The Life and Times of Sir George Grey, K.C.B.
Chapter L. — Earl Grey And Lord Carnarvon Compared
Earl Grey And Lord Carnarvon Compared.
"Look here upon this picture and on this,
The counterfeit presentment of two brother."
The two representative Colonial Ministers of the rival parties in Great Britain during this period are undoubted])- Earl Grey and the Earl of Carnarvon. If we consider length of service, political and social position, the periods during which they respectively held office, the importance of the questions and exigencies which, they were called upon to meet, and the respective time of life of each when holding office, it will be seen that no other Colonial Ministers arc able to dispute with them the pride of. place. Earl Grey, then Lord Howick, had been made Under-Secretary for the Colonies at the early age of twenty-nine, at the time when Lord Carnarvon was born. When Earl Grey took the seals of office in 1846, Henry Howard Herbert was still at Eton. 1852, which finally severed Earl Grey's official connection with Downing Street, heard "the bonny bells of Christ Church" ring sweet music to the young Earl of Carnarvon, for the honours list revealed him as a first in classics; and within six years Carnarvon entered the Colonial Office, from which Earl Grey had for ever departed.
Lord Howick had been Under-Secretary for the Colonies at twenty-nine; Lord Carnarvon accepted the same honourable position at twenty-seven. For the seventeen months during which he continued as Under-Secretary, from February, 1858, to June, 1859, page 396his chiefs in Downing Street were Lord Stanley (Earl of Derby) and Sir Edward Bulwer Lytton. Earl Greys was principal Secretary from 1846 to 1852, between his forty-fourth and fiftieth years; Lord Carnarvon occupied the same position twice, first from 1866 to 1867, when he was thirty-five years old, and again from 1874 to 1878, between his forty-third and forty-seventh years. The heads of great houses, wealthy, cultured, enjoying public favour both in Parliament and in social life, holding the same positions-during practically the same peirods of their lives, and for the same length of time, called upon to act in circumstances of great difficulty, and to exercise control of distant nations at perilous crises in their histories, when a single false step meant ruin and death to thousands, and possible disgrace and defeat to the Imperial power of Britain, they may be fairly compared.
There is a trite and humorous saying, used by many well-known writers, that "comparisons are odious"; but no reader of history, studying biography from the Lives of Plutarch to Macaulay's Essays, will deny that the truest appreciation of character is to be obtained by contrasting the acts of different men under similar circumstances and trials.
On judging the acts of public men, Earl Grey thus writes:—
"A retrospect of public affairs necessarily implies that the conduct of those who have taken part in them should be made the subject of comment, which cannot always be of a favourable character, and it is for the general interest that these matters should be canvassed without unnecessary restraint. It tends to keep up a due sense of their responsibility in the minds of those who are engaged in the exciting scenes of political life, that they should know that all they may do is liable to be reviewed and discussed when time and the results of their acts shall have thrown a light on their real character."*
That they are responsible to the nation is not only clear, but admitted.
* Colonial Policy of Lord John Russell's Administration, 1853.—Earl Grey. Richard Bentley.
Even to minute details and occurrences, the similarity between the two men is remarkable. One instance may illustrate this fact. Lord Howick threw up his position and left his colleagues in 1833 because his own wish for the immediate abolition of slavery in the colonies was not followed. Lord Carnarvon gave up the seals of the Colonial Office in 1867 to the Duke of Buckingham because he differed from the Cabinet on the subject of reform.
The contrast exhibited between the conduct of the two statesmen will not illustrate the difference between the two political parties, for Earl Grey never held with his party upon the dismemberment craze, which was the main colonial policy elaborated between 1850 and 1870 by the Liberals. An important lesson may however, be learned from this comparison, arising from the dangers attendant upon the present personal and irresponsible government of the colonies.
The leading events connected with the colonial government in the career of both may be shortly stated. Earl Grey resigned his position in 1833 because the slaves in the British colonies were not immediately set free. On taking office thirteen years later he was met by two difficulties- The Governor of New Zealand requested him to obtain the consent of Parliament to the suspension of their own Act, and the Canadian colonies were lapsing into a state of anarchy.
