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

Chapter. XVIII. — High Commissioner in South Africa—continued

page 122

Chapter. XVIII.
High Commissioner in South Africa—continued

South African Federation.

Sir George Grey had, years before, schemed a federation of New Zealand with the South Sea Islands. He now proposed that the various States of South Africa should be united by a common bond. In a despatch written at the end of 1855 he advocated ''a federal union among all these territories, in which great individual freedom of action" should be "left to each province, whilst they" would "yet all be united under British rule." He vainly endeavoured to induce the Imperial Government to resume the sovereignty of the Orange River State. In the following year he intimated that the State would ask to be included in a federal government with Cape Colony, and he requested instructions. In a private communication or a secret despatch, dated in September, 1858, Bulwer Lytton, now Secretary for the Colonies, reminded Grey that he had frequently urged the union of British Kafraria with Cape Colony and of the various South African States with one another. He was informed that "a high value in the eyes of Her Majesty's Government" attached "to the expression of his deliberate judgment on such a question,'' and he was instructed that "it would be expedient to keep in view the ultimate policy of incorporating British Kafraria with the Cape Colony, and even, if possible, of uniting all her Majesty's dominions in South Africa under some common …. government." The limitation of the reference will be observed. But no thought of limitation entered the mind of the High Commissioner. He had schemed a Commonwealth of all South African States without regard to differences of race or colour.

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His Ideal.

His views were expounded in August, 1858, in the greatest despatch he ever wrote—this man of many despatches. It was remarkable for its large and statesmanlike views, its prevision of eventualities, its imaginative delineation of future social states, and the glowing ardour that animated it. Such a commonwealth as he designed would form an impregnable rampart against the native tribes. It would create an extensive industrial system and a vast commerce. It would exalt the character of the colonists and breed new types of statesmen and lawyers, divines and men of letters. And it would promote the highest interests of mankind. Evidently, the man who could conceive such a vision was endowed with an imagination that was ardent, capacious, and constructive. Was it the imagination of a statesman or an utopianist? Half a century has gone by, and the things he foresaw are still unrealised.

Was he any more a statesman in his grasp of details than he was in his general conception? He proposed to leave large powers to the States. Yet this was the blunder he had committed in New Zealand only a few years before. There he had left too large powers to the provinces, and, after attaining maturity through a brief existence of twenty-one years, the federal constitution of New Zealand was abolished in 1876.

His Action.

He did not content himself with writing despatches. Exceeding his instructions, he invited the Orange River Free State to indicate its willingness to join such a commonwealth. He presumably sent a similar invitation to the Boers of the Transvaal; he certainly looked forward to the eventual adhesion of the Republic. The Orange River Volksraad promptly responded, approving of the advisableness of a union or alliance with the Cape. The terms of the response should be noted, for in them lies the key to the situation. It was an alliance of equal States, not a federation of dependent colonies, that the Volksraad page 124contemplated. It will be remembered that the Orange River republic, a few years before, had successfully asserted its independence, and constrained Great Britain, not then over-greedy of new territory, to relinquish its sovereignty. The High Commissioner deplored the surrender of a country that was sensibly British by its sympathies, as it was largely British by its ethnical complexion. Almost as a consequence his relations with the State had continued to be of a strangely friendly character. He had sought to commend himself to the sons of the expatriated French Protestants by boasting that he was himself descended from an exiled Huguenot noble. He had founded in the capital of the State a college where he advised that, while English was not neglected, literary Dutch should be the language of instruction. Well did he know, moreover, that the population of the Cape, originally a foreign colony, was largely of Dutch extraction. When he projected a federation where two English colonies, one of them more than half-Dutch, would be balanced by two Dutch States, he therefore projected a federation on a Dutch base, with Dutch necessarily as the official language, Dutch affinities, interests, and antipathies—a federation that never would have acted harmoniously with British policy or taken its place as a constituent member of the British Empire—a federation that would eventually have hoisted an alien flag and declared itself independent of Great Britain. Whether the High Commissioner contemplated this result or not, he deliberately prepared the means to this inevitable end, and if he did not foresee it, he either ignored the possibility of it, or was indifferent to it. The Colonial Office took this view. It is impossible to read the despatches from Downing Street without perceiving the belief that inspired them. In the eyes of the department the High Commissioner of South Africa and Governor of Cape Colony stood convicted of disloyalty, if not to the nation to which he belonged, at least to the Government he served.

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His Recall.

