The Life and Times of Sir George Grey, K.C.B.
Chapter XXIX. — The Governor Recalled
The Governor Recalled.
"As some tall cliff that lifts its awful form,
Swells from the vale, and midway leaves the storm.
Though round its breast the rolling clouds are spread.
Eternal sunshine settles on its head."
The despatches which arrived in the year 1858 were decidedly hostile and antagonistic in tone to the Governor. The Colonial Office was, during this and the year following, ruled by Lord Stanley and Sir E. B. Lytton as principal secretaries, and Lord Carnarvon as political under-secretary. Earl Carnarvon's connection with the Colonial Office throughout, from first to last, seems to have been a course of enmity against Sir George Grey. Sir E. B. Lytton, owing to illness, interfered but little in the work of the Colonial Office. The despatches from the Governor to Downing Street contain many allusions to the unjust and severe censures which he received.
"If," writes Sir George Grey, "virtual censures are continually recorded against me by one department of the State when I am right, what hope is there for me if, in the difficulties with which I am daily beset, I commit some error? And how can those who are not acquainted with the real state of the case think otherwise, even when I am right, than that I must have acted wrongly to be so censured?
So fierce at last became the attacks upon Sir George Grey, that on June 23, 1858, he wrote the following letter to Lord Stanley:—
My Lord,—In reference to some of the despatches which I have recently received, and which it appears to be thought here, and which (as you will page 223find from my despatch No. 91) it is stated here, it was believed in England, when they were written to me, were of such a nature that they would render it imperative on me to resign my office. I think it right to state that my life has been one of such constant, active duty in remote parts of the world, and I have been so little mixed up in ordinary political affairs, that I am quite ignorant of what may be the conventional rules among public men on such subjects.
I simply believe, in as far as your lordship is concerned, that if you thought it would be for the advantage of the public service that I should vacate my office, you would in a very straightforward, although courteous manner, tell me so.
Yet, lest I should be violating any conventional rules which I do not understand, 1 beg to tell your lordship that nothing but a sense of duty has made me hold my present office so long as I have done. My life is one of ceaseless toil and anxiety—of long separations from much which makes life valuable to man. I have only remained here because 1 thought I was useful to Her Majesty and to my country, from an attachment I felt for any duty which I am set to do, and from a personal regard to the very great number of persons in this colony who have helped me in my many difficulties. But when it is thought to be for the advantage of the public service to send me back to private life, I shall cheerfully and gladly make way for a successor. If, therefore, Her Majesty's Government desire to remove me, the slightest intimation to that effect from your lordship shall lead to my immediate retirement.
I have the honour to be,
Your lordship's most humble servant,
On another occasion he wrote: "I am here beset by cares and difficulties which occupy my mind incessantly, and wear out my health. I feel that I have conducted Her Majesty's affairs for the advantage of her service, and the welfare of her subjects, whose love, gratitude, and loyalty I have secured for the Queen—and I certainly feel it hard that the reward I should receive should be to have my spirit broken by having accounts which I feel are entitled to the approval of Her Majesty's Government, disallowed, thus throwing me into new difficulties—and that this should be done in the uncourteous manner it is, and in letters which, as an old and loyal government servant, sorely wound my feelings, is still worse." This was in relation to the non-payment for two thousand pairs of boots, for the bare feet of the German Legion, which force, indeed, was clearly entitled to them.page 224
British Kaffraria, however, in spite of Downing Street throve and prospered. The children of the savages became civilized. The nomadic wanderers became settled agriculturalists. Christianity spread its peaceful influence upon their hearts and homes, and when upon the journey alluded to. In 1880 Sir Henry Loch visited that portion of the Queen's dominions, eight thousand of the Kafirs, mounted, armed, wealthy and independent, met him, their new Governor, upon the road; and they also desired him (the only Governor who had visited them since the time of Grey) to transmit to Sir George, in New Zealand, their everlasting remembrance of his goodness in the days of old.
In September, 1858, Sir E. Bulwer Lytton, then Secretary of State for the Colonies, sent a private despatch to Governor Grey which commenced thus:
"Some of your recent despatches, to which it is not necessary that 1 should particularly advert, have conveyed to me the expression of an opinion which, as I know, you have frequently urged on Her Majesty's former advisers, namely, that it would be expedient to keep in view the ultimate policy of incorporating British Kaffraria with the Cape Colony, and even, if possible, of uniting all Her Majesty's dominions in South Africa under some common (and of course free) government.
