Other formats

    TEI XML file   ePub eBook file  


    mail icontwitter iconBlogspot iconrss icon

The Long White Cloud

Chapter XII — Good Governor Grey

page 168

Chapter XII
Good Governor Grey

No hasty fool of stubborn will,
But prudent, wary, pliant still,
Who, since his work was good,
Would do it as he could.

Captain Grey came in the nick of time. That he managed because he wasted no time about coming. The dispatch, removing him from South Australia to New Zealand, reached Adelaide on the 15th of October, 1845, and by the 14th of November he was in Auckland.

He arrived to find Kororáreka in ashes, Auckland anxious, the Company's settlers in the south harassed by the Maori and embittered against the Government, the missionaries objects of tormenting suspicions, and the natives unbeaten and exultant. The colonists had no money and no hope. Four hundred Crown grants were lying unissued in the Auckland Land Office because land-buyers could not pay the fee of £1 apiece due on them.

But the Colonial Office, now that it at last gave the unfortunate settlements a capable head, did not do things by halves. It supplied him with sufficient troops and a certain amount of money. The strong hand at the helm at once made itself felt. Within a month the circulating debentures were withdrawn, the pre-emptive right of the Crown over native lands resumed, the sale of firearms to natives prohibited, and negotiations with Heké and his fellow insurgent chief, Kawiti, sternly broken off.

The Governor set to work to end the war. High in air, on the side of a thickly timbered hill, lay Kawiti's new and strongest pa, Rua-peka-peka (the Bat's Nest). Curtained by a double palisade of beams eighteen feet high by two feet page 169 thick, strengthened by flanking redoubts, ditches, and traverses, honeycombed with rifle-pits and bomb-proof chambers below ground, “large enough to hold a whist-party,” it was a model Maori fortification of the later style.

Against it the Governor and Despard moved with 1,200 soldiers and sailors, a useful native contingent, and what for those days and that corner of the earth was a strong park of artillery. The first round shot fired carried away the pa's flagstaff; but though palisades were splintered and sorties were repulsed, the stubborn garrison showed no sign of yielding, and the Bat's Nest, for all our strength, fell but by an accident. Our artillery fire, continued for several days, was—rather to the surprise of our Maori allies—not stopped on Sunday. The defenders, Christians also, wishing to hold divine service, withdrew to an outwork behind their main fort to be out of reach of the cannon balls. A few soldiers and friendly natives, headed by Waka Nene's brother, struck by the deserted aspect of the place, crept up and got inside before they were discovered. The insurgents, after a plucky effort to retake their own fortress, fled with loss. Our casualties were but forty-three. The blow thus given ended the war. Heké, weakened by his wound, sued for peace. Even tough little Kawiti wrote to the Governor that he was “full.” Grey showed a wise leniency. Waka Nené was given a pension of £100 a year, and ostentatiously honoured and consulted. As time went on the Ngapuhi themselves re-erected the historic flagstaff in token of reconciliation. From that day to this there has been no rebellion amongst the tribes north of Auckland. Heké's relation and namesake, Honé Heké, M.H.R., became a member of the New Zealand House of Representatives, which he addressed in excellent English, and whilst he was there the good offices of Mr. Honé Heké were foremost in quelling what threatened to be a troublesome riot among the Ngapuhi on the Hokianga.

The petty warfare against Rangihaeata in the Cook's Straits district took longer to end. It was a series of isolated murders, trifling skirmishes, night surprises, marchings and counter-marchings. Their dreary insignificance was redeemed by the good-tempered pertinacity shown by our troops in enduring month after month of hardship and exposure in the page 170 rain-soaked bush and the deep mud of the sloughs, miscalled tracks, along which they had to crawl through the gloomy valleys. And there was one story of heroism. An outpost of the fifty-eighth regiment had been surprised at dawn. The bugler, a lad named Allen, was raising his bugle to sound the alarm, when a blow from a tomahawk half severed his arm. Snatching the bugle with the other hand, he managed to blow a warning note before a second tomahawk stroke stretched him dead. Grey adopted the Fabian plan of driving the insurgents back into the mountain forests and slowly starving them out there. In New Zealand, thanks to the scarcity of wild food plants and animals, even Maori suffer cruel hardships if cut off long from their plantations.

