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

Chapter XLI. — Changed Position of The Governor in New Zealand

page 327

Chapter XLI.
Changed Position of The Governor in New Zealand.

"Striving to better, oft we mar what's well."

On his return to New Zealand, although but a few years had passed since he had left it, Sir George Grey thus found the natives and Europeans in deadly conflict, and he found also his liberal and democratic land administration practically destroyed.

Nor was he able, under these adverse circumstances, to use the powers with which he had been invested on his first arrival in the colony. He was hampered and tied down in many ways. There was a large military force in the North Island, but not under his immediate command. General Cameron was utterly unfit to cope with the difficulties presented by the forest warfare, increased by the skill and bravery of the warlike Maoris.

Sir George found his advice slighted, his warnings laughed at. He was bitterly mortified at the sight of brave men led on to certain death, and at the spectacle presented by the humiliating repulse of British troops by a handful of half-armed savages.

Nor could he control the civil government. The Parliament of the colony had replaced his former Council and his semi-autocratic power. His exercise of authority was not limited only by the existence of a Parliament. As the Governor of New Zealand under the Constitution, he could only act by the advice of his Ministers. He found himself impeded and harassed, thwarted and defeated, sometimes by the stiff and formal rule of the General, at others by page 328the divided counsels and incompetence of some of his Ministers; although he was often cheered and aided by a spirit of loyalty and true friendship among those he called to his assistance.

From the commencement of his second period of office in New Zealand, it was evident that complications which had not before presented themselves must inevitably arise. The Home Government bad for many years declared their purpose of withdrawing the Imperial forces from the distant colonies. It is not necessary here to enter into a consideration of the motives which actuated successive Ministries upon this point. Conservatives and Liberals agreed that the expense of maintaining armies in distant lands was too great to be borne, and that the scattering of different portions of the small army which England could call its own in widely sundered localities tended to weaken the nation in the Councils of Europe, and render it helpless in the event of war.

The colonists on the other hand had not yet made up their minds to rely upon themselves. And as by the Constitution they had the power of legislating for themselves, dissensions were almost sure to follow between the Government in England and the Government in New Zealand.

Between the Imperial and Colonial Governments the Governor held a most unhappy position. It was indeed impossible to conduct the affairs of the Colony at that time without giving dire offence either to the Ministers in London or to the Ministers and people in the Colony It was highly improbable that the Governor could escape offending both parties, and this improbability was deepened by the fact that Sir George Grey was a man of original ideas and resolute character.

On the whole, during the six years between 1861 and 1867, he worked more in harmony with the Colonial Government than with Downing Street and Pall Mall. This was not owing to any predilection of his own, but rather because the Colonial Ministry generally took the most reasonable view of matters, and acted conscientiously in the performance of their duties: while the Colonial Office and the War Office pursued their usual erratic and arbitrary course.

Sir George Grey was fully alive to the probable consequences which would follow a continued opposition to Ministers at home. But he did not permit the fear of official displeasure to distract his page 329attention or to divert his purpose. Unforeseen contingencies also arose to add to his anxiety and trouble. One of these, typical of others, but in itself of considerable importance, and leading to grave, results, took place in the following manner.

The Governor received from Mr. Card well, then Secretary for War, enclosed in official despatches, a communication marked "Private and Confidential." This despatch contained a statement which had been made in confidence to Mr. Cardwell, accusing the Governor of having caused certain Maori prisoners taken in battle to be put to death. Mr. Cardwell stated that the facts had been given to him from such reliable sources that he could not but believe them to be correct: that he was deeply grieved at the occurrence, and trusted that the Governor would be able to explain so serious an accusation, although he feared that explanation was impossible. He had marked his letters "Private and Confidential," lest the records of proceedings certain to bring discredit upon the name of England should become matters of public comment.

Sir George Grey, move accustomed than Mr. Cardwell to face dangers, recognised at the first glance the false position in which the New Zealand Government, and especially himself personally, were placed by the conduct of the Secretary for War. He felt that to conceal charges so serious behind the veil of privacy and confidence was to hide fire in the midst of combustible materials.

Without hesitation he summoned a meeting of the Cabinet, and laid the "Private and Confidential" despatch before his Ministers. In explaining his conduct to them, he urged that they were accused of a very heinous crime; that he especially was singled out by some unknown enemies, and an offence equally grave in the eyes of nations and of individuals alleged against him. If this charge were true,—if by any means it could he sheeted home,—he was no longer fitted to be a Representative of the Queen, nor even to remain in her service. If on the contrary it were proved to be false, punishment of equal weight should be meted out to those by whom he had been falsely accused. If it were true, no Minister and no Representative of the Queen could properly consider it as a private and confidential matter. If it were untrue, it should be publicly exposed and refuted. And he asserted his own opinion that no unsolicited communication, although marked "Private and Con-page 330fidential," which contained serious accusations against great officers of state ought to be treated in any other way than that accorded to ordinary official despatches.

The Ministers sided entirely with the Governor. Neither Governor nor Ministers knew anything of the occurrences which were alluded to. After considerable deliberation it was resolved that rewards should be offered in the Gazette to anyone who could give information upon the matters contained in Mr. Cardwell's letter. It was decided to institute the strictest inquiries, and to leave no stone unturned in the search for the whole truth regarding this remarkable accusation.

The efforts of the Ministry were but scantily rewarded. They ascertained that there had been a military execution without the knowledge or consent of the Governor; that the officers of one or two of the regiments had made strong representations regarding the manner in which the victims had met their death; and that to appease their anger against a proceeding which they deemed to be disgraceful to the service, it had been in some way conveyed to them that the Governor was responsible. Some of these officers had thereupon written to their friends in England, who had in their turn communicated with the Secretary for War. Thus had arisen the grave scandal which he had desired the Governor, if possible, to explain.