"If I have in any way misinterpreted your views, you will excuse the inadvertency, as on so complicated and extensive a subject it is possible I may not have thoroughly understood you.
"The experience which your administration of these dependencies has now given you, added to the ability and political knowledge which you have displayed in former employments, as well as in this, give a high value in the eyes of Her Majesty's Government to the expression of your deliberate sentiments on such a question; and it appears to me that it is one on which it is highly desirable, however difficult, that a definite understanding should be arrived at."
The despatch in which Sir George Grey answered the private communication of the 6th of September is one of the most important State documents ever penned by him. Its primary intention was no doubt to deal with the question immediately raised respecting a possible confederation of South African States. The consideration page 225of this subject led him to weigh many other questions which directly or indirectly affected the main point.
He had long been grieved by the misconceptions under which the Imperial authorities laboured concerning the character and plans of the colonists, as well as the value of the territories which they inhabited. These misconceptions generally arose from the reports and statements made officially to the Home Government by officers employed in the different dependencies, who from various causes had arrived at erroneous conclusions.
It often happened that men of no special adaptation for the work in hand, selected without due regard to their capacity, were the only means of communication, and the only sources of information. Grey had encountered this difficulty in Western Australia, in South Australia, and in New Zealand; and very many of the obstacles which he had to overcome in his official career arose from false estimates thus formed in the great departments of State in London.
In the case of South Africa he found these erroneous impressions multiplied and intensified. The official and confidential correspondence of successive Governors and high officers of State, written frequently under the pressure of impending calamity or harassing danger, had produced a very serious but essentially false estimate of the Cape and its people in Downing Street and Whitehall.
When, on the 19th of November, 1858, he proceeded to answer this despatch, he first stated the fact of such false impressions having been created and circulated, before offering his own advice and suggestions as to the proper course to be adopted. A summary of the belief which had thus been engendered was given by Sir George in the following words:—
"When the policy was adopted of dividing South Africa into many States, bound together by no ties of union, it was thought that the mother country derived no real benefit from the possession of this part of the African continent, except in holding the seaport of Simon's Bay. It was also thought that peace was ruin to the Cape Colony; that the expenditure of British money during wars made the fortunes of its inhabitants; that they therefore encouraged such wars, often in the most profligate and unscrupulous manner. The European inhabitants beyond the Orange River were believed to be page 226really rebels. It was thought that even in Cape Town it might at any moment be necessary to employ a military force to punish the inhabitants and to prevent the commission of disgraceful scenes. So strongly was this apprehension of disloyalty felt, that even when the countries beyond the Orange River were thrown off, and the question of their federation amongst themselves arose, it was thought that it would be desirable to encourage such a measure, not with a view to the interests of the inhabitants, but because if they were united into one country they would have but one government and one capital; that, therefore, when it was necessary to punish or reconquer them, it would be only requisite to deliver one blow at one point, instead of several blows at two or more points.
"It was further thought that the occupation by Great Britain of the country beyond the Orange River had been a bubble and a farce, in which the Cape colonists were all interested; that it was to them a great gaming-table, and out of the reach of the police; that the country was itself, in great part, a desert, and would hardly keep half-starved antelopes; that it could never produce wool, as the Boers were so prejudiced that they would keep nothing but hairy, fat-tailed sheep: that the labours of the missionaries amongst the native tribes of Africa had produced no results, as no instances were known of real conversions to Christianity, and that it was a lamentable fact that all the Christianity amongst the native tribes in Southern Africa was purchased and paid for—its principal and sole object and end being the facility which such means afforded of obtaining gunpowder.
"These opinions prevailing regarding the country and its inhabitants, the necessary consequence was that Her Majesty's Government determined to rid themselves of such costly and troublesome possessions, and the measures necessary for doing this were hurriedly carried out before any free form of government had been introduced into or tried in any part of South Africa. Necessarily, therefore, the wishes of its inhabitants were in no way consulted in regard to what was done."