Rauparaha, now a very old man, was nominally not concerned in these troubles. He lived quietly in a sea-coast village by the Straits, enjoying the reputation earned by nearly fifty years of fighting, massacring and plotting. The Governor, however, satisfied himself that the old chief was secretly instigating the insurgents. By a cleverly managed surprise he captured Rauparaha in his village, whence he was carried kicking and biting on board a man-of-war. The move proved successful. The mana of the Maori Ulysses was fatally injured in the eyes of his race by the humiliation. The chief, who had killed Arthur Wakefield and laughed under Fitzroy's nose, had met at length a craftier than himself. Detained at Auckland, or carried about in Grey's train, he was treated with a studied politeness which prevented him from being honoured as a martyr. His influence was at an end.

Peace quickly came. It is true that at the end of the year 1846 there came a small outbreak which caused a tiny hamlet, now the town of Wanganui, to be attacked and plundered. But the natives, who retired into the bush, were quietly brought to submission by having their trade stopped, and in particular their supply of tobacco cut off. Fourteen years of quiet now followed the two years of disturbance. During the fighting from the Wairau conflict onwards, our loss had been one hundred and seven Whites killed and one hundred and seventy-two wounded. To this must be added several “murders” of settlers and the losses of our native allies. page 171 Small as the total was, it was larger than the casualties of the insurgents.

For his success Governor Grey was made Sir George, and greatly pleased the natives by chosing Waka Nené and Te Whero Whero, our old Waikato acquaintance, to act as esquires at his investiture. But it was in the use he made of the restored tranquillity that he showed his true capacity. He employed the natives as labourers in making roads, useful both for war and peace. They found wages better than warfare. As navvies, they were paid half a crown a day, and were reported to do more work as spade-men than an equal number of soldiers would. At no time did the Maori seem to make such material progress as during the twelve peaceful years beginning with 1848.

With his Brown subjects, Grey, after once beating them, trod the paths of pleasantness and peace. The chiefs recognized his imperturbable courage and self-control, and were charmed by his unfailing courtesy and winning manners.—He found time to learn their language. The study of their character, their myths, customs, and art was to him a labour of love and bore practical fruit in the knowledge it gave him of the race. So good were the volumes in which he put together and published the fruits of his Maori studies that even at the present time students of Maori literature are content to follow in the way pointed out by this busy administrator. Few men have ever understood the natives better. He could humour their childishness and respect their intelligence. When a powerful chief refused to allow one of the Governor's roads to be pushed through his tribe's land, Grey said nothing, but sent the chief's sister a present of a wheeled carriage. Before long the road was permitted. Yet on the all-important question of the validity of the land clause in the treaty of Waitangi, the Governor gave the Maori the fullest assurance. Striving always to keep liquor and fire-arms from them, he encouraged them to farm, helped to found schools for them, and interested himself in the all-important question of their physical health, on which he consulted and corresponded with Florence Nightingale.

After a good deal of tedious litigation Grey was able to settle nearly all the outstanding land claims. By a misuse page 172 of one of Fitzroy's freakish ordinances land-grabbers had got hold of much of the land near Auckland. Grey was able to make many of them disgorge. His influence with the Maori enabled him to buy considerable tracts of land. By him the Colonial Office was persuaded to have a reasonable force retained for the protection of the Colony. He put an end to the office of “Protector of the Aborigines,” the source of much well-meant but unpractical advice. When Earl Grey sent out in 1846 a constitution prematurely conferring upon the colonists the right of governing themselves—and also of governing the Maori—Sir George had the moral courage and good sense to stand in the way of its adoption. For this, and for refusing to allow private purchase of native land, he was bitterly attacked, but stood his ground, to the advantage of both races. Especially in the settlements of the New Zealand Company was the agitation for free institutions carried on with vigour and ability.

It is scarcely needful now to scan in detail the various compromises and expedients by which Grey vainly endeavoured to satisfy the colonists, first with nominated councils, then with local self-governing powers; or how, finally, he completely changed front, went farther than Lord Grey, and drafted and sent home a constitution which, for that day, seemed the quintessence of Radicalism.

