The Life and Times of Sir George Grey, K.C.B.
Chapter XXVII. — The Indian Mutiny and The China Army
The Indian Mutiny and The China Army.
"Till old experience do attain
To something like prophetic strain."
Early in August 1857, when the Kafir outbreak had but just subsided, and the survivors were scarcely settled in their new homes and locations in British Kaffraria, the Governor was surprised by the visit of a steamer from Bombay, bearing an important message from Lord Elphinstone. He received an urgent despatch which contained the tidings of the terrible outbreak in India. It detailed the rising at Meerut, the fall of Delhi, and conveyed with startling plainness of language, the belief of Lord Elphinstone and his Council, that in a short space of time the whole of the native forces in Central India would be in revolt.
No time was lost after the receipt of this momentous letter. There was in Table Bay a man-of-war. There were also two or three ships available for transports. The nearest troops were mustered and prepared for embarkation. Two batteries of the Royal Artillery were sent on board ship. A large quantity of ammunition and military stores were shipped. Horses also were procured. Within three days the man-of-war and transports sailed, and a commencement had been made towards the assistance of India which proved invaluable.
It was a singular coincidence that within a few days of the receipt of Lord Elphinstone's despatch, transports containing a portion of the army then being sent to Lord Elgin to act in page 204conjunction with the French in China, arrived at Simon's Bay. Knowing something of the character of Lord Elphinstone, and being alive to the necessity under such circumstances of immediate action, Sir George did not hesitate to take upon himself extreme responsibility in the crisis which had arisen. He invited the officer in command, the gallant Colonel Adrian Hope, to Government House, and laid before him the despatch which he had received from Bombay. He then urged upon his consideration the advisability of a change in the intended line of the voyage which should enable the troops to report themselves at Calcutta, so that their services might be available in Bengal, if the calamity which threatened India were as serious as he believed.
The commanding officer was not disposed to disobey his own orders. A treaty had been made with France, by which the armed forces of both powers were to co-operate against the Chinese Government. Should the French at once take an aggressive position, and the English troops by delay fail to appear in their support, a grave misunderstanding would be caused; and should any unforeseen disaster to the French arms thus arise, the officer held that he would be certainly subjected to censure.
The Governor allowed due weight to the arguments used, but again strongly pressed the immediate peril of the British Government in India as giving a just reason for any delay which might necessarily ensue. Finally, he decided that, possessing full powers as Governor and High Commissioner in that portion of the continent, it was his duty to afford all possible assistance to the cause of Great Britain in India, and that he should require the officers commanding the various vessels conveying troops to China to report themselves at Calcutta, leaving upon them the responsibility of refusing.
In his belief a new and unparalleled event had taken place in the history of the empire, which threatened disasters it was impossible to over-estimate. He held that in the presence of such an emergency all precedents regulating the proceedings of the troops had become obsolete and inapplicable, and that it behoved the officers holding high powers in every part of the empire who could aid in such an emergency, at once to frame rules suited to the crisis which had arisen, and to act upon them.
Besides this, the voyage to Calcutta would only take them a few page 205day's sail from Singapore, which lay in their direct route. The deviation would make no material difference in the time of their arrival in China if the service in India did not require them.
This settled the matter. The military officers required from Sir George Grey his command in writing for this deviation from their orders in London, to authorise their voyage to Calcutta. The commands were given. The responsibility, though great, was willingly accepted by Sir George Grey; and the various officers, who, led by Colonel Hope, nobly acquiesced, set sail with the troops. A swift steamer was sent to cruise to and fro for any other transports conveying the China army which might be passing the Cape, to communicate the same orders, and to inform the officers that their comrades had preceded them to the Hoogley.
This reinforcement, in the words of Lord Malmesbury, "probably saved India."* At the same time, Sir George Grey, sent a letter of apology and explanation to Lord Elgin, to which, however, he received no answer. These were the troops which arrived in India in time to enable Sir Colin Campbell to relieve Havelock at Lucknow. Had they been allowed to pass the Cape and to go on upon their voyage to China, Sir Colin Campbell would have been unable to make his celebrated march, Havelock and his forces would have shared the fate of General Wheeler at Cawnpore, and India must either have been abandoned or reconquered.
