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

Chapter XLV. — The Dismemberment Craze

page 349

Chapter XLV.
The Dismemberment Craze.

"A thousand years scarce serve to form a State:
An hour may lay it in the dust."

Sir George Grey landed in England just prior to the elections. Within a few days of his arrival the Duke of Buckingham called upon him and apologised for the substance and manner of his despatch. The Duke's words as well as his demeanour convinced the ex-Governor that the regrets expressed were sincere and cordial. As Lord Derby had ten years before doubted the wisdom of his recall from the Cape, so now the Duke of Buckingham spared no pains to assure him of the high esteem, felt by Ministers for himself personally, and their admiration for his services to the Crown. His Grace supplemented the interview with a most kind and courteous letter.

To show the reality of their esteem Mr. Disraeli proposed to put Sir George into the House of Commons for Nottingham, and a formal offer of that seat was made to him. Without hesitation the offer was courteously declined. Many years before, Disraeli, at the commencement of his political life, had asked O'Connell for a seat, even if for a Radical constituency. The great agitator refused, and the seed of hatred was sown between them which bore such bitter fruit in after years. No like result happened between Disraeli and Grey, although the refusal on Grey's part conveyed a clear intimation to the Conservative leaders that he would oppose them in politics.

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Lord Granville succeeded the Duke of Buckingham as Secretary for the Colonies, when the Liberals came into power on December 10, 1868, Mr. Disraeli having resigned on the 9th. Sir George Grey was staying on a visit to the Queen at Windsor at the time when Mr. Disraeli came there to resign. Between the new Secretary and Sir George there were not the most friendly feelings: probably Grey's resolute action against Mr. Cardwell may have influenced Mr. Cardwell's colleague. In a short time other and more serious matters of dispute arose.

During his Governorship of the Cape Sir George had ventured to draw up a series of rules to regulate the respective administrative positions of the civil and military authorities. These had been adopted by the Imperial Government, and were found to work well. In New Zealand Sir George found that General Cameron had disregarded several instructions from Whitehall, which directed him, as the officer commanding the forces, to obtain under certain circumstances the assistance and consent of the Governor. On one point especially the mind of the Governor was strongly moved.

In all military matters which form the subject of a general courtmartial, especially where the penalty for crime is death, the Judge Advocate-General has to advise the Crown before any sentence is carried into execution. In such cases the Crown looks for assistance, not to any of the principal Secretaries of State, but to the Judge Advocate-General.

When troops are upon foreign or colonial service in distant parts of the world it would be at once useless and impracticable to transmit the proceedings to England. The custom, therefore, grew up of carrying out, on the authority of the officer commanding, sentence of death when recorded by a competent Court of General Court-Martial. In this way in a colony prisoners were put to death without the Queen's intervention, and without the knowledge of her Representative.

To this plan Sir George Grey stoutly demurred. His remonstrances were attended to. Orders were issued from the War Office that in all such cases the papers were to be transmitted to the Governor, and in the absence of the Queen her representative was to authorise the punishment. To Sir George's surprise and dismay he found that this order among others had been disobeyed. He page 351again complained, and requested that as Sir Trevor Chute, who succeeded General Cameron, had broken the rule laid down, it should be formally republished, and strictly enforced, so as to attract the attention of military commanders. The Home Government refused. In England Sir George waited upon Lord Granville, and repeated his request. His lordship again refused. The discussion led to a serious difference between them.

Sir Boyle Roche is reported to have said on one occasion, "Single misfortunes never come alone, and the greatest of all possible human disasters is usually followed by a much greater." Without impeaching or endorsing the logic of the Irish legislator's "bull" it is certainly true that frequently one difficulty seems to prepare the way for another. It was so between Lord Granville and Sir George Grey.

In the ten years which had elapsed since his recall by Sir E. B. Lytton, the dismemberment craze had spread far and wide. Some indeed among the leading intellects of England were awaking to the danger which threatened her greatness from this direction, but Mr. Gold win Smith and his friends and admirers, who comprised most of the leaders of the Liberal party, had persuaded a large portion of the talking and writing public that it would he far better for England to cast off the colonies altogether.