Meanwhile he remained an autocrat. Even an autocrat has his advisers, and in some of them he was fortunate. Mr. William Swainson, his Attorney-General, was an English lawyer of striking abilities of more than one kind. Fortunately one of these lay in drafting statutes. On him devolved the drawing-up of the laws of the infant Colony. In doing so he ventured to be much simpler in language and much less of a slave to technical subtleties than was usual in his day. By an ordinance dealing with conveyancing he swept away a host of cumbrous English precedents relating to that great branch of law. Other excellent enactments dealt with legal procedure and marriage. Mr. Swainson's ordinances were not only good in themselves, but set an example in New Zealand which later law reformers were only too glad to follow and improve upon. Another official of ability and high character was Sir William Martin, Chief Justice, long known, not only as a refined gentle- page 173 man and upright judge, but as an enthusiastic and unswerving champion of what he believed to be the rights of the Maori race. A more commanding figure than either Martin or Swainson was George Augustus Selwyn, the first Bishop of the Colony. No better selection could have been made than that by which England sent this muscular Christian to organize and administer a Church of mingled savages and pioneers. Bishop Selwyn was both physically and mentally a ruler of men. When young, his tall, lithe frame, and long, clean-cut aquiline features were those of the finest type of English gentleman. When old, the lines on his face marked honourably the unresting toil of the intellectual athlete. Hard sometimes to others, he was always hardest to himself. When in the wilderness, he could outride or outwalk his guides, and could press on when hunger made his companions flag wearily. He would stride through rivers in his bishop's dress, and laugh at such trifles as wet clothes, and would trudge through the bush with his blankets rolled up on his back like any swagman. When at sea in his missionary schooner, he could haul on the ropes or take the helm—and did so.1 If his demeanour and actions savoured at times somewhat of the dramatic, and if he had more of iron than honey in his manner, it must be remembered that his duty lay in wild places and amongst rough men, where strength of will and force of character were more needed than gentler virtues. For more than a generation he laboured strenuously amongst Maori and Europeans, loved by many and respected by all. He organized the Episcopal Church in New Zealand upon a basis which showed a rare insight into the democratic character of the community with which he had to deal. The basis of his system is found in the representative synods of clergy and laity which assemble page 174 annually in each New Zealand diocese. The first draft of this Church constitution came indeed from the brain and hand of Sir George Grey; for the rest the credit of it belongs to Selwyn.

Among the many interesting figures on the stage of the New Zealand of the first generation three seem to me to rise head and shoulders above the crowd—Gibbon Wakefield, Grey, and Selwyn, the founder, the ruler, the pastor. Nor must it be supposed, because these towered above their fellow-actors, that the latter were puny men. Plenty of ability found its way to the Dominion, and under the stress of its early troubles wits were sharpened and faculties brightened. There is nothing like the colonial grindstone for putting an edge on good steel. Grey, Selwyn, and Wakefield, as unlike morally as they were in manner, had this in common, that they were leaders of men, and that they had men to lead. That for thirty years the representatives of the English Government, from Busby to Browne, were, with the exception of Grey, commonplace persons or worse, must not blind us to the interest of the drama or to the capacity of many of the men whom these commonplace persons were sent to guide.