Without loss of time, Sir George Grey advised Mr. Card well of what had been done, and transmitted a full official memorandum. The Secretary for War was grievously offended. He considered that his confidence had been abused, and his kind intentions rewarded with insult. He complained very bitterly to his colleagues of Sir George Grey's conduct, and the matter was discussed at some length by the English Cabinet.

To add to Mr. Cardwell's annoyance he found that his fellow Ministers approved of the course adopted by the Governor of New Zealand. They endorsed his opinion that the reputation of no public man would be safe if any serious indictment could thus be brought against him under the shield of privilege.

They were not, however, inclined actively to support Sir George Grey's contention that they should enforce the regulations which provided that no man after a court-martial should be put to death page 331in a British colony without the assent and signature of Her Majesty's representative. As we shall see, this point of contention was one of the final causes of disagreement at a later date between Sir George Grey and Earl Granville.

General Chute succeeded General Cameron, and brought to the
Sir George Grey. 1859

Sir George Grey. 1859

conduct of the campaign far more energy and knowledge of bush warfare than his predecessor had displayed.

Gradually the war waned. Although the Maoris had been successful in defending many of their fortresses, their losses had page 332been very great. The troops were gradually withdrawn, and by 1867 only one or two regiments remained in the colony.

Sir George Grey had written in very strong terms to the English Government regarding General Cameron and the Secretary, of State for War. Lord Carnarvon had requested Sir George to withdraw this letter, but he declined to do so, stating that he considered it as due to his Ministers and the colony that their vindication should remain on record side by side with the accusations which had called it forth.

When Lord Carnarvon resigned his position as Secretary for the Colonies, the Duke of Buckingham took the seals of that office.

Within three months of his appointment the new Secretary, influenced, it may be presumed, by the long and growing bitternegs of feeling against Sir George Grey, closed a despatch mainly upon military subjects by regretting that such serious controversies bad existed between the Governor and the officers in command of Her Majesty's forces. The noble Dnke concluded by saying:—"I shall again address you upon this matter. I shall then be able to inform you of the appointment of your successor, and of the time at which he may be expected to arrive in the colony."

No notice whatever had been given by Her Majesty's Government to Sir George Grey of his intended recall. After such great achievements in peace and war, an illustrious public servant was thus summarily notified of the cessation of his duties, in a paragraph that would not have been courteous. if dispensing with the services of a temporary clerk in a merchant's office.

Thus were ended Sir George Grey's connection with the Colonial Office, and his career as a Colonial Governor. When, fifteen years before, he had left New Zealand, the native population of the country was overwhelmed with grief. On this occasion, also, spite of war and troublous times, many of the Maori chiefs regarded with sorrow the removal of that Governor in whom they recognised a sincere friend as well as an inflexible ruler. But it was from the European subjects of the Queen that Grey now received the most cordial and earnest sympathy.

Addresses, resolutions from public meetings, correspondence from many quarters, the universal consensus of praise and admiration in the colonial press, all testified to the admiration and gratitude of page 333the New Zealand colonists for one who, during nearly twenty-five years, had been the hope. the guide, and the shield of the community.

Both Houses of Parliament in Wellington passed votes of sympathy and appreciation with an enthusiasm and unanimity rarely manifested. Colonists recognised the fact that it was in defence of their Constitutional rights and the vindication of their liberties that Sir G. Grey had drawn upon himself this last and final blow from Ministers of the Crown in England.

The address voted by the Wesleyan Methodists was fairly typical of the general feeling towards the departing Governor. It was as follows:

To His Excellency Sir George Grey, K.C.B, Governor of New Zealand, etc.

We, the minister of the Wesley an Methodist Church in the Northern Island of the colony of New Zealand, desire, on the occasion of Your Excellency's departure from us, to acknowledge the readiness with which you have always encouraged our missionary work.

From the time of Your Excellency's first arrival in this country yon took a deep interest in the educational progress and religious welfare of both races of Her Majesty's subjects in New Zealand. But particularly in our efforts for the evangelisation and civilisation of the Maori tribes, so hopefully prosecuted up to the date of the late calamitous war, the Wesleyan Mission was greatly indebted to your hearty co-operation. We shall ever remember with gratitude the personal attentions with which many of us were cheered and honoured by Your Excellency during the earlier struggles with the difficulties incidental to a new country. And now that you are about to retire from the administration of the government of this colony, we beg most respectfully to otter our cordial wishes for your future happiness; and with our earnest prayers that the blessing of the Almighty may be with you, we bid Your Excellency an affectionate farewell.

Signed for and on behalf of all the Wesleyan ministry in this Island,

James Buller, Chairman.

Auckland, December 16, 1867.

To this Sir George Grey made the following reply:—

Reverend Gentlemen,—I thank you most sincerely for this address.

I can assure you that I have for years watched with interest and gratitude the zealous efforts you have made to promote the religious and secular welfare of both races of the Queen's subjects in New Zealand, and especially have I felt grateful to you for the noble and self-denying efforts you have made for the evangelisation and civilisation of the people of the Maori race. You are good enough to allude to the assistance I have given you in the page 334prosecution of these works; but I can assure yon it was to me rather a pleasure than a duty, to co-operate with you in the efforts to attain such great and important objects.

I am much obliged to you for the affectionate farewell which you bid me on my removal from office, and for your prayers and wishes for my future happiness. I shall carry the remembrance of these with me into my retirement, and shall always desire to hear of your welfare, and, if possible, to aid those for whom so many years of friendly intercourse have made me feel no ordinary esteem and regard.


Government House, Auckland, 28th December, 1867.