Had such reports been true, had the people been rebels, unscrupulous, and greedy; had the country been a waterless desert and useless to Great Britain save for the possession of two harbours, then the policy of dismemberment, which had been already com-page 227menced by the abandonment of the Orange Free State, would have been good and sufficient.
But the Governor consistently affirmed that the opinions which had been formed in England regarding the Cape and its people, the land of South Africa and its various inhabitants, were altogether opposed to the facts.
For nearly four years he had diligently studied the people and the country he had been sent to govern. He felt himself competent to pronounce a decisive judgment upon both. And he proceeded in his despatch, not merely to give a history of what had been done under the false impressions existing, but to sketch the possible dangers which menaced that portion of the Empire, and the steps which, in his opinion, should be taken to ensure its safety and to make it prosperous.
Its people, he contended, were not rebels, but law-abiding and law-loving subjects. He had always acted on this belief, and in no case had he been disappointed. In two notable instances, then present to his mind, the loyalty of the Cape people had been signally displayed. They had voted the necessary money to pay the Hottentot pensioners, and so redeemed the promises of British Ministers, while at the terrible crisis in India they had sent troops and money, and even given their own private horses for the cavalry and artillery in Bengal. They were indeed impatient of oppression, and high-spirited as a race. The founders of the colony had drawn their blood from two noble strains, one of which had flowed in the veins of Dutchmen renowned for their stubborn bravery and unbounded perseverance; the other was traced from that great line of French Protestants who, like the Puritan founders of the United States, had fled from their native land to find in distant regions a home for civil and religious liberty.
From races such as these, upon which were grafted the gradual accretions of two centuries, he held that a people, intelligent and strong, loyal and true-hearted had arisen. But it was necessary in order to their proper government, that those who ruled them should understand them, and that instead of being driven by the hand of power they should be led by the hand of sympathy.
Grey was convinced that the policy of confidence in the people was a policy of wisdom and justice. During his whole career he page 228acted upon this principle, and he never had reason to regret it. When in after years he advocated Home Rule for Ireland he rested upon this principle of confidence in the governed which he had never known to fail.
Considered in the light of history and reason there can be no doubt that Sir George's argument is absolutely correct. It is founded upon the innate nobility of our common nature. It appeals to the very highest attributes of humanity. It builds upon the only durable basis—not upon fear—not merely upon authority.
When Governments will thus take the people into their confidence the peaceful ending of civil disputes will be, to use Mr. Gladstone's memorable words, "within measurable distance."
Regarding the native races, he held that they also could be raised in the social scale and made useful subjects of the Crown. In this direction also, it was necessary that the duty of instruction, and government should be fulfilled, not in a perfunctory manner, but with seal and affection.
To the slanders upon South Africa itself he gave an indignant denial. Large portions of the southern part of the great continent were eminently fertile. Some were well watered, and the climate was in many places good, in some almost perfect. In his own words, "The countries which lie beyond the Orange River are very fertile and productive. Some of them are so to the highest degree. Their extent may be said to be boundless, and in many portions they are capable of carrying a very dense population."
There was present to the mind of Sir George Grey while writing this despatch, a feeling of the evil influences resulting from the method of appointing Governors to the various colonies then practised. This feeling was afterwards strengthened from the year 1867 when the rule was first adopted and acted upon, of sending peers or the sons of peers to represent the Crown in the great consulates.
Believing in the righteousness and wisdom of local self-government in these distant parts of the empire, and that the great offices of state should be the reward of merit, he desired that an educated people should in every instance frame its own laws and administer its own affairs. Thus believing, he perceived that the appointment of Governors by Ministers at Home, tended to raise an aristocracy— page 229generally of wealth—in every colony, thus perpetuating in the new world the vices of the older systems, and rendering necessary the same political and social struggles in these nascent nations, which were convulsing the Kingdoms of Europe and threatening them with revolution.
He thought that every office of the State should be free and open. That to restrict the appointment of great officials to the uncontrolled voice of a Minister in another land was to cramp and confine the energies and hopes of the community, while it degraded the people so governed by declaring them to be incompetent and inferior.
