Sir George Grey (1812-1898), governor of South Australia, of New Zealand (twice), and of Cape Colony, and prime minister of New Zealand, was only son of Lieutenant-colonel Grey of the 30th foot regiment, and was born on 12 April 1812 at Lisbon. Eight days previously his father, who commanded a division of the storming party at the fall of Badajoz, was mortally wounded in the third assault there. The Grey family, to which this officer belonged, and which carried on a banking business in London, was a branch of the Greys of Groby, now represented in the peerage by the Earl of Stamford.
Young George Grey was educated at Sandhurst. A college friend describes him there as 'a bright, rosy-cheeked subaltern, A 1 at mathematics, fortifications, military survey, languages, and general knowledge.' He was granted a commission in the 83rd foot in 1829, a lieutenancy in 1833, and a captaincy in 1839. In the last-named year he sold his commission and left the army. While a subaltern he was for four years quartered in Ireland, where the distress and discontent of the peasantry made an impression on his mind deep enough to affect his aims and policy when governor and colonial reformer in after years.
In 1836 Grey volunteered to explore the north-western coast of Western Australia. The Royal Geographical Society accepted his offer, and with a friend, Lieutenant Lushington, he landed near Hanover Bay in December 1837. Utterly ignorant of the Australian climate and natives, they began their journey in midsummer, and the party suffered great hardships from heat and thirst, and in struggling over burning rocks and among broken scrub-covered gorges and hillsides. They discovered a river and some fairly useful country; but in a skirmish with a tribe of aggressive blacks, Grey was speared in the hip, and though he shot his assailant and put the other natives to flight, the wound was severe enough to force him to abandon the expedition.
A voyage to the Mauritius restored his strength, though for the rest of his life the spear wound troubled him. Still bent on exploration, he sailed from Perth in 1839 with thirteen men and three whaleboats to explore the west coast north and south of Shark's Bay. The party was well equipped, yet met with even greater disasters than the first expedition. After discovering the Gascoyne River they found that the bulk of their stores, which had been placed on an islet off the shore, had been spoiled by a hurricane.
When they endeavored to return to Pertli by sailing along the surf-beaten coast, want of water forced them to try to land through the breakers. Both boats were wrecked. With but a little salt meat, damaged flour, and arrowroot left, the party-started on 2 April to march on foot three hundred miles to Perth. Grey walked into the town alone on the 21st, so haggard that friends did not recognize him. The whole of his company had either flagged or lain down by the way utterly exhausted, though all but one were saved by rescue parties promptly sent to search for them.
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The courage, endurance, and humane care for followers and natives, which were the best qualities displayed by Grey, in these unlucky journeys, recommended him to Lord John Russell as the right man for the difficult post of governor of South Australia. That colony had been founded in 1836; yet, owing to mismanagement and a partial and blundering application of Gibbon Wakefield's land theories, its settlers in 1841 were still crowded in and near Adelaide, where they had been idling, bickering, speculating in town lots, entertaining one another with champagne and tinned meats and preserved vegetables, and producing next to nothing. To provide employment, Grey's predecessor, Colonel Gawler, had erected a costly vice-regal residence and public offices, and, to meet this and other outlay, had drawn bills on the imperial treasury, which were dishonored. By rigid economy Grey, who took the reins in May 1841, reduced the colony's expenditure, which had been 170,000l. the year before, to S0,000 in 1843, and drove the townspeople to the work of cultivating the land. His life was threatened and his household boycotted, but gradually his firmness prevailed. The home government lent the colony some necessary moneys, and the settlers began to grow food. The discovery of copper at Burra Burra and elsewhere made an end of depression, and when in October 1845 Grey was shifted to New Zealand, it could be claimed that the clouds had passed away from South Australia, and that in no small degree his good sense and resolution had brought about the change. He had shown humanity to the aborigines, interest in education, and opposition to religious ascendency.
