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

Chapter III. — Governor of South Australia

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Chapter III.
Governor of South Australia.

Capable Governors were scarce in those days, when young colonies were to be guided through the perils of infancy. The Governor of a colony, then at six months' distance from the Motherland, and (the time required for a reply being considered) at twelve months' distance from the Colonial Office, was practically absolute. If he was bold and went far, he offended his superiors at Home; if he was timid or weak, he brought the colony to an impasse. The type of Governor, at once strong and judicious, wanted for colonies that were on their way to becoming self-governing communities was still to be created, and it was gradually evolved in the forties, fifties, and sixties; for the Crown-appointed Governors of the North American colonies in the seventeenth century belonged to a different order. Grey was perhaps the most finished specimen of colonial Governor the evolutionary process was to produce, and yet, as will be all too plainly shown, he was in course of time to disappoint and exasperate the department that long trusted him so implicitly.

Two Autocrats.

He had made friends with "the mammon of unrighteousness" by christening Mount Stephen in Western Australia after the permanent Under-Secretary for the Colonies, and Stephen stood his friend as long as he remained at the Colonial Office. Stephen was one of two notable personalities who then ruled the great department. Sir Henry Taylor was known to cultured readers as a distinguished dramatic poet (he was the author of Philip van Artevelde and The Virgin Widow) and a political philosopher whose natural sagacity had been instructed page 19by his conversance with great affairs, and embedded in a volume that was rather ambitious than pretentious called The Statesman; he was known to fashionable society as consummate man of the world; and to a very few he was known as one of the high officers of the Colonial Office. Taylor virtually governed the "sugar-colonies," and how powerful a mere clerk in the department, bearing no specific designation, could be, may be learnt from his Autobiography, which contains many revelations. Still more interesting would have proved, had it ever been written, the autobiography of his colleague, Sir James Stephen, the real ruler of the future self-governing colonies from 1835 to 1847.* He is best known in literature as the author of Essays in Ecclesiastical Biography, contributed to the Edinburgh Review, which are remarkable equally for their evangelical fervour and their sonorous diction, smelling of the State paper and the despatch-writer. Carlyle, conversing with Gavan Duffy, doubted their sincerity, alleging that Stephen had no thought of leading such a life as he there described, and at the same time etching a vivid portrait of the writer as an official. Each successive Secretary of State came into office, resolving that he would shake off the thraldom of the permanent heads of the Department, especially Stephen's, and very imperious they all were at the start. The wily Stephen apparently fell in with all they proposed, and in a smooth, silken manner expressed his assent. The unsophisticated Minister imagined that everything would be carried out as he desired, but it was always found that everything was done as Stephen decided, and the Minister ended by cheerfully accepting the yoke he had tried to throw off. Let anyone compare the despatches written from the Colonial Office in the thirties and forties with the Essays, and he will come to the conclusion that the writer of both was one and the same individual. Such was the man to whose favour or discernment Grey undoubtedly owed page 20his appointment. He it was who "entertained" "the high opinion" of Grey's "ability and energy" which induced Lord John Russell to propose him for the Governorship of South Australia.

Though still slight in importance to what it was to become, it was a high appointment for a young man of twenty-eight. Grey reflected that he was the youngest man ever appointed to a colonial Governorship—at least, he should have added, in a British colony, and he feared that youth and inexperience disqualified him for holding so responsible an office. Twenty-five years later the professor of Moral Philosophy in an ancient Scottish university similarly recalled that in entering on his labours he was only twenty-eight years old and might well shrink from them. It would be hard to determine which position was the more onerous. To instil the principles of Ethics into the minds of successive generations of future teachers is a function so high that even the government of a nascent society and the moulding of a commonwealth are scarcely more exacting in their required qualifications.

* Some of his letters have lately been printed for private circulation: The First Sir James Stephen: Letters with Biographical Notes. Edited by his daughter, Caroline E. Stephen. Heffer, 1906.

The Military Governor.

Grey was a representative of the military régime in the government of colonies. The first stage in all the older Australasian colonies was the naval stage— apparently for no better reason than that naval officers commanded the first convict ships sent out to New South Wales, and the first Governors of that colony were naval officers. The precedent thus created was applied to other colonies, and the first Governor of South Australia was a naval officer. When he proved unfit for the position, he was superseded by a military officer, marking the second stage of colonial governership. He in his turn being found unequal to a difficult situation was superseded, while the military régime was maintained by the appointment of Captain Grey. The phase reflected the evolution of the Motherland, which had likewise passed through the military stage, when the sovereign was a military ruler. All of Grey's earlier governorships were page 21of this character. His government of South Australia and South Africa, and his first government of New Zealand, were despotic.

