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

Chapter X. — Review of Grey's Life in Australia, Correspondence, and Scientific Pursuits

page 71

Chapter X.
Review of Grey's Life in Australia, Correspondence, and Scientific Pursuits.

"How charming is divine philosophy!
Not harsh and crabbed, as dull fools suppose;
But musical as is Apollo's lute,
And a perpetual feast of nectared sweets,
Where no crude surfeit reigns."

"To him who in the love of Nature holds
Communion with her visible forms, she speaks
A various language." Bryant.

Eight years had passed since Grey, then an ardent young explorer, had landed in Australia. His career as a colonial Governor and a founder of new states in new lands had actually commenced. To suppose, however, that the mere duties of government, difficult as they were, had occupied the whole of his attention, would be far from the truth. His love of science never wavered, and his application to the study of nature was constant. The troubles inseparable from the position which he had voluntarily taken did not exhaust the energy which he devoted to the business of life. To intense admiration of all natural beauties, and a keen perception of the new and suprising visions which everywhere met his eyes, he added the close attention which the student gives to the objects spread out before him.

The languages of the tribes, the natural products of the island-continent, the trees, the plants, the animals—all new, not merely to him, but to the scientists of Europe—claimed his attention. As in page 72his short stay at Teneriffe he had made observations and collected the phrases and vocabulary of an extinct native tongue; as in his explorations he had studied the manners, customs, and dialects of the Australian blacks—so, during his Governorship of South Australia, he devoted sufficient time and energy to the study of its natural history as to enable him to send contributions to the British Museum and to the Royal Conservatory at Kew, which called forth the admiration and gratitude of those who occupied a leading position in the scientific world.

Many acknowledgments of valuable contributions were received by him from the Royal Library at Berlin. A letter from Professor Owen, from the College of Surgeons, dated May, 1839, contains the following paragraph: —

"All the specimens you sent were new to us, or of great rarity; and, what is more to the purpose, of great utility. I shall soon commence a monograph on the muscles and other parts of the hooded lizard. Your note on the action of the hood is a new and interesting fact in its history."

In December, 1840, at the close of his second expedition, and after his return to England, he made his first donation to the British Museum, consisting of mineral and zoological specimens from Australia. This gift was followed up in January and February, 1841, by two valuable collections of fossils and shells from the same land.

During his residence at Albany, he sent to London a collection of specimens of various sorts, for which a letter of "especial thanks" was sent by the Council of the British Museum, dated April 23, 1842.

On his return to Australia in 1841 he started busily to work in the same direction, and in July, 1843, the Museum in London received another donation from him, comprising three hundred and seventy-four specimens of birds, three eggs, and a snake, followed in October of the same year by two hundred and sixty-seven specimens of birds, and thirty of mammals. So valuable and numerous were the collections which he thus transmitted that, in addition to the usual letters of thanks by the trustees to contributors, in October, 1844, Mr. Forshall, Secretary to the Board of Trustees, despatched a letter to Captain Grey, containing the following acknowledgment: "We really feel our obligation to you, and that your contributions page 73are some of the most interesting which we can boast in the department of zoology." This accompanied the formal acknowledgment of the receipt of a present of fifteen specimens of mammals, twenty-eight birds, four reptiles, seven fish, and one crustacean, from South Australia.

In 1845 the stream of his contributions still flowed in from South Australia to enrich the national collection. Three donations were acknowledged by the trustees during the year, comprising two hundred and sixty-five species of plants, a series of rock specimens and minerals, two hundred and ninety in number, and a large number of skins of mammals and birds. The last gift of South Australian specimens was acknowledged on March 18th, 1847, after Captain Grey had gone to New Zealand.

The British Museum was not the only recipient of the results of his untiring energy and scientific knowledge. In 1840 and 1842 he contributed to the Royal Geographical Society copies of the vocabulary of the dialects of South-western Australia, with a map of Western Australia, and his "Journal of Two Expeditions in Western and North-western Australia."

