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

Chapter XXXV. — The Grey College

page 275

Chapter XXXV.
The Grey College.

"Not in vain the distance beacons. Forward, forward let us range, Let the great world spin for ever down the ringing grooves of change; Thro' the shadow of the globe we sweep into the younger day, Better fifty years of Europe than a cycle of Cathay."

Although the Orange River territory had been abandoned by the Imperial Government, the High Commissioner felt a deep interest in the welfare of its people. The process of disintegration, commenced by abandoning the Transvaal and then the Orange River sovereignty, found, as we have seen, no sympathiser in Sir George Grey.

In his opinion, as appeared afterwards in the case of Samoa, the United States occupied the position of the most prominent portion of the British Empire, which in truth meant the English-speaking peoples. No accident of Government or temporary method of rule could ever, as he believed, effect a severance in the ultimate unity and destiny of that great race to which he was proud to belong, and to whose work as the rulers of the world he devoted the constant energies of his busy life.

Nor was it the least merit of his people, nor their least claim to universal supremacy, that thejr were able to absorb and assimilate members of all other races, and to raise them in a higher and nobler sense than ever did ancient Rome, to the privileges and duties of a nationality unique and unexampled.

He was especially qualified to hold these views, both by personal character and by hereditary descent.

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The respect with which the Boers, whether of the Transvaal or the Orange Free State, or in the Queen's dominions, regarded him, was warmed into affection by his conduct towards them on till occasions.

But Sir George Grey enjoyed a peculiar and personal claim to their regard which no other Governor possessed. On his mother's side he claimed descent from a Huguenot noble, who had, at the Revocation of the Edict of Nantes, by the side of Lord Ligonier, afterwards William's general of horse, cut his way, followed by armed retainers, to the sea coast, and thence escaped to England. When a youth Grey had gone to Normandy and visited all the scenes amongst which his mother's ancestors had lived. And now he could describe to these South African descendants of Dutch and French refugees the places where many of their fathers, as well as his, had lived and died. Blood is proverbially thicker than water, and when the Boers found that within Sir George Grey's veins there coursed a strain of Huguenot blood, their hearts warmed towards him in an unwonted fashion.

In his first visit to the Orange Free State the difficulties in the matter of education, with which this new community was forced to contend, presented themselves distinctly to his mind. Among the fathers and heads of families there were men of culture and refinement, but among the stalwart youths and the thousands of boys growing rapidly to manhood there was a lack of that higher education which in these days is necessary to enable men to take a useful position in public affairs, or to keep upon an equal rank with the men of other countries.

This impediment to progress was enlarged and intensified in the case of the Orange Free State by its sudden abandonment. It was, in a single day, thrown upon its own resources. Rude wealth and plenty, wide pastures, Hocks and herds, great possibilities for future development were indeed possessed by the infant republic. But it had no form of government, no institutions. These it had to create for itself.

The first necessities of communal existence and safety demanded all that the republic and its leaders could give of time and thought. At a glance it became evident to Sir George Grey that higher education, upon which so much of the future happiness and page 277prosperity of the country must depend, was, while absolutely necessary, yet likely to be overlooked. Indeed, situated 800 miles from Cape Town, and speaking a foreign tongue, the Free Staters seemed left to ignorance and barbarism in the midst of savage nations.

Gratified, even delighted at the genial hospitality and kindness shown to him by the people of the Free State, and anxious to find some method of expressing his gratitude, the means by which that feeling might be permanently expressed quickly suggested them selves. To found and establish a college for the higher branches of learning, which college, situated in the capital of the republic, should be immediately accessible to all its youth, would fitly embocly that spirit of love and sympathy which Sir George Grey felt within him for the people. He resolved, therefore, to lay the foundations of a college at Bloemfontein.

As soon as his determination became known, he received assurances of assistance and support from all quarters. The President, Mr. Boshoff, expressed his pleasure and willingness to co-operate. Communications were entered into with the leading people of the State, and also with the Transvaal Republic, with the view of extending also in the Transvaal the benefits of higher education.

Sir George drew the plans on which the new educational institution should be conducted. As the majority of the youth of the country spoke the Dutch language only, he advised that while English should not be neglected, the main current of teaching should be in Dutch. He knew that this would obtain for the young community substantial assistance from the Universities and people of Holland.

Endowments for the Bloemfontein College were readily procured. The Government also assisted. Correspondence was opened with the Universities of Holland. Professors were appointed who took the learning of the old world to South Africa. Temporary buildings were as soon as possible procured. And thus the cause of the higher knowledge was absolutely victorious, and its teaching established forever in the Free State.

That college has never languished. Year by year its endowments have increased by the gifts of the living, and bequests. The Government and the Yolksraad have diligently nursed it. The page 278number of students has grown with its accommodation. Some years after its opening a grateful people gave to it the name of its beloved founder, and the "Grey College" will, so far as human wisdom can foresee, last as long in Bloemfontein as human civilisation exists.

