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

Chapter LI. — Kawac

page 409

Chapter LI.

"How blest is he who crowns in shades like these
A youth of labour with an age of ease."

For three years Sir George Grey remained in quiet retirement at Kawan. This island, some five miles by two, is situated eight or nine leagues from Auckland, to the northward of the Hauraki Gulf. It lies about four miles from the mainland, and contains several harbours, in one of which a whole navy could anchor, safe from every wind. Half a century back copper was worked upon the beach; and the shafts filled with clear sea water still remain, silent witnesses to the busy throng once gathered there. Kawau is one mass of low hills, in a few spots lifting themselves to a greater height. It abounds' in beautiful scenery. Upon the rocky coast the Pacih'c, clear and blue as the sapphire skies above, rolls its waves gently. A dwelling-house, replete with every comfort and many luxuries, is sheltered in a small bay. Round the house, in gardens, orchards, and plantations, is the most varied and most complete collection of trees in the world. From every part of the earth Sir George had obtained choice specimens of trees and plants. It was unrivalled. Travellers coming from distant regions saw with surprise and delight the familiar foliage, flowers, and fruits of home growing with more than native vigour upon this far off strand.

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Within the mansion the same rule obtained. The walls were hung with pictures painted by great masters during many centuries. In the entrance hall and upon the stairways were clustered the weapons and the ornaments of a hundred islands in the Southern Ocean. Books, rare and precious, of all ages and in all tongues, adorned the shelves. The windows looked down upon a sea so calm that its waves never raised their tones above a whispered song.

All that gilds life with refinement, all that can inspire the human soul with love for the beautiful and true in nature and in art was found in that lonely paradise. It is a spot once seen never to be forgotten. In that calm and secluded corner of the earth, where the fierce din of conflict was unheard and the roar of worldly tumult was softened to a drowsy murmur, life's tide swept calmly by.

But the beautiful solitude of the island was daily broken. This is an age of travel. Duty, pleasure, illness, art, science, literature, politics, religion, athletics, discovery, and a score of other causes urge people nowadays to and fro upon the earth's broad surface. Australia and New Zealand figure largely as resorts for those voyagers, vulgarly termed "globe trotters." How large a section of those who visited New Zealand went to Kawan to see Sir George Grey it is impossible to say. Their name was legion, for they were many. Soldiers who had fought in many lands, sailors whose ships had breasted the surges of every sea, went there. Poets wrote beneath the shady trees, artists sketched sitting on the rocks or on the grass lawns by the sea. Novelists drew inspiration from the glorious sunlight and fresh breath of the great Pacific. Historians canvassed there the records of ancient states, and drew parallels between England and old Rome. There statesmen took counsel with their host upon the rapid changes of modern politics, and forecasted the probabilities of the days to come. Missionaries there told of sufferings endured and. triumphs won among the savage races of the earth. Lovers went there and dreamed of paradise. There great scholars discussed the achievements of the modern schools, and compared them with the triumphs of the Athenians. The disappointed and the vanquished went for consolation, the triumphant and victorious for sympathy and praise.

There, too, on all holiday and gala days would the people and children of Auckland flock in armies. It would be difficult to page 411
Sir George Grey's Residence, Kawau.

Sir George Grey's Residence, Kawau.

page 412imagine a more charming picture than Kawau presented on such an occasion.

The glorious framework of nature; the brighty-clad troops of merry children; the host, benignant and hospitable, especially to the little ones, whom he loved; the servants of the establishment. staid but respectful, like retainers of some ancient baron; the merry laughter, the joyous sunlight of a thousand happy eyes— these may be described: but the deep happiness, the untroubled bliss of the children, cannot be depicted by pen or pencil.

Alas that such a condition of things should pass away! The halcyon days of Kawau are ended. Nevertheless, for nearly twenty years Sir George Grey's island home was one of the happiest and most perfect spots upon the earth.

It was there that he welcomed Prince Alfred on his voyage in the Galatea, and renewed the, friendship commenced twelve years before in England and South Africa. Not the least claim which the Prince had to the regard and esteem of the people of Auckland was the affectionate respect with which he evidently regarded this friend and host of his youth.

It was there that the Maori King, Tawhko, who was about to visit England, came to ask Sir George's advice as to his conduct, when Sir George, knowing the weakness of the savage prince, became a total abstainer in order to prevail upon Tawhiao to do the same. With tears the Maori King pledged his word to the ex-Governor, and that word was royally kept. Never once upon his trip to England did Tawhiao touch spirituous liquors:

It was from Kawau, in 1880, that Sir George wrote a long letter of advice to Malietoa, the Samaoan King—then hard-pressed by the Germans—which, in the light of subsequent events, seems like a prophecy, by which advice Malietoa was guided, so that now from being a captive he is a King once more, while his all-powerful foe, Prince Bismarck, has fallen from power into private life.

After so many years of extreme activity, both bodily and mental, it would have seemed appropriate that at Kawau Sir George should end his days, "the world forgetting, by the world forgot." But meanwhile circumstances were transpiring in New Zealand which ultimately drew him from his delightful retirement into the busy arena of political strife.