Early in 1841 the Horticultural Society of London tendered him their thanks for a present of fifty-two papers of seeds from Australia, and a year later the Geological Society of London gratefully acknowledged a collection of fossils from the cliffs beyond the North-west bend of the Murray.

It would be impossible here, as in the other period of Grey's life, to describe minutely the numerous donations made by him to museums, libraries, schools, and other centres of public thought and education. From time to time it will be proper to glance at some of his principal benefactions; but it must be always understood and remembered that no attempt is made to give in detail, or with any completeness, their full enumeration. Gathered with immense care, at continual expense both of time and of money, with wonderful discrimination, and incomparable variety of knowledge, the museums and libraries of every country in Europe, and of most of the great colonies have been enriched by the munificence of Sir George Grey.

With this earnest longing for fuller information on. all matters connected with Australia, there mingled no petty jealousy of the page 74discoveries made by other men. Grey was animated, not by the desire to have his name associated with some great discovery, but by the hope that he might be of use in adding to the sum of general knowledge, and making that knowledge accessible to thousands outside the narrow circle of scientific students. So long as the results of his observations and the logical deductions which his own readings and researches enabled him to make, were published to the world, he cared little or nothing that those who benefited by his labours should be impressed by his attainments.

Thus we find that while the foremost men of the day in many different branches of learning unhesitatingly acknowledge their indebtedness to him, and ask for his opinion and advice in formulating their own theories, yet the general public is quite unaware that he ever attained any special excellence in these directions.

Both the fact of his generous friendship and assistance towards explorers, discoverers, amd struggling literary men, and that of the deference paid to his opinion by men of high scientific attainments, are clearly proved by many acknowledgments. While Captain Grey was Governor of South Australia he kept up a large and interesting correspondence with all parts of the world.

Nor was Sir George Grey forgetful in later years of the labours and merits of those who had braved the perils of an unknown continent to open the way for the peaceful settlement of men. In March, 1869, he and Sir Henry Young, successive Governors of South Australia, addressed a letter to the Secretary of State, urging the claim of Sturt to knighthood as the earliest of living Australian explorers, and on other grounds. Their request was granted, but Sturt died before the honour could be conferred upon him.

A monument at the summit of Stamford Hill, overlooking St. Vincent Gulf, was erected by Sir John Franklin to the memory of Captain Flinders, during Captain Grey's Governorship of South Australia. The spot was chosen by Lady Franklin as being not only suitable in itself, but also because (as Sir John Franklin wrote to the Governor when asking his co-operation in the work) "the ports and islands bear the names of his native country, and of the places in the immediate vicinity of that of his birth."

Although Captain Grey and Sir John Franklin never met they carried on a correspondence, opened by the Governor of Van page 75Diemen's Land, who wrote on October 3rd, 1841, congratulating Captain Grey on his appointment to South Australia, and forwarding a copy of the first number of a Tasmanian journal of science, edited by the Governor's private secretary, their purpose being "to give and invite accurate information on some portions of the natural history of the Australian colonies, and to show that even in a penal colony there are persons Avho can direct their attention to other subjects than chains and convicts."

That Sir Charles Lyell, the eminent geologist, entertained a warm friendship for Grey as a man, and a high admiration for his knowledge and opinions, is shewn by his letters, one or two extracts from which may be of some interest.

In one letter, dated January, 1843, he thanks Captain Grey for a box of fossils, and states that the Geological Society and Professor Owen entirely agreed with the opinion Governor Grey had formed of some interesting cetacean remains which he had sent home. "No small sensation was created by Owen discovering about a month ago for the first time a non-marsupial mammiferous bone in some fossil sent, I think, ninety miles inland from Moreton Bay. He refers it to some pachyderm allied to Demotherium. So the kangaroos had not your word all to themselves."