Without waiting to receive the approval of the Colonial Office, he opened the Parliament of Cape Colony in 1859 with a speech in which he advised that that body should take steps to bring about the federation of the South African States. This was the final straw that broke the endurance of the long-suffering Colonial Office. On May 5 a despatch had been sent to him expressing dissatisfaction, with his proceedings, but it must have been received too late to arrest him. On June 4, as soon as the tenor of the Governor's speech was known in London, he was peremptorily recalled. He was treated with high consideration. The Secretary of State, whether Lytton or Carnarvon, but more probably Carnarvon, acknowledged "the large and comprehensive nature of" his views; he even admitted the "fairness" of the High Commissioner. But he was plainly informed that he was "committed to a policy of which" Her Majesty's Government "disapproved on a subject of the first importance." The steps he had taken would "have to be retraced."

The blow was by no means a clap of thunder in a clear sky. Ominous muttering preceded the explosion. Rumours of his probable recall had been for months floating on the wings of many winds. They had not escaped his ears. In a despatch that would have been pathetic, if it had not been pitiful, he again struck a chord that he had harped on during his first term in New Zealand, and told the Secretary of State how he was worn with anxiety and broken down with toil. If to such vexations and labours were to be added misconstruction and distrust at the Colonial Office, his situation would be rendered untenable. Above all, if her Majesty's Government were dissatisfied with his administration to the point that they had meditated his recall, as his enemies in the Colony rumoured, then he hoped that they would treat him as English gentlemen are wont to be treated, and say plainly what they designed.

We are reminded of the querulous tone of the State-papers written by English statesmen who enjoyed the page 126questionable distinction of serving the virgin Queen. Burleigh, Walsingham, and Davison are continually deploring their lot in having to carry out the behests of a capricious and intractable woman. Alone in them, of all English State-papers, the note of personal feeling constantly recurs, and alone in the despatches of Grey, of all British Governors, is the same chord struck. Like them too, and like another Grey, not perhaps greater or less high-handed, Lord Grey of Wilton, what he had to dread was deposition or recall. Governors have been recalled for a variety of reasons. They have been recalled because they were too old or too young, because they were too meddlesome or too slothful, because they offended the immigrants or alienated the natives, because they were Pharisaical or were immoral, because they made war or failed to make peace. Grey was recalled because he was a King Stork, and chiefly because he was endeavouring to bring about a federation in South Africa that would prove inimical to the interests of the Empire. All his other offences, strongly though they were condemned at the time, could have been forgiven; they were over and done with. In relation to federation he was active for mischief, and if his mischievous activity were not checked, there was no saying what the incorrigible meddler, who believed that he was ruler of South Africa, would be tempted to do.

The nominal author of his recall was Sir Edward Bulwer Lytton, but the real author of it Grey believed to be the young Earl of Carnarvon, the Under-Secretary who governed the department in the absence of his chief through ill-health consequent on a nervous break-down. Grey himself, inspiring Mr. Rees, gives an animated account of the manner in which the recall was effected. As an act of more than ordinary gravity, it had to receive the approval of the Cabinet and the final sanction of the Queen in Council. In Grey's belief, the Queen resisted the decision, and the Earl of Derby, returning from Windsor, where the meeting of the Privy Council was held, confided to Clerk Greville the expression of page 127his apprehensions: "I fear, we have done a bad day's work in recalling Grey.''

Just so did it appear in South Africa. Addresses of regret poured in upon the disgraced Governor from all quarters; Dutch leaders, Kafir and Zulu chiefs, and English missionaries, including the heroic Livingstone,, voiced their sincere sorrow that so sympathetic a Governor was leaving them, and leaving them under a cloud. Never before, it was rightly felt, had such a Governor been vouchsafed to South Africa. The injunction of the Colonial Minister was, however, imperative; a few written words, at a distance of 5,000 miles, were as potent as the stroke of a sword; believing the decision to be final, the popular Governor broke up his home and prepared to take his departure. We can imagine his melancholy reflections on the miserable Homeward voyage. He was going Home to disgrace.

Happily, it proved to be far otherwise. His sun had not yet set. He was still on Sunium's heights. His deposition was a boomerang that recoiled on his authors. The returning steamer was boarded off Southampton by a reporter, who brought the thrice-welcome news that the Ministry which had recalled him had been driven from office, and that he was to be reinstated in the governorship of the Cape. A condemned criminal to whom the news of a reprieve has been brought could hardly feel greater joy than the deposed Governor must have felt. He could now afford to take the matter jovially. Meeting a New Zealand ex-official (Walter Mantell, once Protector of the Aborigines), he told him that he only wanted a holiday and took steps to obtain it. Long afterwards, when he saw the significance of the event in the light of later happenings, he spoke of it as "a great fall." He had then taken it to heart; he never took it to head.

The cold reception by the Colonial Office after his return from New Zealand in 1854 had been offset by the enthusiastic greeting he received from the undergraduates of Oxford. His condemnation by the page 128same department was now virtually reversed by the University of Cambridge. In company with Mr. Gladstone, he was granted the honorary degree of Doctor of Laws. Young England admired the large views and bold spirit of the Governor, who was a man after its own heart; it was indifferent to the alleged errors of his policy.