He had in New Zealand raised a new and better system. The Superintendents of the different provinces were in reality Lieutenant-Governors, elected by the people. This had been recognised by the Imperial Parliament, and remarked upon by the two Secretaries of State for the Colonies—Earl Grey and Sir John Pakington—under whose administration of colonial affairs the New Zealand Constitution Act of 1852 had been framed and passed.
There was also strongly present to his mind the policy which the imperial Government had determined to adopt in South Africa. The European population was to be treated as the emigrant Boers in the Transvaal and the inhabitants of the Orange River Sovereignty had been treated; that is, they were to be dealt with in the same fashion as a series of railway trucks when not wanted—they were to be "shunted"—while the Kafirs and other native races were to be repressed and governed by a strong military force, but still to enjoy their own savage and barbarous customs.
From each of these courses Sir George Grey dissented. He condemned them both equally. He had recognised the probability of a conflict between the Home Government and himself upon these subjects. But he was so convinced of the righteousness of his own purposes and the soundness of his own judgment, that he determined at all risks to avert what he considered on the one hand would be a national calamity, and on the other an unworthy perpetuation of barbarism and tyranny. And this he resolved to accomplish by convincing Her Majesty's advisers that his recommendations were for the honour of the Crown and the welfare of the Empire. Thus he hoped to prevail upon them to abandon a plan which he believed page 230to be suicidal, and to inspire in the minds of the colonists and native tribes an earnest desire for knowledge and political power, which would at once create self-respect, and render them mutually useful to each other.
From all sides of the question—the governing and the governed, the Empire and the Colonies, the rights of free men and the hopes of civilization for savages—these grave considerations forced themselves upon him. The Government should be of the people and for the people. The people themselves should be made fit to exercise political power and to enjoy the full and equal rights of freemen.
It was impossible, as it would have been impertinent, to have included arguments of so wide a scope in this answer to Sir E. B. Lytton's secret despatch. Yet the light and reason which flowed from such extensive trains of thought impelled the Governor to a full and exhaustive answer upon the immediate questions submitted to him.
He concluded by advising that the several legislatures of the Cape of Good Hope, Natal, and the Orange Free State should be empowered to found a federal union embracing Kaffraria within their limits, and with authority to adopt into the Union, then or thereafter, all States which might wish to join them, including Native States, with large powers of self-government.
He urged that all these considerations showed "the desirability of allowing the people of South Africa an opportunity of exercising some influence on their own future destiny." Regarding the details of the form of government to be proposed, Sir George Grey stated that the Constitution of New Zealand would furnish a suitable model, and it could be so altered "as to suit in every particular the circumstances of South Africa." The soundness of his judgment in this last recommendation was vindicated by the fact that Canada was thus federated in less than ten years.
In subsequent despatches from Downing Street to the Cape, and from the Cape to Downing Street, the whole scope of federation, not only between the scattered communities then subject to the Crown, but also the Free States of the Transvaal and the Orange River, as well as some of the principal native dominions, was suggested. The matter was the subject of continuous comment between the Home Government and South Africa. It was stated by page 231Sir George Grey that the Volksraad of the Free State had passed resolutions affirming the advisability of a union or alliance with the Cape. Indeed, the federation of South Africa seemed a possible, if not probable, event, with the full and entire concurrence of the Home Government, at no very distant day.
When the Parliament of 1859 met at Cape Town, Sir George Grey placed before it the resolutions of the Orange River Volksraad, and in the course of his address used the following terms:—"You would, in my belief, confer a lasting benefit upon Great Britain and upon the inhabitants of this country if you could succeed in devising a form of federal union, under which the several provinces composing it should have full and free scope of action left to them, through their own local governments and legislatures, upon all subjects relating to their individual prosperity or happiness: whilst they should act under a general federal government in relation to all points which concern the general safety or weal."
He further continued to point out that in federation of the different South African States alone lay safety and success. A copy of this address was of course transmitted to Her Majesty's Government in London, with full explanations and comments.
To Sir George Grey's great surprise he received an answer upon the 5th of May, conveying an expression of dissatisfaction at his having brought the question of a federation of the South African provinces before the Cape Parliament without any authority from the Ministers at Home. In reply, Sir George sent a short but concise explanation of his conduct; of the reasons that had induced that conduct, reciting the various items of correspondence from Great Britain which had led him to suppose that the Imperial Government desired him to take the steps which he had taken.
