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

The Subjugation of the Maoris. — His Appointment

The Subjugation of the Maoris.
His Appointment.

It was a tribute to Grey's capacity that, in four successive instances, he was appealed to by the Colonial Office as the man the best fitted in the Empire to undertake the government of a colony that was critically situated. He was fond of relating, and the fact had struck his imagination as well as embedded itself in his memory, that one day when he was out riding in the neighbourhood of Adelaide in company with his step-brother, Sir Godfrey Thomas, he was overtaken by a messenger in a "tax-cart" (the archaic detail carries us back to the forties), who had been sent from the town with despatches from England. He opened and read them, and found that he had been appointed Governor of New Zealand. In terms of high compliment he was assured of his fitness for the position. He was, indeed, almost solicited to accept it as an act of patriotism and in the interests of the Empire. The nominal author of the appointment was Lord Stanley, soon to become Earl of Derby, then Secretary for the Colonies; the real author of it, we need not scruple to assert, and the writer of the despatch announcing the fact, was the all-powerful Permanent Under-Secretary, Sir James Stephen, whose keen eye and trained judgment had already discerned the energies and the capacities that were to make Grey the greatest colonial governor of his time.

The appointment did not pass unchallenged. In the House of Commons Lord Howick (next year to become Earl Grey) objected to the nomination of one "whose rank, age, and station were such that he could hardly carry weight or authority." The future Secretary for the Colonies was to redeem his natural scepticism by a page 31long series of public commendations, by practically surrendering to the new Governor the government of the Colony, and by publishing in his retirement the loftiest eulogy a colonial governor has ever received from his official superior.

Though his commission was enclosed, and it was therefore hardly open to Grey to refuse the dangerous office, where he might be hounded to death, as Captain Hobson, the first Governor, had been hounded, or wreck the reputation he had already acquired, as FitzRoy, the second Governor, had wrecked his, the appointment was understood to be temporary, to meet an emergency, and the governorship of South Australia was kept open for him. Eight years afterwards he left New Zealand on a similar understanding. He was to return to New Zealand, though after an interval, but he was to return to South Australia only forty-six years later, and then in an unofficial capacity.

Governor FitzRoy (so well known earlier as a navigator and later as a meteorologist) had brought New Zealand by a series of indiscretions to the verge of rebellion. Who so well fitted to educe order out of chaos as the young governor who had just achieved a similar feat in South Australia? We do not need his assurance of the fact to believe that the new Governor had conceived a high ideal of his mission. The arena was one well fitted to call forth all his powers. He was to conquer and rule over a barbarous race of a higher type than the one he had left—intelligent, warlike, and in the main hostile spread over a whole island, holding fortified places, and' equipped with arms of precision. He was to encounter a powerful Company, with the great colonising genius of the age at its head, a number of clever young men (afterwards distinguished statesmen) among its personnel and the command of the Colonial Office for its leverage. He was to meet with an energetic bishop, as uniquely fitted for his difficult duties as Grey was for his, and a Chief-Justice of rare integrity. And with them all this comparatively untried young man of thirty-three was easily to hold his own.

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As if anticipating his translation to New Zealand, Grey had taken a keen interest in the affairs of the island-colony while he was still Governor of South Australia. Hearing of the sack of Kororareka and the repulse of the troops by the Maoris at Okaihu and Ohaeawai, he had suggested to (he had not yet got the length of positively ordering) the commander of a British warship, which touched at Port Adelaide, that he should sail at once for the Bay of Islands, and he unconstitutionally sent along with it munitions of war from the military stores in South Australia. When the time of his departure came, he hastily seized the money in the treasury at Adelaide and carried it with him to New Zealand. It was a second unconstitutional act, and it excited the resentment of the South Australians, but was not expressly censured by the Colonial Office. The doings of the Cæsars are apt to be "unconstitutional," and evidently the Colonial Office was chary of censuring a public servant whose chief fault as yet was an excess of zeal.

Arriving in Auckland on November 14, 1845, he found confusion reigning. In general, as was everywhere his way, he reversed the policy of his predecessor. The financial imbroglio was the most pressing and had first to be faced. Using the treasure that he had, Cæsar-like, carried off from South Australia, he called in and partly paid the debentures issued by FitzRoy, amounting to £37,000, and thus restored financial equilibrium. His next task was to suppress the Native revolt. Within five weeks of his arrival Grey had gathered together a force of soldiers, sailors, and friendly natives, amounting to over 1500, in order to strike a deadly blow. An English general, Sir Everard Home, sent with the troops from Sydney by Sir George Gipps, was in command. With this force Grey advanced against the Northern Maoris. These had built a new and almost impregnable fortress— a typical pah, of which a model was exhibited in England —called Ruapekapeka, or "the Bat's Nest," near the Bay of Islands, and were there strongly entrenched. Of the ensuing siege the accounts are almost as various as page 33the narratives of the battle of "Waterloo. The most intelligible is given by Mr. Rees, and was presumably inspired by Grey, who was present throughout. A very detailed and graphic narrative was ostensibly taken down by F. E. Maning from the mouth of "an old chief of the Ngapuhi tribe," and is printed in Heke's War in the North. * And a third account, differing from the others in several particulars, is given by Prof. Henderson. It may not prove impossible to extract a harmony from the various narratives.