As afterwards in New Zealand and South Africa, he was sent to replace or supersede a Governor who had committed errors of policy that led to his being recalled. Grey's predecessor, Colonel Gawler, had only too closely followed the example set him by an earlier Governor of New South Wales, Colonel Macquarie; instead of endeavouring to settle the colonists on the untilled soil, he employed them on public works, making roads and erecting public buildings. The difference was that Macquarie employed convicts, while Gawler employed colonists, whom he had to pay, and yet Macquarie was called sternly to account for drawing to excess on the British Treasury. So did Gawler draw bills, which the British Government refused to meet. Authorities have stated that with a revenue of only £42,000 his annual expenditure amounted to £94,000, but it far exceeded even that extravagant sum. During his last twelve months of office his expenditure amounted to £174,000, and in a little more than two years and a half he had expended no less than £320,000. Those watchdogs of British finance, the Lords of the Treasury, felt that it was high time that such doings should be brought to an end, and they made such representations to the Colonial Office as ensured his recall. Colonel Gawler was a man of high character and by no means of deficient capacity, but he was the victim of adverse circumstances. We shall find Grey himself in future years called to account for exactly such doings and at last recalled, he too, for still more high-handed proceedings than ever Gawler adventured on.

The Retrencher.

Grey was sent out to South Australia, as ministers have been placed in office, to effect a thorough retrenchment. He took stringent measures to reduce the expenditure, and in a year he actually cut it down from the figures above stated to £34,000, according to one page 22authority—to £28,000, according to another. He stopped the public works then in progress, and thus reduced to beggary nearly 2,000 men, women, and children, who had to be supported as paupers. He reduced the wages of the emigrants whom the Colony stood pledged provisionally to support. He thus raised against himself the entire labouring class. His retrenchments were not confined to the bottom of the social scale. He abolished three departments —the Stores department, the office of Registrar-General, and the Signal-master's department. The expenses of the Post Office and the gaol (built at great cost—in a crimeless land)! were ruthlessly cut down. As always, he did not spare himself. The modest establishment of Government House was reduced. He thus raised the powerful class of office-holders against him.

The consequences were of the most serious description. A period of fictitious prosperity was brought suddenly to an end. All classes of property became unsaleable. Bankruptcies multiplied; in that small community there were 37 in a single year, and 136 writs were issued through the sheriff's court. A storm of unpopularity broke on the unfortunate Governor. Angry crowds marched to Government House and threatened his defenceless person. Attacks were made on him at public meetings, where his recall was unanimously demanded. The menace of impeachment was flung in his face. He was burnt in effigy. The press was dead against him, and virulently assailed him. Disappointed claimants, he told the Secretary of State, have "harassed me in every possible way," the ugliest included. He did not mention, what we now know, that blackmailing was attempted and frauds put on him. When the crisis had passed, he admitted that he would not willingly go through it again. So say the English Prime Minister and the Colonial Premier. They have often to "go through" a still fiercer ordeal, as was also Grey's later experience. He bore it all with fortitude and remembered it magnanimously. Looking back on it, he was willing "to extenuate the intemperate language and conduct of some page 23few." He was still able to forgive, but it may be suspected that his silence about South Australia in later years implied that in the long run he had not quite or finally forgiven.

He yet left no stone unturned to ease the situation he had created. The banks refused to negotiate his drafts, but he borrowed £1,800 from the Commissariat Chest and £3,000 from the Government of New South Wales. He sacrificed £400 of his small salary of £1,000. With these tiny resources he made head against the distress. What to do with the masses of unemployed? The baffled Secretary of State, writing like a wiseacre, instructed him to ascertain whether the Governors of Western Australia, Tasmania, and New Zealand would receive some of the surplus population of South Australia on the understanding that their passages would be paid. Grey took more statesmanlike steps.

First of all, he recast the system of taxation. He created new sources of revenue. At the instance of that great colonial reformer, E. G. Wakefield, the income derived from the sale of waste lands, which ought not to be regarded as a source of ordinary revenue, had been devoted to the promotion of immigration; it was the distinctive feature of his policy. At the suggestion of the Colonial Office, Grey divided the revenue thus derived into two parts, of which one was set apart for its pristine end, while the other was to be expended in the work of settling families on the land and in aiding the aborigines. He heavily taxed the necessaries of life. He unadvisably, but perhaps necessarily, imposed port dues on ships entering Adelaide. It was an unpopular tax.

He next grappled with the problem of the distribution of population. It was at an acute stage. Of the white population of South Australia considerably more than one-half resided in Adelaide: 8,439 out of 14,610 were resident in the capital. While he let no one starve, he refused to relieve those who insisted on staying in town when they might go into the country and work on the land. His chief object, he explicitly stated, was "to give the labourers no inducement to remain in town, or page 24upon public works; but to make them regard the obtaining of a situation with a settler as a most desirable result." His efforts towards this end were largely successful. An official table prepared two years after Grey's departure from the Colony shows that the number of inhabitants in the rural districts had risen from 6,121 in 1840, the year of his arrival, to 11,259 in 1843 and to 14,977 in 1845. The number of inhabitants in Adelaide had simultaneously fallen to 6,107 in 1843. These speaking figures show that the tide had been effectually turned, and the drift was now setting in steadily towards the country.

