GREY, Sir George (1812-1898)

GREY, Sir George (1812-1898)
governor and statesman
was born at Lisbon on 14 April 1812. His father, Lieut.colonel Grey, who was killed during an assault on Badajoz about a week before his birth, belonged to an aristocratic English family, his mother was the daughter of an Irish clergyman, the Rev. John Vignoles. Grey was sent to a school at Guildford in Surrey, and was admitted to the royal military college in 1826. Early in 1830 he was gazetted ensign in the 83rd regiment. In 1830, his regiment having been sent to Ireland, he developed much sympathy with the Irish peasantry whose misery made a great impression on him. He was promoted lieutenant in 1833 and obtained a first-class certificate at the examinations of the royal military college at Sandhurst in 1836. It was at that time believed that a great river entered the Indian ocean on the north-west of Australia, and that the country it drained might be suitable for colonization. Grey, in conjunction with Lieutenant Lushington, offered to explore this country and on 5 July 1837 Grey sailed from Plymouth in command of a party of five, the others being Lieutenant Lushington, Mr Walker, a surgeon and naturalist, and two corporals of the royal sappers and miners. Others were added to the party at Cape Town and early in December they landed at Hanover Bay. Explorations were made into the interior where the river Glenelg was discovered. At one point they were attacked by aborigines and Grey was severely wounded in the leg by a spear. He went to Mauritius to recuperate, and there decided not to return to the north-west coast but to sail to Perth and consult the governor, Sir James Stirling (q.v.). He arrived there on 18 September. He made some short expeditions from Perth and on 17 February 1839 set sail again and arrived at Shark's Bay eight days later. Here Grey made the mistake of burying his stores too close to the sea and found them destroyed when he returned. The party had to make its way back and endeavoured to row down the coast. A heavy gale beached them 300 miles from Perth, which was reached by land after undergoing the greatest privations. One member of the expedition died on the journey and others arrived almost completely exhausted. Grey discovered several rivers and reported favourably on parts of the country. His reports were afterwards discredited but later explorations showed that he had been substantially correct. In June 1839 he was raised to the rank of captain and in August was appointed resident magistrate at King George's Sound. Here he began to show the interest in native races which later on formed an important element of his life. and prepared his Vocabulary of the Aboriginal Language of Western Australia, published at Perth in 1839. He returned to England in September and prepared for the press his Journals of Two Expeditions of Discovery which was published in two volumes in 1841. He was, however, unable to personally see this through the press as within a few weeks he was appointed governor of South Australia. He arrived at Adelaide in May 1841, with instructions to reverse the financial policy of his predecessor Gawler (q.v.), and immediately brought about great reductions in expenditure. There had been difficulties with the aborigines and Grey, fortified by his experience in Western Australia, inaugurated a policy of firmness, justice and kindness which had complete success. His financial policy though ultimately successful brought Grey much unpopularity. He was determined that no encouragement should be given to the settlers to stay in Adelaide, and he was equally determined to discourage speculation in land. His efforts were successful. When he arrived only some 6000 acres of land were in cultivation, but when he left four years later the area had increased five-fold and production was increasing by leaps and bounds. Grey seldom appeared in public, and he refused to read newspaper criticisms of his policy. But gradually the silent self-contained young man (he was only 29 when he arrived in the colony) won his way, and before he left Australia it was recognized that he had done an excellent piece of work. He had not entirely escaped criticism from the colonial office, but Lord John Russell was able to say of him in the house of commons: "In giving him the government of South Australia I gave him as difficult a problem in colonial government as could be committed to any man, and I must say . . . that he has solved the problem with a degree of energy and success which I could hardly have expected from any man." Towards the end of 1845 Grey received orders to go at once to New Zealand and take over the government of the colony. He sailed for Auckland and became lieutenant-governor of New Zealand on 18 November 1845.