In 1849, believing that, as labour was scarce in the colonies, colonists would gladly receive convicts of comparatively good conduct. Earl Grey sent to several parts of the world numbers of these unfortunate people. During the whole term of his office, 1846 to 1852, Earl Grey had to deal with the grave question of colonial self-government. This was the era of colonial Constitutions. It was fortunate that the Colonial Office retained as its head page 398during these six years a statesman who combined the wisdom of a philosopher with the charity of a philanthropist and the vast power of a British Minister.
When Lord Carnarvon was first in office in 1858-59, the South African States were disposed to confederate under the English flag, thus reversing the plan of dismemberment. During his two official years, 1866-67, the method of appointment of Governors to the great colonies was decided. On his final holding of the colonial seals, the problem of South Africa uncluding the Zulu war and the annexation of the Transvaal, presented itself for solution.
Earl Grey left his colleagues in 1833 because they would not go fast or far enough in bestowing freedom.
The Earl of Carnarvon threw up office in 1867 as a protest against the Parliamentary reform contemplated by his chief, Lord Derby.
On many occasions Earl Grey found his plans opposed and his wishes thwarted, either by the Governors of the colonies or by the colonists themselves. His earnest desire to assist the New Zealand Company in their claims to native lands; his determination to grant to New Zealand the representative government which was embodied in the Charter and Constitution Act of 1846, which it was feared would have secured to the New Zealand Company an undue and unlawful power and control over the native lands; his strong wish to settle the better part of the English convicts in the different colonies; his purpose of instituting in the colonies a State Church and granting to it immense endowments—each and all met with stem and uncompromising opposition. From some Sir George Grey dissented; from others the colonists turned fiercely indignant.
The result was always the same. Eager to advance the interests of the colonies, Earl Grey was ever ready to listen to arguments urged against his views. He showed a disposition towards extreme justice by always permitting reasons to be given against his own plans and opinions, no matter how strong those opinions might be. He was frequently astonished at the violence, amounting sometimes to antipathy, displayed against measures which he believed to be fraught with good. But he never failed, when his convictions of a righteous popular wish or of the justice of the arguments opposed to his belief became assured, to set aside his own judgment and to act in a manner consistent with the new light which he had gained.page 399
He could not understand the passionate earnestness with which the Cape colonists refused to receive convicts. He felt compelled by the correspondence from New Zealand upon the Treaty of Waitangi and the Constitution Act to surrender absolutely every position which he had taken up. Once convinced that the public good required the sacrifice of his own opinions, that sacrifice, however painful, was made. There was a natural goodness, a wonderful impartiality in his judgment, so that he was able, when reviewing the circumstances of his defeated plans, to see all things in the "dry light" of which Bacon speaks, and to give ungrudging praise to those whom he believed praiseworthy, although they might have defeated his most cherished projects.
The merits of this great statesman were not solely of a negative kind. His exertions for the welfare of the many kingdoms over which he ruled were ceaseless. His energy was untiring, Ms one aim being to secure the greatest happiness for colonists in every part of the earth. He did not permit party feelings to deter him. in his choice of instruments. In 1846 the state of Canada made it absolutely necessary that a Governor of peculiar abilities should be appointed. "As our object was not to make the selection with a view to party interests, but to intrust the management of the largest and most important of the British colonies, in a season of great difficulty, to the ablest hands we could find, Lord Elgin was recommended to the Queen for this appointment, in preference to any of our own party or personal friends."*
It must not be forgotten that Lord Elgin had five years before seconded the amendment to the address which defeated Lord Melbourne's ministry in 1841. In another part of his book Earl Grey says: "I consider it to be the obvious duty and interest of this country to extend representative institutions to every one of its dependencies where they have not yet been established, and where this can be done with safety."† Acting upon this principle, the noble Earl devoted thought and influence to this momentous work. Canada, Australia, New Zealand, and in part South Africa, have all benefited by his arduous toils in this direction.