The idea was to keep a powerful navy in the narrow seas, to form a strong and elastic military force within the four shores of Britain, to isolate England from all outward interests and complications, and then to turn the once "Merrie England" into a vast workshop, from whose looms and forges the markets of the world might be supplied. For this result the greatness of Britain was to be bartered, her diadem broken, her influence for good among the nations of the earth for ever lost. For this ignoble end the manifest destiny of the English race, so far as England was concerned, was to fail in its accomplishment, and her light was to go out for ever. In twenty years the dream would have been rudely dissipated. Foreign competition would have pressed far more heavily than it now does upon English manufactures; the colonial markets ever expanding, the colonial lands ever open to the great stream of British immigrants, would have been the heritage of alien nations. Discontent and want coming like an armed man; hopelessness within, and contempt and insolence page 352without, would have been the fruit of this gospel of greed. All was to be abandoned, even India.

"It is difficult to believe that any sane man, not utterly ignorant, could meditate the abandonment of those mighty territories, that world-wide empire, which is England's present glory, and the guarantee of her future greatness and safety. The next generation will scarcely credit the statement that the influence of the teachers of a selfish political economy was so great in the United Kingdom that they had obtained the tacit consent of all political parties to the disruption and desertion of the whole outside Empire. They had no mercy. From the ancient kingdom of the Moguls to New Zealand, from Canada to Hongkong, all were to be abandoned. Lands won by the sword, lands ceded by treaty, lands obtained by occupation, all were to share the same fate. The fruits of a hundred victories, in which on land and sea the blood of our best and bravest had been shed like water, were to be given up and sacrificed at the shrine of mammon. The labours and sufferings of centuries were to be forgotten or only remembered as a dream. The grayes of sainted martyrs and of gallant warriors were to be deserted. Cities as great as the capitals of Europe; a commerce vaster in extent as it was greater in value than that of any nation, ancient or modern, save of the United Empire of which it formed a part—all were to be voluntarily abandoned. The red cross of Britain was no longer to float proudly in widely-sundered lands. A sentence of eternal banishment was decreed against the millions of colonists who; going forth in full love and allegiance to the Queen of their people and the country of their birth, had crossed the sea or the trackless desert, and made their dwelling in the wilderness, carrying with them to their new homes the boon of freedom, race, and country which is the heritage of every Briton. The beat of the morning drum around the world was to be silenced. The sun was to set upon Britain's Empire. No such act of national suicide was ever contemplated by the leaders of any people. Had they succeeded—and it is beyond question that they had arrived, to use Mr. Gladstone's phrase, within 'measurable distance' of success, and already in South Africa commenced to dismember the British Empire—to what a future of misery and peril would they have doomed the British Crown and the British people! It is impossible page 353to contemplate their purpose without indignation or their plans without contempt. 'The colonies cost England money.' This was their cry. Cut off the colonies. Let them shift for themselves. Everything is to the economists and the Manchester school to be measured by money. Even to the day of his death Mr. Bright ridiculed the idea of a federated Empire."*

Against this policy of national suicide Sir George Grey took an immediate and absolute stand. He spoke, he wrote, he held, public meetings, and framed petitions to the Crown. He knew that by so doing he would forfeit assistance from the Liberal party, but he did not for a moment hesitate. His vigour and determination in this direction could hardly fail to impress Lord Granville with a sense of personal antagonism.

Scarcely inferior in importance in Sir George Grey's mind to the retention of the colonies was the question of emigration. The population of Great Britain was rapidly increasing. Her agricultural labourers were leaving the fields of the country and flocking into towns, or engaging in mining or other industries. To provide a safe and sufficient outlet for the increasing multitudes in the Colonial Empire was, in his opinion, an absolute necessity if a revolution of hunger and want was to be avoided. This also ran counter to the ideas of the Liberals. Only a few years before, when the American civil war had shut up the cotton mills, and thrown hundreds of thousands out of employment, the merchants and manufacturers of Cottonopolis had protested against a system of State-aided emigration. The employers of labour could not spare so many "human machines." To this question Sir George directed his eloquence and zeal. He strove with all his might to rouse a public feeling in favour of colonisation, for he saw in this the only safety for the future of England, and the only avenue to happiness for her innumerable children.

