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

Chapter XXXI. — Public Opinion in England on the Colonial Question

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Chapter XXXI.
Public Opinion in England on the Colonial Question.

"Have been at a great feast of languages and stolen the scraps."

As the ship neared England, the mind of the returning Governor was somewhat perplexed as to his future course and destiny. He had long since decided to follow out what seemed to be the path of duty irrespective of consequences; and had already in New Zealand entered upon a course of independent conduct which had threatened the sudden termination of his official career.

The blow had at last fallen, and although sustained by a consciousness that he had done his duty, the sudden separation from his chosen work, which he loved so well, weighed heavily upon him. There was so much yet to be accomplished in South Africa. So many golden opportunities for usefulness presented themselves to his mind which perhaps a stranger might not perceive, or, perceiving, appreciate, that a sadness, foreign and strange to him, asserted a temporary sway.

page 243

All the races in South Africa had endeared themselves to their late Governor. The colonists, whether of British, or Dutch, or French extraction, had welcomed him warmly, and loyally supported him. The natives, both chiefs and people, had proved themselves true-hearted and faithful.

To realise that all his plans were stopped, and that the shears of the fatal sisters had, as it were, cut asunder the threads of his political life, could not but weigh with extreme gravity upon his mind. What the future would bring forth troubled him. Who would be sent to govern those scattered and diverse races? What counsels were to guide him? What policy would be given him to follow? All these questions, as he paced the deck while Northern stars rose in the heavens, harassed and saddened a heart not given to forebodings, and generally untroubled by events.

At any rate, if his connection with the colonies had ceased, he had attempted to the best of his ability to serve his Maker, his Queen, and his country.

Twenty-two years had passed since he had first traversed those seas on his outward voyage to Western Australia. They had been years of adventure, of experience, of usefulness and honour. The arbitrary will of a Secretary of State might sever his connection with the chosen work of his life, and dismiss him from the public service. But no power on earth could erase the record of that twenty-two years of public service—and in his heart he esteemed the names Western Australia, South Australia, New Zealand, the South Pacific and South Africa, more worthy and more glorious than the proudest names which were inscribed in ancient or modern times upon the standards of victorious hosts.

Nor was he altogether devoid of faith, that even this blow would turn out rather a blessing than an injury. He remembered how on his first return to England not a month had passed before his highest hopes had been exceeded. He felt that in South Africa his work was not completed. The same faith which had nerved him in the terrible difficulties of his explorations, and which had sustained him since in many scenes of trial and of responsibility, enabled him under this heavy stroke of seeming disaster, calmly to resign himself to the will of that great Master Whom he desired to serve and obey.

At length the ship reached her destination. The ex-Governor page 244had requested that any reporters from the papers who boarded the ship, might be brought to him on their arrival. In compliance with his request, the captain brought to him a reporter from the Times. No names were mentioned—Sir George at once asked this gentleman the question which was uppermost in his own mind.

"Can you tell me who has been appointed as the new Governor at the Cape?"

The reporter without hesitation gave an answer which settled all doubts and fears in the mind of his questioner.

"No new Governor, sir," he said, "has been appointed. Immediately after Sir George Grey's recall, Lord Derby's Ministry resigned. When the new Ministry came into office, Sir George Grey was re-appointed, and a ship was sent out to the Cape to stop him from coming home."

The sudden and unlooked for announcement of his re-appointment filled Sir George Grey with gratitude and delight. His thoughts flew over the sea to the distant land which he had recently left, and he could hear in fancy the cheers and congratulations of the people in South Africa whose petitions were thus answered before they had been received.

His faith was not misplaced; his work was not yet done, and he felt still more assured than ever, that until that work was accomplished for which he seemed to be chosen and to be fitted, the prejudices of his superiors, and the envy and dislike of his opponents, could not and would not prevail against him.

When it became known that he had not received his re-appointment in time to prevent his return to England, messages of friendship and congratulations poured in upon him from many quarters. Leaders in science, in religion, in politics, in naval and military circles, joined in the chorus of welcome.

The Duke of Newcastle was again in charge of the Colonial Office. He did not on this occasion, as he had done on Sir George's return from New Zealand five years previously, treat the Colonial Governor with coldness, arising from a sense of disapprobation. His first act on taking the seals of the department, had been at the Queen's request, to re-appoint Grey to the Governorship at the Cape. The despatch in which he had conveyed this page 245information had been sent to Cape Town with instructions to Sir George not to leave the colony. It had, however, crossed the returning Governor upon the way, and a copy was given to him in London on his arrival.

A private letter from the Duke of Newcastle accompanied the despatch of August 4th, 1859, sent when he first assumed the position of Secretary for the Colonies, and learnt that Sir George had been recalled from the Government of the Cape by his predecessor. Sir Edward Lytton. The letter, dated August 5th, 1859, ends thus:—

I hope you will adopt the offer I make you in my despatch. I give you full credit for a conscientious sense of duty in the course you have taken, and therefore believe that, if yon feel your position allows it without sacrifice of public usefulness, the same sense will induce you to subordinate all other considerations to the hope of associating your name with the consolidation of a great branch of the British Empire, in a land which has hitherto been a fertile source of political anxiety and heavy expenditure.