* "Earl (Grey's letters to Lord John Russell on Colonial Administration, p. 208.
† Ibid, p. 26.
In these days of conflicting argument as to the right of local control over the waste territories of the Empire, it may be wise to regard the past utterance of the most successful Minister to whose care the colonies were ever confided.
"The waste lands of the vast colonial possessions of the British Empire are held by the Crown as trustee for the inhabitants of that Empire at large, and not for the inhabitants. of the particular provinces divided by arbitrary geographical limits in which any such waste lands happen to be situated; otherwise this consequence would follow, that the first inhabitants of any of these vast provinces (if possessing those representative institutions which arise as of right in ordinary British colonies) are indefeasibly entitled to administer all the lands and land revenue of the great unexplored tract called a province of which they may occupy an extremity, wholly without regard to the nation which has founded the settlement, perhaps at great expense, in order to serve as a home for her own emigrants and a market for her own industry. For the right thus defined and claimed by the Legislative Council (New South Wales), if their expressions were to be strictly taken, would belong as fully to the 4,000 inhabitants of Western Australia as to the 200,000 of New South Wales: nay, would equally have belonged to the first ten families which settled in a corner of New Zealand, and would entitle each small community from the first days of its planting to the ownership of tracts sufficient to maintain Empires."*
His opinions, also, upon the growing policy of dismemberment are instructive:—
* Earl Grey, vol ii., Appendix, p. 324. Answer to despatch from New South Wales.
Again in another passage occurring on pages 304 and 305 in the second volume of the work from which the foregoing quotations are made, Lord Grey states his conviction that such views will ultimately lead "by a few short and easy steps to the severance of the tie which binds the fairest portion of our Colonial Empire to the British Crown. I know that some of those who advocate the changes to which I allude are prepared for this result—if they do not regard its probability as an additional recommendation of the measures they propose; but I earnestly trust that such is not the view of this great question which is destined to gain acceptance with Parliament and with the public. For my own part, though with the consequences of the American revolution before my eyes, I certainly am not prepared to say that the loss of our Colonial Empire must necessarily be fatal to our national greatness and prosperity, still, I should regard such an event as a grievous calamity, and as lowering by many steps the rank of this country among the nations of the world. You (Lord J. Russell), I am persuaded, will concur with me in this opinion, and will feel no less strongly than myself the desire that the great British Empire may to a long futurity be held together, and preserve its station among the principal powers of the earth."
Lord Carnarvon's official career in connection with the colonies is dissimilar and opposed in every respect to that of his illustrious predecessor. He was Under-Secretary to Lord Stanley from February to May 1858, and to Sir E. B. Lytton from May, 1858, to June 18th, 1859, when the Tories went out of power. This seventeen months is a period of deeper disgrace to the Colonial Office than any other save one since the American colonies were driven out. The blackest page in the history of colonial government was written during the last period of Lord Carnarvon's authority, from 1874 to 1878.
Soon after he first took office in 1858 a long and angry correspondence began between the Colonial Office and the War Office in England and Sir George Grey in South Africa regarding, the German Legion, afterwards including the scheme of German immigration.page 402
During this period, also, Sir George was compelled by the culpable negligence of Downing Street to advance £6,000 of his private income to carry on the government of British Kaffraria. It is difficult to find words capable of conveying sufficiently severe censure upon the conduct of the Colonial Office during this period. The course pursued by the Imperial Government in reference to the vote for British Kaffraria was utterly foolish as well as dishonest, and but for the prompt aid given by the Governor would have produced deplorable results. The whole matter of the settlement of the German Legion, with its discreditable repudiation of liabilities and refusal to perform promises, would also, without the wise and prudent interference of Sir George, have led to crime and bloodshed.
The recall of the Governor in 1859, and the absolute refusal of the Colonial Office to permit the question of confederation for South Africa to be entertained, was one of the greatest political blunders possible. This has since been acknowledged by all parties.