On the 4th of June, 1859, the final answer came. After a long review of Sir George's whole administration, Sir E. B. Lytton commanded him to surrender his Government and to return to England. The deductions in Sir Edward Bulwer Lytton's despatch as to Sir George Grey's culpability in the matter of the federation are not borne out by the facts adduced, or by the arguments used. Even in this despatch, which was evidently intended to close the connection between Sir George Grey and the Imperial Government at once and for ever, the Secretary for the Colonies did not attempt to page 232cast a slight upon the character or achievements of a publie' servant who had been so singularly useful and universally successful as Sir George Grey.
"I acknowledge," he says, "the large and comprehensive nature of your views, the mixture of firmness and benevolence which has characterised your dealing with the native races, the sagacity with which you have foreseen and averted probable collisions, and the able policy by which you have availed yourself of unexpected and strange events in their history, so as to use them at once for their advantage and for the security of the colony. I am very conscious of the serious nature of the step taken by Her Majesty's Government when they deprive themselves of the services of one so highly endowed as yourself, but 1 am also satisfied that no other alternative is left them. They could not safely continue to entrust with your present functions one committed, as you have committed yourself, to a policy of which they disapprove on a subject of the first importance; nor could they expect from you the necessary assistance when steps, which you have taken without that authority, have of necessity to be retraced.
"I shall take the first opportunity of informing you of the appointment of a successor, and of any other steps which Her Majesty's Government may propose to take."
Immediately upon the receipt of this despatch, Sir George penned an elaborate statement—which indeed is more of a State memorandum than a despatch—in which, having entered fully into every aspect of the subject, he exonerates himself from all blame, and places his own conduct in an unassailable position. The closing paragraph of that despatch (dated July 20th, 1859) is a noble vindication of his conduct which deserves to be placed upon record and to be remembered:
"If, then, success is not to be the measure of the necessity and propriety of the amount of the responsibility assumed, how is it to be estimated? None can deny that, surrounded by the novel and trying difficulties with which I had to grapple, instantly, without having received any instructions from Her Majesty's Government in relation to them, and without any power of obtaining such, I have, with the aid of the many able officers and public functionaries in this country, been fortunately successful. Can, then, Her Majesty's page 233advisers undertake to say that if I had in any instance assumed less responsibility, Her Majesty's South African possessions would have been preserved intact, and have been raised to the condition in which they now are? If this is asserted, let it be shown how much too much responsibility I am believed to have assumed. Can a man, who on a distant and exposed frontier, surrounded by difficulties, with invasions of Her Majesty's territories threatening on several points, assumes a responsibility which he, guided by many circumstances which he can neither record nor remember as they come hurrying on one after another, be fairly judged of in respect to the amount of responsibility he assumes by those, who in the quiet of distant offices in London, know nothing of the anxieties or nature of the difficulties he had to encounter? If Her Majesty's possessions and Her Majesty's subjects are saved from threatening dangers, and they gratefully acknowledge this, whilst the Empire receives no hurt, is it a fitting return that the only reward he should receive should be the highest punishment which it is in the power of Her Majesty's Ministers to inflict? This may be the reward they bestow; but the true one of the consciousness of difficult duties performed to the best of his ability, with great personal sacrifice, they cannot take from him."
The unprecedented circumstances which had happened since Sir George Grey had accepted, at the request of the Duke of Newcastle, the care of South Africa, had compelled him to a certain course of action, which had thus at last ended with his summary dismissal from his office. The affair of the Hottentot pensions; the dispute as to the revenue of British Kaffraria; the sending of the China army to India: the levying of the German Legion, thus adding to the military forces of the Empire without the sanction of Parliament; and, lastly, the suggestions for a confederated South Africa, were all illustrations of a principle which he contended for, and believed to be not only correct, but essential.
He felt that the Empire was in a state of transition, and, therefore, liable to sudden dangers which, if the public safety were to be secured, must be met and averted as they arose. As he had explained to Colonel Hope, when diverting the China army, and as he had stated in his memorandum in answer to accusations made against him on his return from New Zealand, he held as an article page 234of faith that it was necessary, at whatever cost or personal sacrifice, that the great officers of the Empire should, upon such occasions, take upon themselves the full responsibility of doing as they might see fit. He acted on the true reading of the Latin maxim, Salus populi suprema lex, and felt that he was right in so acting.