When the first detachment of the China army reached Calcutta, Lord Elgin was at Singapore waiting for the passage of his troops to the land of the Celestials. It is said that while at dinner one evening with his staff, a man-of-war commanded by Captain Peel came into the harbour, bringing despatches from the Governor-General. Probably Sir George Grey's letter was amongst them. He thus learned that his troops, without his authority, were already mustering under Sir Colin Campbell for the relief of Havelock. Lord Elgin rose from the table, and retiring, read his correspondence. For two or three hours he was heard walking to and fro on the balcony. He then went on board with Captain Peel, and steamed up the Bay of Bengal. He subsequently gave cordial assistance to Lord Canning.
* Memoirs of an ex-Minister, by Lord Malmesbury, vol. ii., p. 25.
In a foot-note, Lord Malmesbury writes of the answer to this appeal:—"Lord Elgin, to his eternal honour, complied with Lord Canning's request, and this accidental reinforcement probably saved India."
No public mention was made of the fact that this timely and invaluable aid was rendered, not in the first instance by Lord Elgin, but by the exercise of a great responsibility on the part of Sir George Grey. On the 7th of August, while the troops were just starting for Calcutta, Sir George transmitted a despatch to Mr. Labouchere, fully recounting the whole of the circumstances, and trusting that the extraordinary steps he had taken would meet with the approval of the Queen. Not only was he able to state that he had taken upon himself to send Lord Elgin's army to India, he also informed the Ministry that he had sent with them the Royal Artillery, fully horsed, great quantities of military stores, and sixty thousand pounds in specie from the Cape Treasury, besides a number of horses for cavalry and artillery. In the same despatch he informed Mr. Labouchere that he should take immediate steps to afford still further substantial assistance to Her Majesty's Government in India, and that the people at the Cape were eager to assist in every way possible. In clue course he received the following private acknowledgment from Mr. Labouchere in correspondence in addition to public despatches:
October 16th, 1857.My dear Sir,—I have just received your private letter, as well as your despatch of the 7th of August. I have read with the greatest satisfaction the account you give of the prompt and energetic measures which you havepage 207adopted to assist the Indian Government in the present crisis of their affairs. I am confident that Her Majesty and my colleagues will fully appreciate the zeal and public spirit with which you have acted on this occasion.
* The word "No" is evidently a misprint, as the sense of the succeeding clause and of the whole passage is opposed to it.
I have not yet had time to read your despatch with care, but as some opportunity may occur for sending this note to you before I finally answer it, I have thought it best at once to write.
The account you give of the feelings and behaviour of the colonists is most gratifying.—Always yours sincerely,
The accounts which we have received from India speak with the utmost gratitude of your exertions in their behalf.
October 20th, 1857.
My dear Sir,—In writing to me on the subject of your last despatch, the Queen has commanded me to express to you in a private letter "her high personal appreciation of your services, and her gratification at the loyalty of her subjects at the Cape." You will at the same time receive Her Majesty's approbation of the measures you have adopted in an official form.—Always yours sincerely,
Long before the receipt of the Queen's acknowledgment of his services, the Governor had. added materially to the aid which he had already afforded to Lord Canning. Knowing that artillery and cavalry would be necessary, he purchased and despatched from time to time all the available horses at the Cape; for this purpose dismounting much of his own cavalry and sending his artillery horses, as well as the horses from his own private stables, and from those of many colonists who were eager to give assistance. Great stores of food for the men and for the cattle, and large quantities of ammunition and military material, were despatched to India in a continuous stream.
This was all done without any authority from the Home Government, and simply upon Sir George Grey's own belief that it was necessary for the safety of the empire.
These active measures were watched with the keenest interest and delight by Her Majesty and the Prince Consort. In a letter to Mr. C. J. McCarthy on the 24th of October, 1857, Lord Houghton writes:
* "Life, Letters and Friendships of R. M. Milnes, first Lord Houghton." Vol. II., p. 20.
Ministers in London said nothing. They regarded coldly the efforts made by the Governor at the Cape. The Queen and Prince Albert alone perceived and appreciated the value of the services rendered by Sir George Grey. Yet these steps were taken against the advice of the Governor-General, and at a fearful personal risk.
He had now been nearly three years in South Africa, He had become well acquainted with the necessities and desires of its different races, and he knew by experience the methods of government likely to succeed. His word was law. In his good faith the native chiefs placed implicit confidence. None dared to oppose his will for two reasons. That will was certain to be properly directed, and seemed always victorious. At this tremendous crisis in Eastern affairs, Grey resolved to trust to his own personal influence for the maintenance of government in South Africa, and to despatch, squadron by squadron, nearly the whole of his military forces for the restoration of our supremacy in Hindostan. Before acting upon such a resolution he determined to take into his confidence the great native chiefs, to enlist their sympathy, and to obtain from them assurances that peace should be preserved on all his frontiers.
