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

Chapter LIX. — Grey's Achievements, Failures, And Personal Characteristics

page 467

Chapter LIX.
Grey's Achievements, Failures, And Personal Characteristics.

"The meaning of life here on earth might be defined as consisting in this: To unfold your Self, to work what tiling you have the faculty for."—

As the British Empire is now entering upon an epoch of change in social, political, and economic doctrines, it may be useful to summarise those matters of importance in which Sir George Grey's efforts have resulted either in success or failure, and to draw notice to his views and opinions.

He, himself, ever attributed his success in great measure to the aid he received from many noble friends, amongst whom were chiefsof so-called barbarous races.

Submitted thus in a bird's-eye view, the mind will perceive those "signs of the times" which contain lessons of wisdom beyond price.

Twelve or fourteen great achievements, in which he was completely or partially successful, immediately present themselves to the mind. They are:

1.Prevention of the establishment of a State Church in Australia and New Zealand.
2.The maintenance of the integrity of the Empire.
3.The fulfilment of treaty obligations with the natives of New Zealand and other countries.
4.The framing of a model Constitution for colonial possessions.page 468
5.The establishment in the Australasian Colonies of the principle of equal and universal franchise.
6.Framing of a Constitution for a Free Church of England in New Zealand, which has since, in its main features, been adopted in other places.
7.Cape Breakwater and Harbour, the value of which to British commerce can hardly be estimated.
8.Pacification of New Zealand.
9.Pacification of South Africa.
10.Establishment of beneficent institutions in all his governments —Libraries, Hospitals, Schools, Universities, Public Reserves, etc., etc.
11.Providing from his own resources for the purchase of native lands for European settlement, for the carrying on of government in Kaffraria and for colonisation.
12.Largely assisting in the saving of India by taking immense personal responsibility.
13.Opposition to land monopoly, and the granting of facilities for bond fide settlement in South Australia, New Zealand, and South Africa.
14.Encouragement and assistance to the efforts of explorers, missionaries, students, reformers, and writers.
15.Important additions to scientific knowledge in Natural History, Ethnology, and Philology, and the wide diffusion of such knowledge.

In many of the great purposes which George Grey set himself to achieve he has failed. For some of them the possibility of success has for ever passed away. The enumeration of these attempts now can only recall the memory of disasters which might have been averted, the vision of blessings which might have been secured.

Round some the waves of political strife are still fiercely surging. Some are bound eventually to prevail as they contain the living germs of truth and necessity. Others are yet possible, and would bring great blessings if persevered in. Among these is the confederation of South African States, though under different conditions to those formerly existing. As the theory that members of different religious bodies were incapable of agreeing in common council on measures for the common good has been proved false; so Sir page 469George Grey believes that a similar theory in regard to subjects of different forms of government is false. He holds that delegates from monarchies and from republics might well deliberate on questions affecting the welfare of all.

His plan, briefly stated, is: That the States should contract that they would each (whenever the majority of the contracting parties thought good that a law should be made upon any subject) send the number of deputies agreed upon to a common conference. That the conference so summoned should be empowered to make a general law, and that the deputies oti returning to their respective States should introduce the general law passed by the conference as an Act of their own Legislatures, each State passing the law according to its own customs. This plan would enable Free States, Sovereignties, and Republics to join in a common federation without interfering with each other's legislation. If it succeeded in South Africa it could be extended to other lands.

In all these attempts Sir George Grey has advocated wide views, noble principles, and an imperial policy. Their mere consideration is ennobling after a dispiriting experience of legislation conducted in the interests and the spirit of Little Peddlington.

It is something at least to hear the voice of the prophet from his lonely mountain height proclaiming the beauties and the grandeur of the wide extended view, even if he stand alone. It is something to see with his eyes for a moment, even if we will not lift our own from the lower ground. The utterance of such truths will inspire some souls to soar upward, although the majority may scoff at the prophet and his visions. And it is well for the world that he should speak, although his voice should fail, and his eye grow dim, and his heart break in the fruitless effort to make the people believe and see. It may truly be said of Sir George Grey that his failures are more glorious than meaner men's successes.