In a letter written in 1862 he writes: "I am coming out with a volume on the 'Geological Evidence of the Antiquity of Man,' and shall treat of many subjects we talked over together. Although several of your presents sent to the Zoological Gardens from the Cape were lost, your donations make a great show there at present." He also expresses a firm belief that England would have been spared the loss of more than a million sterling if Sir George had gone to New Zealand a year or two earlier.

Writing to Sir George in March, 1860, he speaks in a rather regretful tone of the fact that he had received an invitation to dine with Her Majesty on an evening which he had previously intended to devote to receiving Sir George at the Geological Society Club.

Sir John Lubbock was indebted to Captain Grey for some valuable information sent in reply to the following little note:—

My dear Sir George,—

"I am working at a book on 'Modern Savages, and am very anxious to know your views as to the religious dogmas of the Australians, especially with reference to the Kobongs. I know that they page 76are regarded with much mystery, but are they looked on and worshipped as actual gods? My impression is that they are not, but I am anxious to know your opinion on the subject.—Believe me to be, dear Sir George, yours most sincerely,

John Lubbock.

The Governor was never too busy to attend to such requests. The web of his life, while presenting a bold and consistent pattern throughout, will yet repay a close and minute scrutiny, the seemingly trivial details being wonderfully perfect and complete. The innumerable threads of purpose, knowledge, and principle—some thick and strong as cables, some delicate as gossamer—may be traced with unbroken continuity through the whole fabric.

It is given to but few men to exercise so great an influence in so many different spheres of action and of thought, as Captain Grey was privileged to do.

Considering the number and variety of his pursuits, remembering the thoroughness with which he entered into all, and taking into account the fact that his health still suffered from the effects of his exploring expeditions, we feel that a sentence from one of Arnold Forster's letters expresses a simple truth: "I have often wondered how, with such delicate health as I thought you had when in Adelaide, you could get through such hard work."

When from the deck of the Elphinstone, steering south-east, he saw the Australian shores sink beneath the horizon, the history of the last eight years came vividly enough to his mind. The landing in Hanover Bay, his first day's adventure, with its imminent perils from the sea, from the sun, and from the natives; the wounds which he received from the spears of the savages, the destruction of the stores at Bernier Island; the terrible march from Shark Bay to Perth; his appointment to the Governorship of South Australia, and the four years of his administration there—were past, but certainly not forgotten. He neither knew nor thought that his connection with Australia was ended. He was only enjoying leave of absence from South Australia in order that he might perform a great public work in the more southern colony. He expected to return and resume his duties in Adelaide as soon as his work in New Zealand was accomplished.

Events, however, do not transpire as they are expected. Grey was not to return to Australia, but again to be relieved by another page 77Governor, and shifted to another part of the earth, to undertake a still more arduous task. He looked his last, therefore, upon the great island-continent as the Elphinstone sailed towards the Britain of the South.*

Grateful to his Maker for the guidance and protection which he had enjoyed, rejoicing at the successful accomplishment of the work which had been committed to him so confidently by Lord John Russell, he looked forward to the difficult task which lay before him with equal confidence and delight. He had read of New Zealand; he had met men who had landed upon its shores and mingled with its aboriginal inhabitants; he had heard of its glorious climate, of its tangled forests, its noble harbours, its snow-tipped mountains, its rushing torrents, its peaceful lakes and smiling plains. It was with no slight anticipation that he looked forward to his arrival in the new scene of duty, and the unfolding of a new chapter in his life's work.

In South Australia he had found discontent, mutiny, want, despair; he had left, after four years of patient and unremitting toil, contentment, peaceful industry, and prosperity. What new scenes of trouble and of danger he had to face he knew not, but relying on the Hand which had guided and defended him through dangers and troubles during the last eight years, and gratified beyond measure at the confidence displayed by Her Majesty's Government in his capacity and courage, he went forward without a single fear as to the ultimate result.

* When this was written, Sir George Grey's visit to Australia as a member of the Federal Convention was not thought of.