An even harder task awaited him. In New Zealand the mistakes and misfortunes which had marked the birth of South Australia had been repeated, and to them had been added an unsuccessful war with a portion of the native race. The troops in the colony were but a handful, and the war-like Maori tribes, if united, could have swept the settlers into the sea. Grey reached Auckland in November 1845 to find confusion and despair. The colonial office, however, supplied him with the men and money which they had withheld from his predecessors, and the capture of the pa (stockade) of the insurgent chiefs, Heke and Kawiti, soon gave peace to the most disturbed districts, though petty hostilities dragged on for some two years in the Wellington province. Grey cleverly seized the well-known chief, Rauparaha, believed to be secretly the instigator of strife, and detained him in honourable captivity. By employing the natives on wages at road making, by ostentatiously honoring friendly chiefs, by discountenancing land-grabbing, and encouraging industry among the Maori, Grey was able to gain remarkable influence over the race. He purchased large areas of their land for settlement, but refused to sanction any infraction of their treaty rights. It was partly for this last reason that he took the responsibility of refusing to put into force the constitution sent out to him from Downing Street in 1848, under which self-government was to be granted to the New Zealand colonists. Though the settlers bitterly resented this, they prospered under Grey's autocratic rule, which lasted until December 1853, when he was sent to govern Cape Colony. Before departing from New Zealand he had shared in drawing up the free constitution finally granted to that colony, a noteworthy feature of which was the establishment of six provinces with large local powers.
In Cape Colony Grey was successful in averting a Kaffir invasion on a large scale by capturing certain of the chiefs in a fashion somewhat similar to the seizure of Rauparaha. Afterwards, when starvation and disease had broken the strength and spirit of the Kaffrarian tribes, he dealt kindly with them and gained their confidence. At the same time he strengthened and extended the colony by the introduction of the German legionaries and other German settlers. To aid this work he twice pledged his private credit, a step he had also once taken to complete an important land purchase in New Zealand. By the Dutch also he was liked and trusted, so that in 1858 he successfully mediated between the Free State Boers and the Basutos, and in the same year was able to inform the Cape parliament that the Volksraad of the Orange River Free State had passed resolutions in favour of federation with Cape Colony. Unhappily the colonial office, of which young Lord Carnarvon was then political under-secretary, feared South African union, and took umbrage at Grey's encouragement of it without official permission. Lord Carnarvon, in his own words, thought Grey a dangerous man. In June 1859 the colonial secretary, Sir Edward Bulwer Lytton, recalled him in a despatch which, however, recognised his abilities, endowments, and lofty aims. Grey always asserted that Queen Victoria protested against his dismissal and approved of his South African policy. Much exasperated he returned to England, after quitting Cape Town amid general expressions of esteem and regret. Before he reached home, however, the Derby ministry had fallen, and the Duke of Newcastle coming to the colonial office reinstated Grey, albeit with instructions to abandon his federation policy.
creditable episode in Grey's South African service was the vigour and promptitude with which he sent help to India in the crisis of the mutiny. A despatch sent him from Lord Elphinstone at Bombay apprised him of the outbreak. He at once sent off two batteries of artillery, a large quantity of military stores, 60,000l. in specie, and as many horses as he could collect. He also induced Colonel Adrian Hope, when with the 93rd regiment he put in at Cape Town on his way to Singapore to join Lord Elgin in the Chinese war, to divert his voyage to Calcutta. Grey afterwards sent a detachment of the German legion to India, and emptied his own stables in his efforts to provide horses for the East. In his anxiety to send help to India he did not hesitate to weaken the defensive strength of Cape Colony ; but by personal visits and appeals made to the more powerful Kaffir chiefs he so wrought upon them that they refrained from taking any advantage of the position. Among the journeys he took for this purpose was one into Basutoland, where he conferred with the celebrated Moshesh in his hill fortress, Thaba-Bosingo.