War with the Maoris had broken out before Grey arrived. One of its causes was the alienation of the land, a problem full of difficulties. Grey was given sufficient troops and soon brought the Maoris to subjection and, once beaten, the chiefs quickly recognized his courtesy and courage. He began to study their character and customs, their legends and their art. He learned the language, he interested himself in their health and general well-being, and he helped to found schools for them. He made an honest attempt and had some success in clearing up the difficulties of the land question, and showed himself to be a strong man by opposing the British government when it tried to impose its constitution of 1846 on the colonists. He became an autocrat, but was fortunate in having by his side men like William Swainson his attorney-general and (Sir) William Martin the chief justice, who were in sympathy with his ideals especially in regard to his treatment of the Maoris. One mistake Grey made, he did nothing to stop the execution of a Maori named Wareaitu, who was tried as a rebel for attacking the troops and condemned to death by a court-martial in 1847. The execution was indefensible, it is one of the few real blots on Grey's career. Apart from this he did good work encouraging the Maoris to grow grain, to allow their children to be educated, and to associate themselves with the administration of justice. When Grey left in 1853 he was universally praised by the Maoris. But time was to show a great weakness in that the power of the chiefs had been relaxed without a properly accepted authority having been substituted. When Grey left the binding force between the two races was removed, and a breach gradually widened which eventually brought about the war of 1860. Grey, however, had other problems to deal with while he was governor. In 1848 he inaugurated representative provincial councils and was hoping that the colony would soon be ready for representative government. This, however, was not established until after he left New Zealand on 31 December 1853.
At the end of Grey's term of office in New Zealand he returned to England and at first was received coldly. More than once as governor he had not carried out the instructions of the colonial office, an unforgivable offence in the minds of its officials. He was attacked in the house of commons and made a capable defence of his actions in July 1854. The colonial office, however, could not afford to stand on its dignity. Trouble was brewing in South Africa, a strong man was needed to cope with it, and Grey was accordingly appointed governor of Cape Colony and high commissioner for South Africa. He would have to deal largely with problems relating to the natives, and Grey could be trusted to treat them with justice and sympathy. Before he left for South Africa he saw through the press a work in the Maori language Ko Nga Mahinga a Nga Tupuna Maori containing traditions written down largely from the dictation of chiefs and high priests. His collection of poems, traditions and chants of the Maoris, Ko Nga Moteatea, Me Nga Hakirara, had already appeared in New Zealand in 1853. His Polynesian Mythology and Ancient Traditional History of the New Zealand Race, largely a translation into English of Ko Nga Mahinga, was published in London in 1855, has since been reprinted several times, and continues to be a work of great interest.
In South Africa Grey dealt firmly with the natives but endeavoured by setting apart tracts of land for their exclusive use to protect them from the white colonists. He more than once acted as arbitrator between the government of the Orange Free State and the natives, and eventually came to the conclusion that a federated South Africa would be a good thing for everyone. The Orange Free State would have been willing to join the federation, and it is probable that the Transvaal would also have agreed. Grey, however, was 50 years before his time and the colonial office would not agree to his proposals. In spite of their instructions Grey continued to advocate union, and, in connexion with other matters, such as the attempt to settle soldiers in South Africa after the Crimean war, he several times disregarded his instructions. When all the circumstances are considered it is not surprising that he was recalled in 1859. He had, however, scarcely reached England before a change of government led to his being given another term, on the understanding that his schemes for the federation of South Africa should be abandoned and that he would in future obey his instructions. Grey was convinced that the boundaries of the South African colonies should be widened, but could not obtain the support of the British government. He was still working for this support when, war with the Maoris having broken out, it was decided that Grey should again be appointed governor of New Zealand. When he left his popularity among the people of Cape Colony was unbounded, and the statue erected at Capetown during his lifetime describes him as "a governor who by his high character as a Christian, a statesman, and a gentleman, had endeared himself to all classes of the community, and who by his zealous devotion to the best interests of South Africa and his able and just administration, has secured the approbation and gratitude of all Her Majesty's subjects in this part of her dominions".
