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

Chapter XLIX. — Indictment of The Colonial Office

page 389

Chapter XLIX.
Indictment of The Colonial Office.

"Hast any philosophy in there, shepherd?"

"Shrine of the mighty! can it be
That this is all remains of thee?"

The government of the Colonies from Downing Street, especially since the separate existence of the Colonial Department, which dates from 1835, has been from the beginning to the present time characterised by blunders, mistakes, and crimes. The exigencies of party and the interests of political or financial cliques have often outweighed the claims of distant communities which possessed no voice in Parliament. In the long list of Secretaries since Charles Grant (Lord Glenelg), who held office in 1835, to Sir H. T. Holland (Lord Knutsford), who is now in power, not one had any practical acquaintance with the colonies or colonists. During the fifty-five years there have been no less than twenty-four Principal Secretaries of State for the Colonies and twenty-seven Parliamentary Undersecretaries, of whom four afterwards filled the office of Chief. Of all these forty-seven noblemen and gentlemen, not one had any sufficient knowledge of the political, social, or economic condition of the multitudinous young nations over which he ruled—some, and these men of high position, being absolutely ignorant even of the geographical position of these important dominions of the Crown. During the seven years from 1852 to 1859 there were no fewer page 390than ten Principal Secretaries, namely, Sir John Pakington, the Duke of Newcastle, Sir G. Grey, Bart., Sidney Herbert (Lord Herbert of Lea), Lord John Russell, Sir W. Molesworth, Lord Stanley (Earl of Derby), Sir E. B. Lytton, and again in 1859, the Duke of Newcastle.

The tenure of office was necessarily unequal. The Karl of Carnarvon, as Under-Secretary, held office for two years, and twice as Chief Secretary for two and four years respectively. This is the only instance of one man being in the Colonial Office three times, and the term of eight years is the longest which one occupant has ever enjoyed, and is only equalled by that of Earl Grey. The Duke of Newcastle was in power for seven years, but Lord John Russell only for nine weeks in 1855, succeeding Sidney Herbert, who held office for three months, and being succeeded by Sir W. Molesworth, who kept in for four. Between February and November, 1855, there were four different Principal Secretaries for the Colonies.

Amid such a series of changes it cannot be expected that one fixed idea or fixed plan of government was possible. A tradition, indeed, exists in Downing Street that changes of Ministers do not mean changes of policy: but, however earnestly, however honestly succeeding Secretaries may strive to carry out the policy of their predecessors, change there must he, and that not seldom of a serious character.

The record of the successive Ministers holding office in this department since its first creation, is sufficient of itself to prove that there could be no cohesion in principle, no sequence in council, in that branch of the Government of Great Britain which ruled the destinies of the colonies:

Secretaries and Under-Secretaries from 1835 to 1890.
Secretaries. Under Secretaries.
1835. Rt. Hon. Chas. Grant, (Lord Glenelg). Sir G. Grey, Bart.
1839. Marquis of Normanby. Rt. Hon. W. Labouchere (Lord Taunton).
1839. Lord John Russell. Rt. Hon. H. V. Smith (Lord Lyveden).
1841. Lord Stanley (Earl of Derby). G. W. Hope.
1845. Mr. W. E. Gladstone. Lord Lyttleton.page 391
1846. Earl Grey, K. G. Benj. Hawes.
1846. Sir John Pakington {Hampton}. Benj. Hawes.
1852. Duke of Neweastle. Sir Fredk. Peel.
June 10, 1854. Rt. Hon. Sir G. Grey, Bart. Sir Fredk. Peel.
February, 1855. Rt. Hon. Sidney Herbert (Lord Herbert of Lea). John Ball.
May 15, 1855. Lord John Russell. John Ball.
July 21, 1855. Rt. Hon. Sir W. Molesworth, Bart. (1857) Chiehester Fortescue.
Nov. 17, 1855. Rt. Hon. W. Labouchere. (1857) Chiehester Fortescue.
Feb. 26, 1858. Lord Stanley (Earl of Derby). Earl Carnarvon.
May 31, 1858. Rt. Hon. Sir E. B. Lytion. Earl Carnarvon.
June 18, 1859. Duke of Neweastle, K. G. Hon. Chichster Fortescue (Caringford).
April 4, 1864. Rt. Hon. E. Cardwell. (1865) W. E. Forster.
July 6, 1866. Earl of Carnarvon. Sir. C. B Adderly (Lord Norton),
March 8, 1867. Duke of Buckingham and Chandos. Sir F. R. Standford.
Dec. 10, 1868. Earl Granville, K. G. W. Monsell (Lord Emly).
H. T. Holland.
Hon. R. Meade.
July 6, 1870. Earl of Kimberley, K. G. (1871) E. H. Knatchbull Hugessou (Brabourne).
Feb. 21, 1874. Earl of Carnarvon. James Lowther.
Feb. 4, 1878. Rt. Hon. Sir M. Hicks-Beach. Earl Cadogan.
April 28, 1880. Earl of Kimberley, K.G. Sir M. E. Grunt-Duff. (1881) Leonard H. Courtney.
Dec. 16, 1882. Earl of Derby, K.G. Hon. Evelyn Ashley.
June 24. 1885. Rt. Hon. Col. F. A. Stanley. Earl of Dumaven.
Feb. 6, 1886. Earl Granville, K.G. C. Osborne-Morgan.
Aug. 3, 1886. Rt. Hon. Edward Stanhope. Earl of Dunraven.
Jan. 14, 1887. Holland, Lord Knntsford (since made). Earl of Onslow. (1888) Rt. Hon. Baron de Worms.
Permanent Under-Secretaries.
1835. Sir James Stephen.
1847. Herman Merivale
1859. Sir Frederick Rogers.
1871. Sir Robert George Wyndham Herbert.

