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Life of Sir George Grey: Governor, High commissioner, and Premier. An Historical Biography.

His Patronymic

page 3

His Patronymic.

All through his public life he bore the name of Grey, but he was believed to have changed it from the common (and Irish) orthography, Gray. Many men have changed their names, with or without the royal license. Grey himself told (with evident consciousness) how the Duke of Wellington's family transformed the democratic Wesley into the aristocratic Wellesley. The eminent French Sinologue, Noël Jullien (already well-enough named, it might seem) surreptitiously assumed the name of a deceased elder brother and was ever afterwards known to the world as Stanislas Jullien. Others have pardonably substituted an unobjectionable or a distinguished for an offensive cognomen. Others still, like Richard Hengist Horne, have interpolated an imaginary aggrandising name between their Christian and their surnames, or redeemed a too common name by interposing a real but unused baptismal name. Many have completely changed the appearance of their names by turning an i into a y or appending an e. Grey would therefore have had abundant countenance for the innovation he is alleged to have made in the orthography of his patronymic. While he was Governor of New Zealand, he was openly charged with having so altered his surname as to suggest that he belonged to one of the most distinguished aristocratic Whig houses of last century. The charge exposed him to the insults of the scurrilous pamphleteer, who publicly addressed him as "Sir George Gray." After he was in his grave, it was pitilessly revived. In a volume of reminiscences published three or four years ago Admiral Sir George Keppel brought it again to life. Some years earlier the Senior Fellow of Trinity College, Dublin, a Gray himself, who doubtless felt that Sir George had deserted the Irish clan and deprived it of its rightful share in its fame, repeated the accusation. It is not the least of Professor Henderson's services to the memory of a great man that to this malignant fiction he has dealt the deathblow. He has conclusively proved that Grey had every possible right to spell the name as he did. It was the orthography of his father's name. In a despatch of 1812 the Duke of Wellington laments the death at page 4Badajoz of Lieutenant-Colonel Grey. In a letter of the year 1813 the Duke of York writes to Mrs. Grey of her late husband as "Colonel George Grey.'' And the medal then sent to her by the Duke bears the name, Grey. There was therefore no need for the son to throw a false glamour over his personality by wearing a borrowed plume. In any case, it is false to assert that he did change it. All the records at the War Office show that, from his seventeenth year onwards, he was consistently gazetted under, and that he himself as consistently used, the orthography he ever afterwards retained. The reflection the whole matter suggests is that he must have borne much in silence. When he was falsely charged with a petty fraud, he might have produced his father's medal, or the Duke of York's letter, or pointed to the Duke of Wellington's despatch, or referred his traducers to the archives of the War Office. He spoke never a word, and he took no action. Was it pride or contempt?

Of the Grey family his latest biographer states that it was descended from Lord Grey of Groby, and he adds that Sir George was a cousin to the present Earl of Stamford, who bears also the title of Lord Grey of Groby. Sir George Grey and he saw much of one another, when the future Lord Stamford visited New Zealand in 1886. At that time Sir George said that Mr. Grey (as he then was) claimed relationship with him, but he did not seem to claim it himself, or at least he spoke lightly of it. The connection was possibly a Highland cousinship. In any case, he did not belong to the Irish Grays.

He was, however, of Irish blood, though not necessarily a Celt, on the maternal side. His mother was the daughter of an Irish clergyman in Westmeath, the Rev. John Vignoles, whose name betrays his French origin. A portrait of her adorns the last biography. It is a pleasing figure. A lady truly, handsome and refined in appearance, with the suggestion of much beauty of character. From her he must have inherited some of his superior qualities of mind and nature. The portrait of the father expresses native strength, as his life betrayed ardent courage. We have evidently got far on the way towards explaining the peculiar attributes of the son.