Grey was grieved to find that although a new Ministry had assumed power in England, the policy of non-confederation was still definitely endorsed. The Duke, in his despatch, while giving every credit to Sir George's patriotism, his wisdom and foresight, yet conveyed the unalterable decision of the Cabinet that the confederation of the States in South Africa was not desired and must not be pursued. With great regret, while accepting the re-appointment to South Africa, Sir George acceded to the terms demanded, and wrote the following letter:—

London, October 29, 1859.

My Lord Duke,—Having carefully considered your Grace's despatch, No. 13 of the 4th of August last, and reflected upon what passed at the interview with which you recently honoured me, I beg to state that I conceive it to be my duty to carry out the course I understand your Grace to wish me to pursue, and I therefore hold myself in readiness to return to the Cape of Good Hope so soon as yon may have been able to prepare such instructions as you consider necessary for my future guidance.

Much that has recently taken place will render my future position at the Cape of Good Hope a very difficult one. Had I consulted my personal feelings, I should have shrunk from entering upon it; but from a. sense of my duty to the Queen, to your Grace—who originally sent me to South Africa, and who has since treated me with so much consideration—and to the people of that country, I am prepared to encounter all the difficulties I shall have to meet, trusting that Her Majesty's Government will, in page 246considering my future proceedings, make cine allowance for these embarrassing circumstances.—I have, etc.

G. Grey

Before this letter was written Sir George had many opportunities of testing the feeling held towards him by the Duke of Newcastle and other members of the Ministry. He was gratified to find that bis conduct was hold in high estimation, and that he had personally gained the approval and esteem of those with whom he had so long and earnestly worked. The veto placed upon his great project for confederating South Africa was bitter in the extreme, but he felt that he might yet be able to accomplish much for the good of the people at the Cape, even though the time had not come when his great policy could be carried out. He was convinced that sooner or later his opinions in this matter would prevail; as in many other instances he was forced to give up his own plans, and to suit his actions to narrower views and less extended counsels.

The Duke felt and sympathised with Sir Geerge Grey in his disappointment. All that could be said to encourage and to console was uttered by the Secretary for the Colonies. Speaking of Sir George's future and the self-denial which he must practise in thus relinquishing a cardinal point in his policy in South Africa, and of the difficulties which he would inevitably meet in his future government of those dependencies, the Duke promised that when his term in South Africa was completed he should receive the highest appointment in the power of the Colonial Office, the Governor-Generalship of Canada.

Men of all political parties and of all shades of political opinions have now reason to regret that the wise policy of Sir George Grey was not pursued at that time. The blood, the treasure, the passion and the suffering which Southern Africa has cost us since, would all have been spared had Sir George's plans prevailed. Of the many sins committed by Downing Street against the welfare and the happiness of the Queen's subjects in distant lands, not the least was the blind and dogged opposition shown to Grey's far-seeing project of confederation in 1859.

During the course of a conversation with his friend, Mr. Greville, Sir George Grey's private secretary learned some of the particulars attending the recall of Sir George Grey. The Prime Minister, accompanied by Mr. Greville, had visited Windsor, and there Lord page 247Derby had informed the Queen that the Cabinet had decided to advise the recall of Sir George Grey from the Cape. Her Majesty was very unwilling to assent to the advice given by her Ministers. The great services which Sir George Grey had rendered in all his governments, and especially during the late trying crisis in Imperial affairs, had disposed her strongly in his favour; and it was with feelings of repugnance that she contemplated his removal.

Lord Derby, however, pressed his advice. Ultimately the Queen yielded. Sir George Grey's recall received the royal signature, and the Premier and Mr Greville left Windsor for London. On the journey homewards Lord Derby did not speak, nor did Mr Greville break the silence. When parting at the railway station the Premier simply said, "I'm afraid we have done a bad thing to-day in recalling Grey from the Cape."

It afterwards gave Sir George Grey great satisfaction to know that his services had been so highly valued by the Queen, that not only did Her Majesty strenuously object to his removal, but upon a change of Ministry, herself suggested to the Premier his re-appointment.

The excitement which Sir George Grey's recall bad created in South Africa had no counterpart in England, but the event was of sufficient importance, and the circumstances which surrounded it so interesting, as to raise a feeling of inquiry among leading statesmen. The Duke of Argyll invited Sir George Grey to a dinner party, at which he met a number of leading politicians and men connected with the concerns of Great Britain.

The Colonial Question, with its many ramifications, was after dinner entered into at length. Sir George Grey opened the species of discussion which ensued. He briefly touched upon the recent history of South Africa, and insisted upon the importance to Great Britain of the expansion of her colonies and the maintenance of friendly relations of the most intimate character between England and her many dependencies In relation to the development of the colonies he proceeded to point out that in all new communities, where countries hitherto waste became the active scene of industrial and commercial life, two several species of wealth were, in fact, always created. The first consisted of the actual and tangible page 248possessions of the new community. Its lands made valuable by the presence and the labours of men; its cities; its fleets; its flocks and herds; its stores of merchandise; its manufactures and other industries; and all possessions which could be classed as real and existing wealth. The second was found in that public credit which, though intangible, was as real and to a certain extent of as great value as the other.