In 1861 the colonial office for the fourth time sent Grey to fill a post of exceptional difficulty. For seven years after his departure from New Zealand peace had been maintained there. But the relations of the whites and Maori grew slowly more and more strained. The natives formed a league to oppose further sales of land, elected a king, and were carelessly allowed to buy guns and gunpowder. In 1860 war broke out over the sale of a piece of land at Waitara in Taranaki. After a year of fighting a truce was patched up, but the situation was full of danger, and Grey was sent to save it. He did not succeed ; for, though he gave up the disputed land at Waitara, he was unable to regain the confidence of the Maori. Nor had the governor any longer complete personal control of the colony's native policy. He had to act on the advice of ministers, and with his ministers Grey was not always on cordial terms. Moreover, in the decade between 1860 and 1870 the New Zealand ministries and colonists were usually out of harmony with the colonial office. Grey sympathised with the colonists, and his relations with Downing Street grew less and less happy. To this unpleasantness was added that caused by his quarrels with General Cameron and General Chute, the officers who commanded in New Zealand during the warfare which broke out in July 1863 and lasted about four years. General Cameron was not only utterly without local knowledge, but lacking in energy. Grey urged him to take more vigorous action, and, when the general declined in 1865 to attack the strong Weraroa pa, marched against it and took it himself. This achievement hastened Cameron's resignation and also embittered feeling at the war office against the governor. To his difficulties was added the objection taken by the colonial office to the confiscation of three million acres of land belonging to insurgent tribes an act assented to by the governor and also to the tone of certain of his despatches. In 1867 the rebels had been repeatedly beaten, and fighting ceased. It was then that the Duke of Buckingham wrote from the colonial office curtly informing Grey, at the end of a letter on other matters, that the name of his successor would be communicated to him.
Technically, Grey was not recalled ; for his term had expired by effluxion of time. But the letter could have but one meaning that his career in the imperial service was ended. In New Zealand this treatment was held to be discourteous and unjust. The colonists and their parliament believed he had been sacrificed for befriending them, and they hastened to show to Grey many public tokens of sympathy and gratitude.
In March 1868 Grey, on the arrival of his successor, Sir George Bowen, retired to Kawau, a pleasant island in the Hauraki Gulf, which he had purchased and which he had made interesting by planting, gardening, and the acclimatising of foreign trees, flowers, and animals. After a stay of some months he sailed to England, where, after interviews with the Duke of Buckingham and Lord Granville, which did not lead to a reconciliation with the colonial office, he stood at Newark as a liberal candidate for the House of Commons. The official liberals, however, did not want him in English politics, and in order not to split the liberal vote he withdrew. Both on the platform and in writing he was active from 1868 to 1870 in opposing Mr. Goldwin Smith and the 'Little England' school, in protesting against the severance of England from her colonies, and in advocating a system of state-aided emigration from the mother country, by which the poor should be helped to settle on colonial waste lands. In 1871 he returned to New Zealand and lived quietly at Kawau, studying, collecting books, and showing hospitality, until in 1874 he consented to enter New Zealand politics, and was chosen superintendent of the province of Auckland and member of the House of Representatives for Auckland City. With eloquence and dash, but without success, he led the opposition to the centralist party, which abolished in 1876 the colony's provincial institutions.
Thereafter a radical party formed round him, and in 1877 he became prime minister. The reforms for which he and his principal lieutenants, (Sir) Robert Stout and John Ballance, strove were adult franchise (to describe which Grey invented the term ' One-man-one-vote '), triennial parliaments, the taxation of land values, the leasing instead of the sale of crown lands, compulsory repurchase of private estates, the election of the governor by the colonists. All these except the last have been carried ; but none were carried by the Grey ministry. That, after two ineffectual years of uneasy life, was brought down mainly by the unpopularity of its land tax and by a commercial crisis, for which it was in no way responsible, but which occurred in 1879, and the effect of which did not entirely pass away for sixteen years. Grey was not a successful prime minister. He quarrelled with his ablest supporters, put his trust in incompetent men, showed little aptitude for the conduct of parliamentary business, and managed to create the impression that he was a careless and ignorant financier. After the fall of his ministry his followers deposed him from the leadership. This he did not forgive, and all through the fourteen years which he spent in the House of Representatives afterwards he never heartily co-operated with the radicals or became reconciled to those who led them. Treated with the most marked deference by the house, to which he was always re-elected almost without opposition, his influence both there and in the colony nevertheless dwindled. In 1890, however, he proposed and carried the completed form of manhood suffrage, and in 1891 he enjoyed a triumph in Australia, where, as one of the New Zealand delegates, he was a striking figure in the federal convention. There he made a stand, and a successful stand, for 'One-man-one-vote,' and fought, not successfully, to have the governor-general elected by the people of the federation. After addressing large meetings in Victoria and New South Wales, he was welcomed with enthusiasm in his old colony, South Australia. In the progressive movement of the last decade in New Zealand he took no share, except as an occasional critic, and in 1894, quietly and without any sort of notice, quitted the colony to spend the rest of his days in London. After his arrival in England he was made a privy councillor, but increasing feebleness hindered him from playing any further public part. He died of senile decay on 20 Sept. 1898, and was buried in St. Paul's Cathedral, where a public funeral was given him.