In his writings and speeches he pointed out that the course of British colonisation and acquisition of new territory had flowed in many channels. In the early days it had assumed the form of charters and monopolies granted to individual subjects or to companies of so-called "adventurers," entitling them to great page 354territories of unoccupied lands beyond the seas. Then it had taken the form of the transportation of political prisoners and criminals to the American plantations and finally to Australia. Then it had shaped itself into a method of endowing the State Church with vast areas of waste lands in all the great dependencies of the Empire. Then the bestowal of whole regions upon associations of the wealthy and the offshoots of noble families, on such terms as would enable them to raise a landed aristocracy in these new worlds, and provide them with cheap labour. Then it had conquered and acquired whole regions in order to advance and stimulate commerce so that merchant princes and manufacturers might build up huge fortunes. Thus the aid of the Government had been given to the aristocracy, to the Church, and merchants, manufacturers, financiers, monopolists and the middle classes generally.

Even the wretched convicts had received to some extent the assistance of the State, although no doubt the primary intention was to rid the United Kingdom of the danger and expense attendant upon the existence of a race of criminals within its boundaries. To one class only had the Government afforded no assistance. But that was the most numerous class of all. In the whole record of colonisation no effort had ever been made to help the industrious poor, the labouring classes, to settle upon the waste lands of the Crown beyond the seas.

It was to this that Sir George Grey now wished to draw attention and assistance. Reason, humanity, expediency, righteousness, all lent their aid to increase the force of his arguments.

He proposed that the counties and parishes should become owners of large tracts of territory in the different colonies, that they should settle upon these great estates the redundant labouring population from their respective localities, advancing all monies necessary, and making such monies charges upon the properties of the various emigrants so assisted. By this process not only would the poor rates be lessened by reason of the stoppage of the streams which fed the work-houses, and in some instances the gaols; but waste lands of great extent belonging to the local bodies at home would yearly increase in value by the settlement of population, and would ultimately not merely provide an outlet for the surplus numbers, especially the youth of both sexes, but would yield a revenue and page 355harvests of various commodities sufficient to maintain within Great Britain the weak, the feeble, and the aged, without their being a burden upon the local funds.

Had his proposal been favourably entertained and become the subject of legislation, the people of Great Britain would have been in a different state to-day to that which they now occupy.

Upon these two kindred subjects he travelled through England, holding public meetings and addressing crowded audiences. A monster meeting was held at the Lambeth Baths, in London, and petitions were signed by over one hundred thousand people in favour of colonisation and against the abandonment of the colonies. Nor was he alone in this noble and patriotic movement. A number of influential men formed themselves into a committee to watch and guard against the disruption of the Empire. The following letter from Mr. Fronde to Sir George Grey tells its own tale:—

My dear Sir,—Lord Salisbury tells me that Lord Carnarvon means to take up the subject in the approaching session. Lord S. himself, however, is desponditig, and confirms the impression which I have received from other quarters that the Conservative party in the House of Commons is not to he relied on.

The hope is that on both sides of the House there is still a patriotic section. Enough may be done now to keep the Economists in check. Hereafter we may see a fresh organization, and the old Imperial temper revive.

If mischief can be prevented meanwhile, this will be the happiest result. The Tories, if they moved now, would do it only as a party dodge, and rather discredit than further a nobler line of policy.

Lord R. has remonstrated earnestly with the Government in privotc. You will have seen Mr. Forster's speech at Bradford.—Faithfully yours,

J. A. Froude.

* "From Poverty to Plenty." W. L. Rees, 1st edition, p. 159. Wyman and Sons, 1888.