Of the trio referred to, Grey is the greatest figure, and most attractive and complex study. Of such a man destiny might have made a great visionary, a capable general, an eloquent tribune, or a graceful writer. He had in him the stuff for any of these. But the south wing of the British Empire had to be built, and the gods made Grey a social architect in the guise of a pro-consul. Among the colonies of the southern hemisphere he is already a figure of history, and amongst them no man has played so many parts in so many theatres with so much success. Not only was he the saviour and organizer of New Zealand, South Australia, and South Africa; not merely was he an explorer of the deserts of New Holland, and a successful campaigner in New Zealand bush-warfare, but he found time, by way of recreation, to be an ethnologist, a literary pioneer, and an ardent book-collector who twice was generous enough to found libraries with the books which had been the solace and happiness of his working life. A mere episode of this life was the fanning of the spark of Imperialism into flame in England fifty years ago. There page 175 are those who will think the eloquence with which he led the New Zealand democracy, the results he indirectly obtained for it, and the stand which at the extreme end of his career he made with success for a popular basis for the inevitable Australian Federation, among the least of his feats. To the writer they do not seem so. Before a life so strenuous, so dramatic, and so fruitful, criticism—at least colonial criticism —is inclined respectfully to lay down its pen. But when we come to the man himself, to the mistakes he made, and the misunderstandings he caused, and to the endeavour to give some sort of sketch of what he was, the task is neither easy nor always pleasant. I have known those who thought Grey a nobler Gracchus and a more practical Gordon; and I have known those who thought him a mean copy of Dryden's Achitophel. His island-retreat, where Froude described him as a kind of evangelical Cincinnatus, seemed to others merely the convenient lurking-place of a political rogue-elephant. The Viceroy, whose hated household the Adelaide tradesmen would not deal with in 1844, and the statesman whose visit to Adelaide in 1891 was a triumphal progress, the public servant whom the Duke of Buckingham insulted in 1868, and the empire-builder whom Queen Victoria honoured in 1894, were one and the same man. So were the Governor against whom New Zealanders inveighed as an arch-despot in 1848, and the popular leader denounced as arch-demagogue by some of the same New Zealanders thirty years afterwards. In a long life of bustle and change his strong but mixed character changed and moulded circumstances, and circumstances also changed and moulded him. The ignorant injustice of some of his Downing Street masters might well have warped his disposition even more than it did. The many honest and acute men who did not keep step with Grey, who were disappointed in him, or repelled by and embittered against him, were not always wrong. Some of his eulogists have been silly. But the student of his peculiar nature must be an odd analyst who does not in the end conclude that Grey was on the whole more akin to the Christian hero painted by Froude and Olive Schreiner than to the malevolent political chess-player of innumerable colonial leader-writers.

Grey had the knightly virtues—courage, courtesy, and page 176 self-command. His early possession of official power in remote, difficult, thinly-peopled outposts gave him self-reliance as well as dignity. Naturally fond of devious ways and unexpected moves, he learned to keep his own counsel and to mask his intentions. He never was frank; he never even seemed frank. Though wilful and quarrelsome, he kept guard over his tongue, but, pen in hand, became an evasive, obstinate controversialist with a coldly-used power of exasperation. He learned to work apart, and practised it so long that he became unable to co-operate, on equal terms, with any fellow-labourer. He would lead, or would go alone. Moreover, so far as persons went, his antipathies were stronger than his affections, and led him to play with principles and allies. Those who considered themselves his natural friends were never astonished to find him operating against their flank, to the delight of the common enemy. Fastidiously indifferent to money, he was greedy of credit; could be generous to inferiors, but not to rivals; could be grateful to God, but hardly to man.

When he landed in New Zealand, he was a pleasant-looking, blue-eyed, energetic young officer, with a square jaw, a firm but mobile mouth, and a queer trick of half closing one eye when he looked at you. For all his activity he suffered from a spear-wound received from an Australian blackfellow. He was married to a young and handsome wife; and, though this was not his first Governorship, was but thirty-three. The colonists around him were quite shrewd enough to see that this was no ordinary official, and that beneath the silken surcoat of courtesy and the breast-plate of self-confidence lay concealed a curious and interesting man. The less narrow of them detected that something more was here than a strong administrator, and that they had among them an original man of action, with something of the aloofness and mystery that belong to

a mind for ever
Voyaging through strange seas of thought alone.

None imagined that his connection with the Islands would not terminate for half a century, and that the good and evil of his work therein would be such as must be directly felt—to use his own pet phrase—by unborn millions in distant days.

1 The lines with which Mr. Punch in December 1867 saluted “Selwyn the pious and plucky,” then just translated to Lichfield, had truth in them as well as fun:—

“Where lawn sleeves and silk apron had turned with a shiver,
From the current that roared 'twixt his business and him,
If no boat could be come at he breasted the river,
And woe to his chaplain who craned at a swim!

* * * * *

What to him were short commons, wet jacket, hard-lying,
The savage's blood-feud, the elements' strife,
Whose guard was the Cross, at his peak proudly flying,
Whose fare was the bread and the water of life?”