Before and after leaving Cape Colony Grey presented to the Cape Town public library his own collection of books and manuscripts, then said to be the most valuable private library in the southern hemisphere. For this the Cape colonists set up his statue close by the library hall. During the next twenty-five years he again got together a fine collection of books, and these, with some interesting manuscripts, he gave to the city of Auckland, where a hall was built to receive them. Grey's own writings were 'Vocabulary of the Aboriginal Language of Western Australia' (Perth, Western Australia, 1839, 4to) ; 'Vocabulary of the Dialects of South-western Australia' (2nd edit. London, 1840, 12mo) ; 'Journals of Two Expeditions of Discovery in North-west and Western Australia in 1837-8-9, by Captain G. Grey, Governor of South Australia,' London, 1841, 2 vols. ; 'Polynesian Mythology and Ancient Traditional History of the New Zealand Race (English and Maori),' London, 1855, 8vo; 2nd edit. Auckland, 1885, 8vo. Much the most important of these is the volume of Maori legends, gathered and translated in such leisure as he could find during his first governorship of New Zealand.
Good as some of his writing was, he was a better speaker than writer, and on the platform reached at moments a very high level indeed, in spite of faults of vagueness, prolixity, and a too deliberate utterance. Ungifted with incisiveness, analysing power, or command of detail, he usually failed in debate; but his ability to sway crowds was at times remarkable, and was gained without recourse to vulgar methods, for his dreamy eloquence was never marred by coarseness, violence, or personal abuse. The mark was often missed, but the aim was always high. His most striking personal characteristics were, perhaps, cool courage and absolute self-confidence, masked by a manner courteous to the verge of deference. His opinions were a curious compound of democratic idealism akin to Jefferson's, and a species of pacific imperialism. Against noble aims and a real love of lofty principle, against a life untainted by corruption or the grosser forms of self-seeking, must be set notable faults the faults of a bold temperament and of an acute man of action, most of whose life was passed in command or controversy. He was wilful, quarrelsome, jealous, and over-fond of finesse failings which had their full share in cutting short his official career, in isolating him during many years of his life, and in hindering him from receiving a full measure of reward for the solid services he rendered to the empire and its southern colonies.
Grey married, in 1839, Harriet, daughter of Admiral R. W. Spencer, K.H., at that time government resident at Albany, West Australia. The only child of the union, a son, died in infancy at Adelaide. The marriage was not happy; but Sir George and Lady Grey, after a separation lasting for many years, were reconciled some eighteen months before her death. She died only a fortnight before her husband.
A portrait of Grey, painted by Mr. Hubert Herkomer, R.A., is in the National Portrait Gallery, London.
[Rees's Life and Times of Sir George Grey, K.C.B., 1892; Review of Reviews (Australasian edit.), August and September 1892; Milne's Chats with the great Pro-Consul, 1899; Times, Daily News, Westminster Gazette, Otago Daily Times (New Zealand), 21 Sept. 1899; Review of Reviews, February 1896; Mennell's Dictionary of Australasian Biography, 1892; Gisborne's New Zealand Rulers and Statesmen, 1897, 2nd edit.; Reeves's Long White Cloud, 1898; Fox's War in New Zealand, 1866; Froude's Oceana, 1886; Rusden's History of New Zealand; Hewitt's History of Discovery in Australia, Tasmania, and New Zealand, 1865; Mundy's Our Antipodes, 1852; Dutton's South Australia and its Mines, 1846; Chase's History of the Colony of the Cape of Good Hope, 1869.]
William Pember Reeves, Dictionary of National Biography, 1901 supplement. pgs. 357-361.