Amongst the most prominent of the things attempted, in which he failed, are the following:

1.Confederation of Southern Seas under English flag.
2.Confederation of South African States under English flag.
3.Home Rule for Ireland.
4.A national system of colonisation.page 470
5.A complete and perfect system of self-government for the Colonies.
6.The prevention of the Zulu war.
7.The preservation of the New Zealand Constitution.
8.A pure and unselfish system of administration.

Sir George Grey has been ever a great reader of books as well as a student of human nature. His industry is even now unwearied. The lofty standard which he achieved at Sandhurst has been more than equalled by his subsequent career. His scientific attainments are matters of public notoriety. He is a philological student, and he is acquainted with many languages. The greatest of modern philosophers have borne testimony to the depth, and variety of his knowledge in many branches of natural and physical science. His reading in Constitutional and International Law is sound and extensive.

His opinions upon economic questions, which questions he believes to underlie much of the future prosperity and happiness of mankind, arc simple and yet profound. The extreme competition and selfishness which characterise modern economic science find in him no adherent. He believes that labour has a right to share in the profits and surplus values which it creates. And although he treads on this ground with extreme circumspection, and recognises the wonderful complexity of the web of social life in relation to the distribution of wealth, he yet holds firmly to the theory that association and mutual assistance make a safer and sounder foundation for national prosperity than bare individualism and merciless competition. It is his opinion that the truest system of economics is built upon practical Christianity, and is based upon the two corner stones found in the utterances of the New Testament, "Whatsoever ye would that men should do to you, do ye even so to them," and "Thou shalt love thy neighbour as thyself."

Sir George Grey tells with a smile how, when once walking with the late Sir James Stephen, they saw an arbour in which Mr. Senior, a neighbour of the Colonial Under-Secretary, usually sat while writing. Mr. Senior was then believed to be preparing the new Poor Laws.

"Think of that man," said Sir James Stephen. "I would not for all the world be in his position. He is writing upon the Poor page 471Laws and political economy. A most amiable man, and most upright and conscientious. Yet in the interests of what he calls political economy, which he believes to be fraught with benefits to England, he is adding unconsciously to the sorrows and burdens of millions of his follow countrymen."

The opinions of Sir George Grey upon the subject of political economy were almost identical with those of his friend, Thomas Carlyle.

As a writer, he has always evinced considerable skill and great knowledge of the subjects under discussion. His style is clear, forcible, and sometimes—even upon grave questions of State— dramatic in its vividness. His correspondence has been already several times alluded to, although not half its treasures have been brought under the notice of the reader. Perhaps in its width and the variety and importance of the matters comprised in it, it has rarely, if ever, been surpassed.

His philanthropic and social plans, and their fulfilment, form part of the history of the colonies of Australasia and South Africa.

His main political views are few and simple:—That the franchise should be universal and equal; that taxation should be proportionate to the power to bear it and the benefit derived; that all public offices should be open as the reward for merit and efficiency; that the community has a right to a fair portion of what John Stuart Mill calls "the unearned increment"; and that colonisation should be used for the purpose of increasing the national safety, prosperity, and power, are among his principal articles of political faith.

His personal character is peculiar, but ingenuous. In a life crowded by adventures he has had no love of adventure for itself. The strange incidents of his career have been always merely attendant upon the performance of some task, or have been met with in the accomplishment of some ulterior purpose. The pleasures by which other men are delighted have had comparatively but little interest for him. And as his adventures, so his pleasures have mostly come during the discharge of duty. His wonderful voyages with Selwyn through the glorious islands of the Pacific, his matchless sporting expedition with Prince Alfred at the Cape, his presidency of public feasts and public festivals, his presence at great commemorations and the commencement of page 472national undertakings, even his attendance on the racecourse, in the concert-room, and at scenes of public amusement, have all been, more or less, in the fulfilment of duties inseparable from public position.

One feature, strange enough in these days, should stand out conspicuously in a sketch of the character of Sir George Grey. This is found in the utter absence of the love of wealth which has eaten like a canker into the heart of the nation; and of any desire to acquire landed estates. Perhaps the fiercest storm that ever raged in the House of Representatives in New Zealand arose from an accusation made by a Minister of the Crown that Sir George Grey had, when Governor, participated in the private purchase of native lands. The charge, although no wrongdealing was imputed, was absolutely denied by the ex-Governor. The correspondence which was relied upon by his accuser, when produced, substantiated Sir George Grey's words and confounded his opponents. The effect of this vindication was very great, and soon afterwards the then Ministry were ousted from power and were succeeded by a Cabinet over which Sir George Grey presided.