To break through the orders of the Horse Guards and the War Office and himself issue fresh commands, would have been, under ordinary circumstances, little short of high treason: but in the face of the Indian Mutiny it was mere common sense. To raise fresh regiments and add them to the strength of the British army would be under ordinary circumstances, high treason; but when Sir George Grey recalled the German Legion to its standards and sent it to Bombay, it was the act of a far-secing and patriotic statesman. It was well for England and well for India that at the Cape in 1857, there was a man who dared do all things when he felt he was in the right.
The natural consequences of such a course of conduct, especially when actions of this nature were repeated, ensued. His recall was sooner or later inevitable, and for the same reason it became certain that sooner or later Sir George Grey's connection with the Colonial Office must perforce cease. He was, as Ministers did not hesitate to say. too strong a man. As afterwards in England he sacrificed his political prospects to his sense of right and justice, so in his career as a Colonial Governor, he voluntarily placed himself in such a position as to close the gates against himself to the highest promotion in the public service.
The esteem of good men, the consciousness of work well done, the rewards which, in this world and the world to come, will be bestowed upon public virtue and public courage, are and will be his; but, none the less, he was called upon to illustrate the truth that they who will lead in that which is great and good, must be content to bear the martyr's cross.
Sir George Grey lost no time in obeying the orders thus received. He broke up his establishment at serious pecuniary loss to himself, and took passage for England. South Africa was over shadowed by astonishment and consternation. The prevalence of peace and good government raised by Grey's five years of administration— the sense of safety never before enjoyed—-the hopes of page 235future prosperity built upon the continuance of his wise and firm policy—were rudely swept away by a despatch from a gentleman whom the people had never seen and only knew by reputation, in whose estimation the lives and welfare of a million of people, civilized and barbarian, were not equal in importance to the continuance of official control, and to the necessity of a blind obedience.
This difference between the Ministry and Sir George, led to results which never could have been anticipated, and which were destined to bring suffering and loss and shame upon Great Britain and South Africa in future years.
The principal Secretary of State for the Colonies at this time was the well-known novelist, Sir Edward Bulwer Lytton. The Parliamentary Under-Secretary was the Earl of Carnarvon. Henry Howard Molyneux Herbert was then in his twenty-eighth year. Fresh from the schools, proud of his academic distinctions, accustomed to the praises of his peers and the flattery and subservience of his inferiors, he had entered public life with settled convictions as to his own ability and the sacred rights of his order. With one or two others, such as Earl Kimberley, Lord Carnarvon took a leading position in English politics as a peer without first serving his apprenticeship in the Commons.
The valuable lessons to be learned while contesting a seat in the popular assembly, and by participating in the keen debates of the Representative Chamber, were thus denied to him. Ushered at once into a prominent position, he was placed in a delicate and dangerous situation. As if to add at once to the responsibility and the perils which encompassed the young Earl's path, Bulwer Lytton became seriously unwell. Driven by illness to seek the waters and mild climate of Malvern, the Chief Secretary had devolve well nigh the whole active conduct of his great department upon Lord Carnarvon. To the young peer Sir George Grey's conduct in all these matters (some of which happened within his own experience, while others had come to his knowledge from the recent history of the department) amounted to less than treason, but more than insubordination.
Lord Carnarvon's mind was made up. Sir George might have rendered great services to the nation, but he must henceforth be dispensed with. To use the noble Earl's own words, which in after page 236years he did not hesitate to utter, "Sir George Grey was a dangerous man." His actions might be successful, but the doom of any public servant who acted as Sir George Grey had done was in Lord Carnarvon's mind, already decreed. He must be got rid of. He was a dangerous man. Thus were sown the seeds, the harvest of which in 1877-81 England and South Africa were to reap in suffering and in tears. The mind of the young peer became so violently prejudiced against Sir George Grey, as to preclude the possibility of his ever again employing this bold defier of all constituted authority in the service of the Crown. Only upon this theory is it possible to understand the acts of Lord Carnarvon in relation to Sir George Grey and to affairs in South Africa on this occasion and in after years.