With the solution of the problem of distribution all other problems were in course of being solved. The same table that reveals the rural movement of the population shows an upward movement in both agriculture and industry. The value of exports of colonial produce rose from £15,650 in 1840 to £66,160 in 1843; the number of factories rose from 4 to 31, and of flour mills from none to 16. Later figures and other statistics were no less eloquent. The Governor had succeeded. Well might Lord John Bussell sound his praises. "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, after four or five years experience of his administration there, that he has solved the problem with a degree of energy and success which I could hardly have expected from any man.''

Providence was on his side. The discovery of coppermines, through a series of accidents, opened up a new vein of wealth and at the same time stimulated land sales, which had languished. The very elements fought for him. A fine summer brought a bounteous harvest, and the weather, which had ruined the reforming measures of Turgot, as it afterwards ruined the reforming measures of Loris Melikoff, came to his aid. He could now afford to remit the port dues he had temporarily levied to raise a revenue. He was a successful and prosperous ruler.

Grey was not the sole worker towards this consummation. He had an efficient co-operator in one of the founders of the Colony, George Fife Angas. Mainly page 25through his untiring exertions, a large stream of German immigration poured into South. Australia, giving it the exotic, but healthy, complexion it still retains. Large tracts of country were thus settled with desirable immigrants. And this was only one of the schemes by which this indefatigable coloniser sought to promote the prosperity of the Colony. "Never let it be said," cried Herbert Spencer in his ebullient early manhood, "that one man can do but little." By the joint efforts of Grey and Angas the crisis was thus surmounted, and the Colony was started on a career of stable prosperity.

Relations with the Blacks.

A second great problem, of more permanent interest, a bequest from his predecessor, demanded an immediate practical solution. As in every other colony that he was to govern, a portion of the natives was proving troublesome. The overlanders, whose vast operations had impressed his imagination in West Australia, were being continually attacked by the tribes through whose territory they passed. One such attack had been dealt with by Governor Gawler just before Grey's arrival, and two others took place soon after it. In punishing them Grey made two new departures. Gawler had held that all the natives living outside the settled portions of the. Colony stood outside of his jurisdiction and could be dealt with only as foreign peoples. He therefore treated offenders as prisoners of war and had them tried by court-martial. Such a procedure was opposed to Grey's instincts. Though for high ends, he was greedy of power and ambitious of influence. He took up the ground that all natives within the boundaries of the Colony were "within the Queen's allegiance," and under the Governor's authority. He accordingly had offending natives brought to Adelaide and tried by the colonial courts. The principle was the same as he had asserted in Western Australia, and afterwards asserted in New Zealand in 1847 with regard to the Maoris, though it was there in opposition to the legal opinion of the Attorney-General, a Crown officer. In all countries, in England itself, the page 26assertion of such a principle marks the growth of the central authority and the taking of an important step towards the unification of the population. In justice to the blacks who were tempted to attack overlanding parties by the weakness of the escort, he also required that such parties should be efficiently escorted. And he stationed E. J. Eyre, who was to be his lieutenant-governor in New Zealand, at a settlement in the interior where he could lend aid to passing overlanders and at the same time keep the blacks in order. His policy had a measure of success. The aboriginals were conciliated, and the attacks ceased.

He did not rest content with this satisfactory result. His policy consisted in that blending of sympathy with rigour that constitutes perfect justice. In a spirit of the noblest chivalry he set himself to improve the condition of these lapsed members of the Caucasian race, as Mr. Wallace considers them. He found employment for the younger members of the tribes. He induced storekeepers in Adelaide to employ them as porters, and farmers to use them as reapers. He did far more. Realising that the future of the race lay with the children, he endeavoured to have them educated, and he established boarding-schools in two districts. Much else he sought to do. He persuaded German missionaries and some ladies to show kindness to the blacks, and he remitted a portion of the purchase money of their allotments to settlers who aided them. The results of the labours of this fine enthusiast were disappointing. The schools he established were given up after their founder left the Colony. The labours of the missionaries completely failed; not a single "conversion" stands to their credit. The natives reverted to their old habits, or passed altogether out of the settled portions of the Colony and returned to savagery. Hundreds of such efforts have been made, and always with the same result. Should not the fact furnish data for an argument against Mr, Wallace's contention? If the Australian blacks are degraded Caucasians, should they not be able to recover their lost powers and, with the potent aid of a higher stock of that same race, rise once more to their ancient level?

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Imperial Approval.