Not only was he thus regardless of wealth and estates. His life presents a long and unbroken record in its entire and peculiar abnegation of self, of comfort, rest, retirement, or relaxation, when likely to interfere either with public or private duties.

His firm and determined character was nowhere more clearly shown than in his resistance to wrongdoing in high places, and the rectitude of that character was exhibited in the scrupulous fulfilment of promises made to any of the numerous native tribes, however feeble, with which he was brought into contact during his official career. His sympathies with all that is good and worthy, irrespective of class, creed, colour, or race, are, and have ever been, universal and unchanging.

Any sketch of Sir George Grey's life which did not bring into strong relief the charm of his society and his deep sympathy and interest in the most trivial events affecting those amongst whom he lived, would omit one important feature of his personality. And yet these are the most difficult of all characteristics to portray. Displayed fifty times a day in conversation, in kindly words and thoughtful actions, it is yet manifestly impossible to record these page 473speeches or incidents in full. And to write of one or two isolated examples may, perhaps, provoke wonder at their being considered of sufficient importance to chronicle.

Five minutes' conversation with Sir George Grey at any time found him eager and excited over some literary or historical discovery. Some well-known truth or established fact would have presented itself in a novel light, and led to an utterly unexpected result, explaining the motives which actuated public men, and clearing up the mystery surrounding their actions. There was always something new to be told, something of interest to be shown anyone who found Sir George at leisure for a little conversation.

His great acquirements and natural parts made him an ideal companion. His slow impressive speech never weaned his listener, his learning and attainments were never obtruded in condescension or patronage. His manner was simple in the extreme; his language couched in the purest and most unassuming English. The respect, almost homage, which was shown Sir George by all who met him, was not the result of any conscious effort on his part. On the contrary, his consideration and courtesy were extended equally to all—a peasant woman was as sure of them as a marchioness, a gumdigger as a Minister of the Crown, a naked savage as a Colonial Governor.

Mr. Murray, son of the well-known publisher, frequently spoke of Sir George as "the only person in New Zealand to whom everybody took off his hat," and he might have added with equal truth, "the only man who took off his hat to everybody." It was an amusing sight to watch the gravity and courtesy with which the "great Pro-Consul" returned the salutations of even tiny children of six and seven years old. Little shy boys pulling off their hats to him in a shame-faced way, always saw him in return bare his venerable locks with the same gesture with which he would have responded to the greeting of an archbishop.

His dignity was something deeper than the exclusiveness which refuses to recognize persons of an inferior station in life, and demands constant self-assertion. But at the same time the unconscious influence of the old aristocrat's presence checked any approach to presumption or familiarity.

Many of Sir George's friends were much scandalised at his in difference to the barriers of society. On one occasion, during his page 474second government of New Zealand, he visited Hokitika and Grey mouth, to which neighbourhood a large number of people had been attracted by the discovery of gold. The Governor held a reception, at which ladies were present as well as their husbands, "Look," whispered one of the leaders of "society" to a friend, "that is my washerwoman with whom the Governor is shaking hands so cordially." Grey remembered the faces,, names and circumstances of these humble acquaintances in a marvellous manner, a conclusive proof that the interest he showed in their concerns was sincere and not feigned.

In the early days of New Zealand's history, a Maori named Moses or Mohi, became the devoted servant of the Chief Justice and his wife. After their departure from the Colony he attached himself to Mr. Swainson, the first Attorney-General, who had been a. passenger by the same vessel which brought Sir W. Martin and Bishop Selwyn to New Zealand. The homes of these three distinguished men were close to each other. "About the time of Mr. Swainson's death, Sir George Grey, with his nephew and niece, Mr. and Mrs. Seymour George, and their family, left Kawau and settled in Auckland close to the lovely bay in which Mohi's two English homes had been. Immediately the old man looked upon himself as having aright to the protection and support of this, the last of his old friends.