The progress of this institution has always been to Sir George Grey a matter of delight. In December, 1890, the railway, in continuation of that which he had commenced in 1855, at length reached Bloemfontein. On its opening to the capital of the Free State there were public rejoicings and festivities. The English South African Governors were invited, and the principal personages of all the civilised portions of South Africa were gathered at Bloemfontein to participate in the national holiday.

Among those who joined in this glad festival were many of the leading men in the Free State, the Transvaal Republic, Natal, and the Cape Colony, who had received their education at the Grey College. Some were men of mature age, fathers of families. As they gathered together on this auspicious occasion, beneath the shadow of the College halls, they did not forget the man who, now laid aside by age and sickness from public duties, had thirty-five years before planned the existence and constitution of their University.

On December 23rd, 1890, there appeared in the New Zealand Herald in Auckland the following paragraph:—

Sir George Grey and South Africa.

The other day, in mentioning the visit of Sir Henry Loch to British Kaffraria, and the speeches made at the gatherings on the occasion, we noted the fact that the memory of Sir George Grey in South Africa remains as fresh as ever. A fresh illustration of that fact we give to-day. A cable gram has reached Sir George Grey by the hands of Dr. Lemon, Superintendent of Telegraphs, which he has received from Sir John Pender, Chairman of the Eastern Extension Telegraph Company, to whom it had been sent by the Minister for Crown Lands, Cape Colony. In sending the message to Sir John Pender, the Minister for Crown Lands says:—"We are in the midst of very enthusiastic festivities in connection with the opening of the Free State railway. At a most successful gathering I agreed to send to you the following message, with a request that you would kindly see to its reaching Sir George Grey." The following is the message referred to, page 279sent through the courtesy of Sir John Pender as a cablegram memo., as well as Sir George's reply: —

Bloemfontein, December 18th.

"At a meeting of the Grey College past students, who assembled to celebrate the opening of the railway of Bloemfontein, they, there being present with them the President of the Free State, the Governors of Cape Colony and Natal, the representatives of the South African railway, the Administrators of Bechuanaland, the Administrators of the Basutos, and three members of the Cape Ministry, and a number of other visitors from the surrounding states, send their greetings to the founder of their Alma Mater."

To this Sir George sent the following reply:—

"Dr. Lemon, Wellington. Sir John Pender. Kindly forward the following to the Minister of Crown Lands, Cape Colony:— 'Greetings gratefully acknowledged. In thought I am often with you. All blessings attend South African States. May the College ever train noble citizens.'

"G. Grew"

The telegram reached Sir George on Sunday morning. The church bells had ceased to ring, and the worshippers were gathered through the length and breadth of New Zealand for their Sabbath devotions. Lonely and quiet, weak from illness, Sir George sat, thinking of the varied scenes of his strange life. Only the day before he had been speaking of the establishment of the Grey College at Bloemfontein, and expressing his gratitude to God for its success. His mind was running upon South African matters. Missionaries, whose memories were recalled to him by the presence in Auckland of Captain Hore, fresh from Lake Tanganyika; the Grey Hospital at King Williamstown, which had also been the subject of recent conversation, the Cape, Natal, and the surrounding districts, were crowding one upon the other through his memory.

In the midst of this train of thought the telegraph messenger arrived, and Sir George read with feelings too deep for utterance, the pleasant message which had traversed the world to find him. A great traveller and philosopher, Baron von Hiibner, in the description of his travels through the British Empire says:—

"Passing before the Public Library (in Cape Town) I stop some times before a stone statue, not on account of its artistic value, but because it represents a remarkable man. It is one of the rare examples of a monument erected in honour of a man during his life-time." *

This refers to the statue of Sir George Grey.

* "Through the British Empire," vol. i., p. 40.—Baron von Hiibner.

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The receipt of the telegram which showed that his memory was fresh and grateful to the people of the Free State, and that the remembrance of that which he had done was cherished there, was to Sir George Grey more gratifying than the erection of any monument of brass or marble. For it revealed the fact that he himself was remembered with affection, and had a place not merely given by the pencil of the artist or the chisel of the sculptor, but imperishably engraven by the loftiest human sentiments upon the hearts of men And deeper still was his gratitude to the Almighty that he had been spared to see in his life-time, such wonderful results following the thoughts and deeds of bygone years.

The influence exerted by the Grey College is evidently not restricted to Bloemfontein, nor to the Orange Free State.

"Directly Mr. Rhodes got back to South Africa after his recent trip to England, he hastened to Kimberley, wherein a speech at the Africander Bond dinner, amongst other things he said: 'I have obtained enormous subscriptions in order to found a teaching university in Cape Colony. I will own to you why I feel so strongly in favour of that project. I saw at Bloemfontein the immense feeling of friendship that all members had for the Grey Institute, where they had been educated, and from which they had gone out to the world. I said to myself, if we could get a teaching university founded in Cape Colony, taking the people from all parts at the ages of eighteen to twenty-one, they would go back tied to one another by the strongest feeling that can be created, because the period in one's life when you indulge in friendships which are seldom broken is from eighteen to twenty-one.'"*

* Greater Britain. May 15th, 1891.