When Lord Carnarvon again took office in 1866, Sir George Grey was just bringing to a successful conclusion the fierce and bitter native war in New Zealand. Many controversies had arisen between the Governor and Downing Street. Besides these, Lord Carnarvon remembered Sir George Grey of old. The noble Earl had evidently determined to get rid of a subordinate who possessed so strong a will and acted so independently. In addition to these reasons another existed, which in itself was sufficient to push Sir George Grey from the public service. The Conservative party, as we have seen, presumably acting under the advice of the Earl of Carnarvon, though it is believed Mr. Disraeli was the original proposer, laid down the rule that the Governors of the great colonies must henceforth, if possible, be peers, or the sons of peers, "born in the purple," or at least married to a peer's daughter. For this policy, which has of late years guided the appointment of Governors to all the great dependencies, Great Britain is without doubt indebted to Lord Carnarvon.
Upon his last acceptance of office in 1874, the excitement and interest of colonial government centred in South Africa. The long years of peace which had been given to that part of the Empire by the policy of Sir George Grey had come to an end. Sir Benjamin Pine was again Governor of Natal, and Mr. Shepstone was again page 403his adviser. Langabilalele's war, brought on by a gross act of tyranny, and signalised by a ferocious cruelty, which shocked even the Government in Downing Street, caused the removal of Sir Benjamin Pine and the momentous visit of Shepstone to London, which ended in the unparalleled commission entrusted to him by Lord Carnarvon. The annexation of the diamond fields, the Zulu danger, the state of the Transvaal, and the agitation existing upon the question of confederation—all tended to swell the storm which threatened to break over our colonies at the Cape.
Lord Carnarvon was fully alive to the dangers which menaced South Africa, In his hands the Queen and country had placed the entire control of colonial affairs. His will was absolute, his power unbounded. In the very prime of life, at a time when the passions and prejudice of youth had been tempered by a large experience and extended knowledge of the world, the English people were justified in the belief that he would fulfil his duty to them and to South Africa. In the performance of that duty Lord Carnarvon signally failed.
Upon the whole volume of English history there is no page displaying so much stubborn prejudice and such incredible folly as the colonial administration of England from 1874 to 1878. During no equal period of time did such disgraceful disasters follow such tyrannous and unconstitutional administration. There have been periods and Ministers which bring a blush of shame and anger to the cheek, and there have been policies which were mistaken, and caused great calamities before being changed, but no instance of history equals in deliberate misconduct the actions of the Colonial Office at this time, nor does history record a deeper disgrace or a swifter retribution.
The two questions of importance were the shaping of a policy and the appointment of a man to carry that policy into effect. Lord Carnarvon was well aware that Sir George Grey had achieved an unparalleled success in dealing with South African matters, and acquired an unparalleled influence over the strangely diverse populations thrown side by side in that region. He had himself recalled Sir George in 1859 for promoting confederation. He knew, also, that Sir George had only a few years before applied to be sent back to that sphere where, during his former Governorship, he had page 404done such brilliant service. No one in England had greater reason than the Earl of Carnarvon to believe that the one man who could bring South Africa safely through the storm about to burst upon it from so many points was Sir George Grey. If the noble Earl took advice at all upon this matter, it must have been from his friends Lord Derby and Lord Salisbury, or from the two men to whom he generally looked for aid in South African affairs, Sir Bartle Frere and Mr. J. A. Froude. If Lord Derby had been asked he would, unless altogether changed from the Lord Stanley of old times, have advised Lord Carnarvon to forget his prejudices, and give South Africa again to the care of the old Governor; while Lord Salisbury had protested against Grey's recall in 1859. It is a matter of history that both Sir Bartle Frere and Mr. Froude believed Grey to be the only man who could rule in peace over that wild territory and its strange communities.
Lord Carnarvon was equally well aware that we were bound by solemn treaties to the Boers, the Orange Free State, and many of the native tribes; that a friendly offer of assistance and intervention would, especially under Sir George Grey's authority, cause the clouds to disperse and the dangers to pass away; while aggression and the use of force might set South Africa in a blaze.