The Colonial Office in Downing Street seemed destined to be the grave of South African hopes. Under the great archway and up page 392the massive staircase had gone processions of men, hopeful even under adverse fates. Down the great steps and out from beneath the vaulted roof, through the quiet street and into the busy thoroughfare opposite Whitehall, those men had returned sad at heart. The delegates from the Orange River Sovereignty had trodden that path when they called on England not to disown her children. Sir George Grey had patiently waited there during a long year, and at length weary and filled with apprehensions for his beloved Africa, turned away for ever.

Joubert and his comrades, bronzed by the southern sun and desert winds, had marched upon that road when Sir Michael Hicks-Beach ruled in the Colonial Office, and had implored his mercy. It is said that when the unpolished Boers waited upon him with a humble prayer, the young Secretary, filled with a poetie and prophetic spirit, bade them look at the sun —which to them, accustomed to his intolerable brilliance, was not difficult in the London sky—and said that as long as that sun shone in the heavens, the British flag would wave in the Transvaal. There again they came when, after returning to the Cape, they heard that the Ministry of Mr. Gladstone had succeeded to power: but again in vain. Then out from the quiet court they went, silently breathing a prayer to the Lord of hosts to strengthen their hearts and sharpen their swords for the day of battle against the mighty oppressor.

There Sir Bartle Frere went, broken-hearted, on his sad return from the Cape. There Fronde strode up, full of pleasant anticipations, and thence be also departed gloomy and astonished. Into those portals went Mr. Shepstone, filled with vague terrors; of all these stirring, anxious hearts, he alone went away triumphant, honoured with a knighthood, and bearing with him that terrible commission which will ever be accursed in the history of South Africa.

What dreadful destiny, what conjunction of evil stars, was it that compelled the Colonial Office thus to flout the wishes of patriots, and to inflict wounds so great and sore upon the unoffending people over which it ruled?

The historic lesson taught by the revolt of the American colonies, followed by the well-nigh fatal outbreak in India, was not sufficient to teach wisdom to the officials in Downing Street, or to the British page 393people. The last great wound inflicted upon British prestige and the solidarity of the Empire, was dealt in South Africa between 1874 and 1881. That sore is yet open—the sear is still unhealed.

Such gross and perverse conduct must bring punishment. It is far from impossible that the final result of the action taken by Lord Carnarvon may be a confederation indeed of the States in South Africa, but a confederation independent of Britain, and under an alien standard. Australasia may also choose to leave the shadow of the old flag.

The impotent folly which characterised the colonial policy of 1853, which, while it rejected the absolute dominion of the Southern Ocean, invited the nations of the Old World to occupy with armed forces the harbours and strategic points of many island groups, threatening the commerce and safety of Australasia, is not forgotten. The last ten years have borne ample testimony to the weakness of England's foreign and colonial policy. Australian federation will soon be an accomplished fact. If the Empire is to continue, there must be a different system of Government and different principles of action to those which have hitherto generally controlled the Colonial Department.

Nor can the Colonial Office escape the influence of that subtle power which we call "public opinion" The student of history will, in pondering the records of the last fifty years of colonial development, trace certain main currents of thought and action, obtaining at different periods, manifested by different policies, and producing different results. From 1835 to 1845, the period during which the existing mighty Empire was in great part founded or enlarged, there was an evident determination to extend that Empire on every hand. New colonies were founded, new territories annexed, new responsibilities undertaken. South Australia, Victoria, New Zealand, Napal, many parts of India, were annexed or founded during this decade, so fruitful in great conceptions. From 1845 to 1853, the predominant aim was to consolidate and strengthen the great dependencies. This was the era in which political Constitutions were granted and the leading colonies became self-governing. During the six years 1846–1852, one mind directed this part of the colonial destiny.

Earl Grey, called in 1846 to direct the affairs of the rapidly page 394growing children of England, saw that to make stable governments there must be a wide foundation of political power, and a direct responsibility of the rulers to the people. Amid the revolutions and changes which shook Europe to its foundations in 1848, the mind of this astute statesman ever recognised the necessity for colonial self-government. To keep these great and ever-growing communities loyal to the Crown and the Empire he saw that they must be permitted to rule themselves, that Downing Street could only drive them into rebellion as it had driven America. Although the gift of responsible government had not been bestowed in full upon the great dependencies when Earl Grey gave up the seals of his office in 1852, yet the work was practically done. Some few reactionary steps were indeed taken by Sir John Pakington, who succeeded him, but the result was neither seriously delayed nor greatly altered except in the case of New Zealand.

Side by side with this growth of local self-government there marched a theory which, had it been carried into such constant practice as its teachers wished, would have shattered the Empire to pieces, and set back the history of civilisation by a hundred years.

The economists became gradually powerful during the period when the colonies experienced their self-governing and constitutional birth. By 1854 they had obtained control of both parties, and Liberals and Conservatives had tacitly consented to the abandonment of the colonies and the dismemberment of the Empire.