Grey arrived in New Zealand on 26 September 1861. His administration of nearly six years was a stormy one. He was often at odds with his ministers, largely because their points of view were fundamentally different from his. Grey was anxious that everything possible should be done to preserve the Maoris, while the legislature of New Zealand at this period attached little importance to the Maoris and great importance to the development of the colony and the prosperity of the colonists. The war dragged on, and in 1863 acts were passed of the severest nature which provided for confiscation of native lands. Grey supported his ministers at first and the royal assent was obtained, though the Duke of Newcastle warned Grey that the confiscation must not be carried too far. Accordingly, in May 1864, Grey refused to issue certain orders in council until the ministry would state the amount of land that was to be confiscated. When Grey found that it was to be eight million acres, he strongly opposed the ministry which eventually fell. The Weld (q.v.) ministry which then took office, however, persuaded Grey to consent to very large confiscations. Grey for once appears to have been inconsistent, but his difficulties were great, for he was also in opposition to the English general in command of the forces, Sir Duncan Cameron, and presently he incurred the enmity of Cardwell, now secretary for war, by bringing a dispatch marked "confidential" before his ministers. This was the beginning of Grey's downfall. In May 1867 the Duke of Buckingham in a dispatch mentioned without any preliminary warning, that in his next dispatch he would inform him of the name of his successor. This was practically a recall, Grey accepted it as such, and was deeply wounded. Both chambers of the legislature passed resolutions of sympathy, the citizens of Wellington organized a great demonstration of farewell, but he would take no part in it. In February 1868 he left for England. No doubt he hoped to successfully defend his actions, but he was given no opportunity and never received another appointment; the colonial office had decided that he was a dangerous man. He made a tour through England and Scotland advocating emigration and spoke to large audiences. He became a candidate for the house of commons in 1870 but withdrew because he could not obtain the support of the liberal party. He then decided to leave England and retired to Kawan Island near the head of Hauraki Gulf not far from Auckland, where he lived for some years. Early in 1875 Grey was elected a member of the house of representatives for Auckland city west. He fought strenuously but without success for the preservation of the provinces, and endeavoured to carry bills establishing manhood suffrage and triennial parliaments. Commonplaces now, these measures caused Rusden (q.v.), a contemporary historian, to speak of Grey as a "demagogue". On 15 October 1877 he became premier, and though his ministry had early troubles he was able to carry on. He started a policy of breaking up the lands, and reducing duties on the necessaries of life. But more than one of his ministers resigned, and obtaining a dissolution in August 1879 he was defeated in the new parliament by two votes, and resigned in October. He had become difficult to work with, and was not even elected leader of the opposition. But his influence remained and he lived to see some of his measures made law, including manhood suffrage, "one man one vote", and Maori representation. A later premier, R. J. Seddon, associated himself with Grey and owed much to his advice. Grey indeed became more of a radical as he grew older, he believed in the power of education and was willing to trust in the good sense of the people. But he also had grown more bitter, less able to brook opposition, and far too ready to impute motives to those opposed to him. In 1891 he renewed his connexions with Australia. At that time it was still thought possible that New Zealand might become one of the federated states of Australia, and Grey attended the 1891 federal conference as a New Zealand representative. He advocated that no limit should be placed on the legislative powers of the federal parliament, and that the governor-general should be elected by the people. He, however, received scarcely any support for either proposal. In 1894 Grey, now 82 years of age, visited England. He was received there with much respect and his views were listened to with attention. He was made a member of the privy council and his last four years brought him quiet and many friends. He had married in 1839 the daughter of Sir Richard Spencer. Parted for over 30 years, he met his wife again and they were reconciled some months before her death on 4 September 1898. Grey died a few days later on 19 September. Their only child, a son, died at the age of five months in 1841. On the suggestion of the colonial office, Grey was buried in St Paul's Cathedral where he lies beside Sir Bartle Frere, not far from the graves of Nelson and Wellington. He had been created K.C.B. in 1848. When he left South Africa he presented his magnificent library to Cape Town. He then collected another great library and presented it to the city of Auckland. These are enduring monuments to Grey as a student.
Grey was tall, slight of frame, distinguished in appearance, blue-eyed and with a fair complexion in his youth. In his later years his estrangement from his wife, his ceaseless battle with authority and his disappointment at the frustration of his ideals, all contributed to a certain bitterness of expression when in repose, and to a look of fierce imperiousness when he had cleared for action. Yet he had an unforced sense of humour and his face would light up in the most charming way when this was appealed to. He was an idealist and a passionate champion of the oppressed. Though he hated injustice he was sometimes unjust to his opponents and unreceptive of their arguments; and though generally the most courteous of men his strong feelings occasionally broke through even his courtesy. He had an extraordinary memory, great breadth of view, and a passion for public service. He was autocratic, and his habit of disregarding instructions must have made him a thorn in the side of the colonial office. But he also had a habit of being in the right, and four times in his life was selected to clear up difficult situations in different colonies. An aristocratic radical, he feared nothing and no man, and his one time radical views are now almost generally accepted. He was not a great leader in parliament, he walked too often alone, neither was he a great debater, but he was a great orator, who could, wherever he was, win the mass of the people to his side. A strong, brave, sincere man, his influence extended far beyond his own time.
Geo. C. Henderson, Sir George Grey, Pioneer of Empire in Southern Lands; James Collier, Sir George Grey, An Historical Biography; The Times, 20 and 27 September 1898; W. Pember Reeves, The Long White Cloud; G. W. Rusden, History of New Zealand; W. L. and L. Rees, The Life and Times of Sir George Grey; James Milne, The Romance of a Pro-Consul; F. Sutton, South Australia and Its Mines, which contains a contemporary sketch of Grey's administration of South Australia.

Dictionary of Australian Biography by PERCIVAL SERLE. . 1949.

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