Meanwhile, he was giving high satisfaction to the authorities in England. In 1842 the Lords of the Treasury allowed that he had "acquitted himself in an able and satisfactory manner of the important trust which had been reposed in him.'' The Secretary for the Colonies chimed in and formally acknowledged "the essential and most effective services" he had "rendered in reducing the expenditure and re-establishing the finances of South Australia." It is a proof of his genuine capacity, as yet unspoiled by perversity or velleities of rebellion, that, two years later, he was still in high favour with the Colonial Office. Lord Derby (who was still Lord Stanley) bore repeated testimonies (he called them testimonials) to the value of his public services in administering South Australia, and he admitted that Grey had shown "energy, capacity, and circumspection in the conduct" of its affairs. These were high compliments, and they seemed to have been well earned.*

His eminent services were to bring him something more real than compliments—they were to bring him promotion; but we may pause for a few moments to describe another and less-disputed phase of his multifarious activity.

* The political portion of the present chapter, like the corresponding chapter of Mr. Rees's biography, was at first mainly written from the material supplied in Dutton's book on South Australia—the contemporary record of a Legislative Councillor who saw at close quarters the things he describes. It has been rewritten to include the facts freshly stated by Professor Henderson, who has had access to the South Australian archives, examined the journals of the time, and been the recipient of the confidences of old colonists.

The Savant.

Some men gain the bubble, reputation, at the cannon's mouth, while others gain it through the Post Office. Tyndall once expressed his surprise that all manner of persons who were unknown to him presumed to address him, asking him all sorts of questions and desiring all kinds of services. Herbert Spencer found his reduced working powers and limited time so encroached upon by correspondence that he had a letter printed, declining in advance to reply to all unauthorised communications.

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Colonial savans overwhelm themselves with labour on the eve of the departure of the European mails, keeping up a correspondence which, they seem to imagine, reflects honour on them. And they are not, in a way, mistaken. The friends of a colonial savant appealed to the extent of his correspondence with European and American scientists in proof of the reality of his scientific claims and position, which were disputed. As the christeners of newly "discovered'' mountain, lake, river, or glacier, they are often able to put foreign savans under obligation to them, and they are sometimes able to render them more real services by sending them collections from distant lands or communicating observations they have made.

Grey cannot rightly be classed among the scientific pretenders, but he was far from insensible to the glory to be acquired by associating himself with eminent men of science in the old country. His industry and intelligence entitled him to the distinction. When he explored Western Australia, he embarked on a wide sea and sounded deep waters. His soundings yielded many a treasure. In May, 1839, Professor (afterwards Sir Eichard) Owen acknowledged some specimens he had sent, doubtless to the College of Surgeons, of whose museum Owen was then curator, stating that they were either new or rare, and in either case were of great utility. Grey, it already appeared, was something more than a collector; if not a savant, he was a keen observer, and his observations on the action of the hood in the hooded lizard, according to Owen, disclosed "a new and interesting fact" in natural history. In December, 1840 and January and February, 1841, he presented the British Museum with mineral and zoological specimens and collections of fossils and shells. These were all fruits of his explorations in Western Australia. His brief residence at Albany was no less fruitful, and this time the British Museum made a special acknowledgment of his donations.

During his four years' residence in South Australia he continued to send home all kinds of scientific specimens. Some hundreds of mammals, birds, reptiles, fishes, and page 29crustaceans were despatched to the national repository. Besides these, the indefatigable collector sent 265 rare or novel plants and 290 rock specimens and minerals. No wonder that the Trustees again specially acknowledged his benefactions.

He was catholic in his gifts. To the Horticultural Society of London he sent 52 packets of seeds, and to the Geological Society a collection of fossils. Probably, no other Governor has contributed as copiously to museums. His numerous collections may be described as the response of Australia, New Zealand, and South Africa to the maternal generosity of the Motherland, which has endowed its colonies with useful seeds, plants, and animals from all parts of the globe.

Grey was sympathetic with the pursuits of men of science and was ever ready to aid them. Lyell wrote to him in 1843 that Owen agreed with him in the opinion he had expressed about some cetacean remains he had sent Home. Anthropologists like Lubbock appealed to him for information on the religious ideas of Australians, especially of the kobongs, on which Grey was well qualified to instruct him. Inquiries are often made of colonial Governors, who usually apply to some expert in the colony, but Grey was one of the few who could personally supply the information desiderated. All Governors welcome men of scientific or literary distinction from England or other countries, but Grey was able to extend a hospitality of mind as well as of hearth. He was no less sympathetic with the toils of others. He had been resident in South Australia when Sturt and Eyre set out on their memorable journeys; Eyre was afterwards appointed his lieutenant-governor in the South Island of New Zealand, and he joined in recommending that Sturt, now blind and ailing, should be knighted. Where no political rivalries thwarted his natural instincts, he could be both just and generous.