Possessing full information upon every point, taking ample time for deliberation, fully conscious of the tremendous consequences which might follow his acts, Lord Carnarvon yet offered advice to his Sovereign, which set in motion forces unconstitutional in themselves, pregnant with disgrace and disaster, and well nigh certain to scatter war and ruin over vast territories and different races of men.
The Commission which Lord Carnarvon obtained from Her Majesty for Sir Theophilus Shepstone was such as no Minister should have advised, and such as the Crown, with all respect be it written, had no right whatever to give. It was a gross breach of the law of nations, it was a crime against humanity, it was in direct defiance of the justice of God.
Had not the Earl of Carnarvon been blinded by prejudice against the Boers and against Sir George Grey, he must have seen that in Grey's appointment to power, and his wonderful influence and sagacity lay, humanly speaking, the only path to peace. Had he page 405not been infatuated with a belief in his own foresight and the invincible power of England, he would have paused before he pledged his country to a certain policy of war, of annexation, and of shame. The story of that sad time in which we waged war against the Kafirs and the Zulus, annexed the Transvaal, violated treaties, and spread ruin and desolation far and wide, will cause wonder and surprise to our children's children. The end feared and predicted by Sir George Grey soon came, prefaced by the disasters of Isandlawhana, Laing's Nek, and Majuba Hill. The English people, roused at last to the enormity of the offence which had been committed by Lord Carnarvon, retraced their steps as far as possible, and caused right and justice to prevail once more.
After his retirement from active connection with the government of the colonies, Lord Carnarvon placed the last finishing touch to the sharpness of the contrast between himself and Earl Grey. Earl Grey considered and treated the great territorial possessions of the Crown in the colonies as a sacred trust for the British people. Lord Carnarvon, with his cousin, Sir Robert Herbert, and other gentlemen, took advantages under a charter to obtain a block of land in Western Australia (a Crown colony) of sixteen millions four hundred thousand acres, an area half as large as England, more than three-quarters that of Ireland, and nearly five times as large as Wales. The conditions upon which the title to this magnificent estate was to be given to those from whom Lord Carnarvon and his friends afterwards acquired large estates are somewhat doubtful. The influences which were used to obtain this Imperial concession are not known to the public. When an ex-Secretary of State for the Colonies and a permanent Under Secretary for that department become in part potential owners of estates greater than some kingdoms, in a colony subject directly to the control of the Colonial Office, in which their influence is paramount, two statements will naturally be made, first that the identification of great Ministers of State with such a proceeding must be regarded with reprobation, and second that men who engage in such enterprises, however lofty their position, are more anxious to secure great estates for themselves than to conserve the public lands for the benefit of multitudinous families of the toilers of the nation.
It is said that Lord Carnarvon himself had only contracted to page 406acquire 64,000 acres of this huge estate, while Sir Robert Herbert had to be content with the same area. Be that as it may, the statement of the facts is sufficient to arouse public attention, and to illustrate the different opinions held upon the subject of the waste lands of the Crown by Earl Grey and Lord Carnarvon.
Earl Grey has long passed the allotted span of human existence, Nearly ninety years of age, although it cannot be said of him, as of Moses, "that his eye is not dim nor his natural force abated," even yet with clear reasoning and critical judgment he is able to speak with great wisdom upon all matters connected with that mighty Colonial Empire which he governed so well, and has done so much to benefit.
As from the calmness and the quiet of life's evening he looks back upon his career as colonial arbiter, how gratifying must it be to pass in review the events not only painted upon his memory, but carved in the history of his country's greatness. No blot stains the page, no jarring chord disturbs the harmony, no regret brings back a pang. As he regards the birth and infancy of the innumerable family of nations confided to his care, he can behold with serene and lofty pleasure the development of great principles, the accomplishment of great thoughts. It has fallen to the lot of no other man, living or dead, to mould the political institutions of so many future nations. No statesman of ancient or modern times has shown greater patience, a more sincere self-denial, or more earnest devotion in the discharge of great public duties than Earl Grey displayed in his connection with the colonies of Britain.