In the many parts of a great but scattered nationality, especially in those where for the public benefit it became necessary to construct great public works or other improvements, this communal credit could be and ought to be, within certain limits and under wise regulations, made available for the general comfort and prosperity.

Nor should the burden of redeeming the debt so created be borne altogether by the generation then existing. Where great values and benefits were conferred upon future generations, a corresponding liability might fairly be imposed. The hoarded wealth of different parts of the same people might well be employed in aiding the scattered members of their own race, who in return would give a portion of the wealth so created to those who had thus aided in its production.

He alluded especially to the railway which was then in course of construction at the Cape as an illustration of this principle, and expressed his belief that extension of assistance in this way to the outlying parts of the Empire would tend to produce a confederation, not limited to one part of the world, but extending to the most distant portions of the great British Empire. And this confederation being based, not upon government, or race, or language only, but upon a community of interest, would be likely to stand the severest strain which future contingencies could place upon it.

The majority of those present sided with Sir George Grey. Lord Lawrence, a man of few words, endorsed the opinions held by the Governor of South Africa. Lord John Russell, before leaving the room, in alluding to the estimation in which he held Sir George, when he had appointed him to the Governorship of South Australia, warmly expressed to Sir George Grey his approval of the sentiments uttered by him, which he held to be both patriotic and wise.

Macaulay, with great eloquence, also defended every position page 249which Grey had advanced. Regarding the right which the present possessed of placing burdens commensurate with benefits upon the future, the great historian pointed out the fact that all men were more naturally interested in that which immediately concerned and touched them than in the cares or triumphs of people at a distance, neither in time or space. Sir Charles Wood had urged that men would not, and ought not, to regard the present with a greater distinctness of purpose than that which they bestowed upon the future: that, indeed, public men should be guided equally by consideration for the welfare of the coming generation as of the present: and that they should not, for the sake of a present benefit, encumber the race which was to come after them with burdens which might possibly prove heavy to bear.

Macaulay differed from Sir Charles Wood. However great the sympathy of the most sensitive man might be for others in distant places or in distant times, the present must inevitably claim the greatest consideration. He said that when he read the reports from China, by which it appeared that the Chinese Commissioner Yea had put to death a hundred thousand of the Chinese rebels, he was greatly concerned and filled with indignation. While considering this subject he hurt his thumb, and the pain was so great that it banished from his mind nearly all his sympathy for the hundred thousand Chinese unfortunates. He loved those among whom he lived; it was impossible to predict with certainty what race would occupy England in one or two hundred years, and he maintained that the present inhabitants ought not to be called upon to bear the whole burden of provision for the future.

Mr. Gladstone objected to some of the arguments and principles urged by Sir George Grey. The whole leaning of his mind appeared to be an apprehension of the too great extension of the Empire.

The Imperial views of the majority found but little favour with Mr. Gladstone. And the policy which the Duke of Newcastle had enunciated as the unanimous decision of Ministers when he fettered the reappointment of Sir George Grey to the Cape, with the condition that the Governor must forego his plans of confederation, was strongly and entirely endorsed by Mr. Gladstone.

The Duke of Argyll did not himself take a prominent part in the page 250discussion. He listened with interest to the views expressed by the speakers, and to the opinions of those who, coming from the distant parts of the earth in which they had held supreme power or prosecuted wide enquiries, were well worthy of consideration and respect.

To Sir George Grey this unstudied conference afforded great pleasure. As his interviews with the Queen and Prince Albert had convinced him that Her Majesty's mind and that of her illustrious Consort endorsed and supported his own reasonings, so this chance discussion proved to his satisfaction that the learning, the culture, and the intellect of his native country were in the main favourable to those great ideas of national extension to which, during all his life, he had adhered.

During his stay in England, Sir George was on one occasion the guest of the Duke of Newcastle at Clumber. The party was somewhat large, and composed of prominent politicians and statesmen. The conditions under which he was to return to the Cape were freely canvassed. His own repugnance to the policy of dismemberment was well known, while the determination of' the Government to oppose his policy of confederation in South Africa was equally public. The question was one of considerable importance, and as a consequence it was often discussed. Among the visitors was Mr. Cooke, then editor and part proprietor of the Saturday Review. This gentleman, who had risen by his own exertions and talent from a position of obscurity, was often consulted by Ministers, and his opinions were greatly respected. He was at length definitely appealed to by the Duke of Newcastle. Without any hesitation he decided in favour of Sir George Grey's views. "I cannot conceive," he said, "how different opinions upon this point can exist. I am astonished that successive Ministries representing both sides in politics should have so decided this important question. Sir George Grey in this matter towers above you all. I am certain that in a few years public opinion will believe you to be all in the wrong and declare Sir George Grey to be right." Public opinion did indeed change some years afterwards, but in 1859 it was inflexibly disposed against the policy of federation, and favoured the reduction of the Empire.