it was believed would not hesitate to accept the position. The appointment was only regarded as temporary, and provision was made for supplying Captain Grey's place in South Australia during his absence in New Zealand.

As the two brothers read the despatches, including the letter of Lord Stanley to the Governor of South Australia, with its terms of high appreciation and unmeasured confidence, Grey felt that a portion of the reward of public labour faithfully performed was being meted to him with no niggard hand.

The struggle in South Australia had been sometimes wearisome and monotonous. The accusations which had been made against him, the animosities which he had aroused in many quarters by his bold and unswerving policy, had tended to discourage him as to the ultimate result of his efforts. Those results, nevertheless, had been on the whole marvellously successful. He had seen the people subside from a mutinous crowd into a well-ordered and thriving community. Roads had been driven into regions comparatively distant, fertile lands opened for settlement, and over thousands of square miles of territory corn lands and pasture yielded to the prevailing industry of once-idle factionaries the harvests of wealth and toil. The revenue had steadily increased, keeping pace with the growing commerce. "Overlanders "had come from New South Wales with mobs of cattle and flocks of sheep, and had developed fresh country upon the banks of great rivers and on the plains which intervened in the course of their journeys.

Besides the success which had attended his efforts since 1841, the life itself had been one of almost continual enjoyment. The brilliant climate, the ever-fresh scenery, the discoveries of new page 69territories fit for human habitation, the conscious moulding of the institutions of a new community, the freehanded and generous hospitality of colonial life, the constant change and freshness of character with which in all classes of this strange society he was brought into contact, the ardent and successful pursuit of many branches of science—all aided in giving to his four years tenure of office a charm and fulness which could not be forgotten.

Yet the summons to a different and a wilder sphere of action was not unpleasant. The work in South Australia which he had been sent to do was in fact accomplished. The finances of the young colony had been put in proper order, her social and municipal government regulated, and she was started upon a fair and safe career of prosperity. The work was finished, and he felt a sentiment of pride and joy on this new call to duty in a land where courage and capacity would equally be demanded to deal with the strange and wonderful circumstances by which he must be surrounded.

As, sitting by the roadside, he read Lord Stanley's despatch, his cheek coloured, and his eye glowed with a new fire. He felt that the second chapter in the active history of his life was finished. In the first he had had to deal with exceptional conditions of danger and privation. In the second he had been called upon to exert talent and power in different directions in the management of men and the adaptation of circumstances. Now he was requested to depart upon a different course and meet the savage tribes of New Zealand; to control the passions of many men, gathered from different parts of the earth and from many callings, who had settled in the southern islands of romance; to watch over the safety of widely scattered communities, surrounded by foes considerable in number, desperate in courage, cunning in attack. This was indeed a duty likely to task to the very uttermost all the powers of which he felt the conscious possession.

Fully alive to the difficulties and responsibilities of the new position, Captain Grey was yet not daunted by them. His decision was immediately taken, and no time was lost in making all preparations for departure and leaving Adelaide in the Elphinstone.

The people in South Australia had been much annoyed when their supplies and arms were previously sent to New Zealand, and page 70when they heard that their Governor was about to follow, they believed that he had known from the first, and had planned to take these away for his use in another colony. Afterwards, finding by the despatches that they were wrong in their suspicions, they began with pleasure to take credit to themselves for being the first to send help to New Zealand, No remnant of the undeserved unpopularity against which he had had to contend at first marred the heartfelt gratitude and esteem or the deep and universal regret of the South Australians at his departure.

During the four years of his Governorship, Grey did not relax the discharge of those minor but gentle duties to society which have in every land been associated with his presence. Advice and assistance to Christian churches, to schools, and to students were always given on proper occasions; and when want pressed heavily on considerable numbers of the labouring population of the colony, he gave with a free and liberal hand to their necessities. In such a work as this it is impossible to give due prominence to what Wordsworth called

"That best portion of a good man's life—
His little, nameless, unremembered acts
Of kindness and of love."

In matters more intimately affecting his own life and feelings, the eight years Grey spent in Australia were fraught with mingled happiness and sorrow. They brought him love and marriage. There a son was born to him, and hopeful affection drew bright pictures of the child's future. But when Captain and Mrs. Grey left Adelaide for New Zealand in 1845, they took with them the memory only of that young life.