His epitaph will be written upon the earth's broad surface. If in future days men ask what monument has been erected to the great Minister for the Colonies, Earl Grey, it will be sufficient to point to the four corners of the earth, where Englishmen live in the possession of as much freedom as free institutions can bestow, and to answer, Si quaeris monumentum circumspice.
What a different picture is presented in the outlines of Lord Carnarvon's public life! The first great error on the very threshold of his career—his determined assertion of autocratic power and the unjust dismissal of an illustrious Governor as a punishment for promoting the confederation of South Africa. Then on his assump-page 407tion of supreme authority, the exhibition of utter disregard for the wishes of colonists, leading to the establishment of a system by which the Governorships of the great colonies were to be restricted to members of the aristocracy, and no longer to be the reward of worth or merit. Finally, the ghastly series of tragedies enacted in South Africa, that history written in blood, for which he must be held in great measure responsible.
The silent, desolate rock in the African desert at whose base lie scattered to this day the bones of English soldiers, recalling that hour of carnage when the dreadful horns of the Zulu impi closed in the rear of our devoted legion at Isandlawhana; the stern, pale face of Pomeroy Colley meeting his death on Majuba Hill; the spectres of the brave men who fell at Laing's Nek and a score of other spots in the African wilderness; these must for ever darken the page which records Lord Carnarvon's connection with the Colonial Office. The form of the Prince Imperial pierced by the Zulu spears, and the weeping Empress, the lamp of her life gone out, sorrowing over the dead protest in silent pathos against the tremendous power for good or evil exercised by one man.
Some spots of sunshine there are to relieve the darkness of the gloomy picture, but its prevailing characteristics are those of stubborn prejudice, of unconstitutional actions, of disastrous results.
The contrast of these two statesmen presents a feature of still greater importance to the Empire than the mere comparison of their personal merits. It brings prominently into view the viciousness of the system by which the colonies are governed. When the sole power of determining great questions in connection with the colonies rests in the uncontrolled will of a Secretary of State, the ties which bind the colonies to Britain are always liable to be snapped. The Sisters, with their fatal shears, are ever lurking in the corridors of Downing Street. The same benevolence, the same wisdom, and the same patience, which made Earl Grey's control a perennial spring of blessing to the colonies, may be displayed by others under the benignant sway of the Crown to its many dependencies; but on the other hand the same obstinacy and prejudice which threw the American colonies into revolt, and in later times brought disgrace and suffering upon England and South Africa under the guidance of Lord Carnarvon, may again be seen.page 408
If English statesmen wish in sincerity to retain the supremacy of Britain among the family of nations, they must discover some wiser and safer plan of governing the colonies than that of committing their destinies to the arbitrary will of a Secretary of State.
It is with extreme pain that a contrast so unfavourable to the character of Lord Carnarvon has in truth to be sketched. In so many ways and under so many aspects has the Master of Highclere endcared himself to the people of Britain that it is distasteful to disparage a character and life otherwise worthily held in estimation. In the household, in the Church, and in the world, blameless and unspotted, the errors of his conduct in relation to the colonies are partly traceable to his want of training in that great competitive Chamber where nearly all English statesmen have gained wisdom and experience.
Of the participators in the mismanagement of South African affairs, there remains but one who can be dealt with by public opinion in England. Sir Theophilus Shepstone, if still alive, is in South Africa. He also was but, in himself, an insignificant personage, little more than an instrument in the hand of Ministers and officials. Lord Carnarvon has since the former pages were written gone to "that bourne from whence no traveller returns." To him the praise or blame of men is immaterial. South African disasters, Australian land ventures, federation of the colonies, will vex his soul no more.
One actor in that terrible historic drama yet remains. Sir Robert Herbert still lives, and controls the destinies of the Colonial Office. Perhaps the principal responsibility rests upon his shoulders. The errors of judgment which were committed, the deplorable want of foresight betrayed by all concerned, must cloud the memory of those public men to whose account history will place this tragedy. Probably notwithstanding the elevation of Sir Robert to the peerage, future generations will hold him guilty of conduct which amounted to a gigantic blunder, if not to a political crime.