He immediately started upon a visit to the headquarters of the different chiefs, to lay before them his plans, for he felt convinced that if, upon a full statement of the facts, they gave a solemn assurance of fidelity, no evil results need be feared. He traversed those vast and wild regions by night and day. More than once, travelling at night, he slept in the saddle, closely supported on either side by orderlies told off for the purpose.
Many and varied were the interesting scenes which he witnessed. He climbed the well-nigh inaccessible heights of Thaba-Bosigo to see the great chief Moshesh. The old warrior was ill in bed. His chiefs and head men were called together, and the Governor was page 209ushered in. A huge wooden four-post bedstead, carted from one of the frontier towns with great trouble, nearly filled the small room in which Moshesh lay. Propped up with pillows, and wrapped in blankets, the Basuto chief welcomed the Governor. His council sat round on the immense bedstead, or squatted on the floor.
After the welcomes had been finished, Sir George Grey entered on the subject of his visit. He told his audience of the mutiny in India, of the necessity which existed for immediate assistance being given there to the government of the Queen. He told them plainly and frankly of his own fixed resolution to send every man and horse that could be spared out of Africa, and he asked an assurance from Moshesh and his chiefs that they would loyally assist him to maintain order and to preserve peace. The African chief was cunning, as well as brave, but with Sir George Grey he felt that he could speak unreservedly. He gave the Governor, therefore, an absolute assurance of his friendship, and assented without hesitation to the propositions made. His chiefs followed in the same strain.
Thus at the different kraals and strongholds of the native tribes Sir George obtained promises of sympathy, and in some of assistance. Not one of these promises was broken. South Africa, which for thirty years had been a scene of commotion, of tumult, and of strife, saw the withdrawal of the armed forces of the Crown without one solitary rising against the authority of the stranger. For many years after Sir George Grey left the shores of Africa profound peace remained there. Only after the lapse of nearly twenty years, when at last his policy was broken, and the rules laid down by him disobeyed, disturbances again commenced, and the fires of war were relighted.
Thus all South Africa reposed peacefully while the desperate struggle was proceeding in Bengal, and tribes once savage in their hatred of the English Government gave the great Queen and her Governor their sympathy.
It is hardly necessary to point out that the cares inseparable from the government of troublesome South Africa had to be borne, besides those great peculiar burdens, which added their weight to the ordinary tasks of the Governor's daily life. Teaching and training mixed communities of Dutch, English, and natives in the forms of representative government and free institutions, promoting and page 210fostering education and all philanthropic plans, never ceasing in the prosecution of scientific research and of literary attainment, free in hospitality and abounding in charitable deeds, Sir George Grey's name and memory stamp themselves in the history of South Africa.
The most serious obstacles both to his success and happiness arose from the actions of the Imperial Government. With that dogged and ignorant persistence of opposition which the War Office and the Colonial Office had so frequently shown to great plans and wise proposals, the officials in Downing Street and Pall Mall continued to thwart Sir George Grey, to administer severe rebukes, always undeserved, to limit unjustly his means of usefulness, and to break solemn promises made to him and the colonists, upon the faith of which serious responsibilities had been incurred by the settlers themselves.
During the height of the excitement attendant upon the mutiny, several chiefs of Wanganui and other tribes in New Zealand, wrote to Sir George offering to raise one or two regiments of Maoris for service in India. Their request was forwarded by him to London, together with his opinion upon it. Sir George had no hesitation in advising Her Majesty's Government to accept the service of the New Zealanders. He based his counsel on several grounds. They were excellent fighting men—every Maori was a born soldier. They would become, by service in India, firm in their loyalty. The survivors, receiving decorations and military pensions, would naturally cling to the government of the Queen in case of disturbances in New Zealand. And the Governor reminded Ministers that the Maoris being essentially fond of war, and their tribal conflicts having been stopped by the Government, unless they were enabled to expend their war-like energies in our service, they might possibly turn them against ourselves.
The result was not what the chiefs desired — nor was it what Sir George Grey expected. A decided refusal was given to the proposition, and Ministers drew a parallel between the suggested employment of Maoris in India and that historic employment of the Red Indians against the colonists of America, which had roused the righteous anger of the great Chatham in his dying hours. The words of the Governor were prophetic. In four years the great Maori war had commenced.