For years Mohi was a pensioner of Sir George Grey, and when at last the shadows of death fell upon him, and he was unable to move from the little cottage which had been found for him, he sent for the ex-Governor, who was himself weak from illness, yet did not delay in acceding to the wish of the old Maori. The scene by the death-bed was most pathetic. The faithful old servants last sensation of bodily pain was removed by Sir George, who, seeing the failing fingers struggling to loosen the band round his throat, rubbed the dying man's chest and side with firm yet gentle pressure. He often afterwards related with visible emotion how a peculiarly sweet smile crossed the native's face. On inquiring its cause, the Maori replied—"My mind has gone back many years. The last hand that touched me as you are doing was that of my mother, when she used to play with me as a child, and tickle me to make me laugh." Mohi confided to Sir George the disposition page 475he wished made of his property, which the latter promised should be carried out. Then, having handed over to Sir George's keeping some rings which he had received from Lady Martin, the dying Maori spoke hopefully with his visitor about the future, saying he felt perfectly satisfied and at peace. Sir G. Grey was persuaded by Miss Outhwaite, another friend of Lady Martin's, to leave the bedside for a short time. When he returned, after an absence of about twenty minutes, be found that Mohi had passed calmly and quietly away, and he felt that almost the last direct link which bound him to the days of Selwyn and Martin had parted. When the bell tolled solemnly from St. Stephen's, Sir George Grey, with bowed shoulders and failing gait, headed the little procession, and stood bare-headed by the open grave. Many wondered that so much notice should be taken of the death of "a more Maori," but the great heart of the chief mourner sorrowed for a friend.

To gratify the wishes of children was a continual delight to Sir George. His own nephews and nieces found out very early in life that they had only to wish for anything in order to receive it, so long as they expressed the wish in their uncle's hearing. A very amusing scene took place on one of these occasions at Kawan. One of his nieces, a fair-haired little maiden of some three or four summers, had sighed for a Shetland pony. There were none on the island, so Sir George sent to Auckland for one. It was carried down in a small steamer, and landed on the jetty, which ran out into the bay directly in front of the house. Then the child was taken to sec that her wish was fulfilled, and to watch the pony being put ashore. Unfortunately the animal became frightened and struggled in a most lively manner. "Take it away," cried the little girl, "take it away. I don't want it. I won't have it." And for a long time she could not be persuaded even to look at her new possession. But in the end, finding how gentle and quiet her pony really was, she grew very fond of it.

Sir George's sympathy was not loss ready towards children outside his own household.

After endowing the Public Library in Auckland with his magnificent collection. Sir George Grey spent many hours almost daily in the building giving information to the librarian, and assisting him to catalogue and arrange the multitudinous treasures and literary page 476curiosities. Leaving the Library, he would often make his way through the adjoining gardens of the Albert Park. There, on several occasions, he found a schoolboy with his eyes bent on the volume in his hand, while his companions ran races and amused themselves in various ways. One day the grey-haired scholar spoke to the young student and asked the name of the book over which he pored so intently. The lad coloured with embarrassment, but replied simply that he was studying hard, with the hope of winning a scholarship. Sir George was greatly interested. After asking several questions, and speaking a few words of encouragement, he told the boy to let him know if he succeeded in the examination. He did not forget the circumstance; and when, a few months later, he received word from his young acquaintance that the coveted scholarship was gained, Sir G. Grey bought a large and handsome book, in which he wrote the lad's name and sent it to him as a memento and a reward.

It is a pity that the lives of those who go forth from the older countries to encounter strange perils in the performance of duty, and to sow the seeds of future harvests for the world, are not made more familiar and easy of access. It is impossible to believe that if the life of Sir George Grey be studied by the youth of the United Kingdom it can fail to incite a spirit of emulation in many minds. To those who fear that the endurance and courage of our race are fading, it will bring conviction that there are yet men bred from the old stock who are fit to lead the world. To those who are inclined to believe that scepticism and materialism are usurping the place once held by simple faith in God, the stories of such lives as this will afford consolation. To those, and they are many, who dread the approach of almost universal confusion and anarchy, this record, typical of the lives of other men, though upon a larger scale, will give this assurance—that there are eyes which look down the vista of the future with steady gaze; that there arc hearts full of courage and devotion, equal to any fate; and that among the scattered millions of our people exist intellects keen and observant, hands strong to direct the helm of State in any storm, and hearts sublime in the absence of fear, in dependence upon God, and in love to their fellow men.