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

Grey's First Rebellion

Grey's First Rebellion.

Grey did not act precipitately. He approached Bishop Selwyn and Chief-Justice Martin, and, with his unrivalled powers of persuasion, he can have had little difficulty in convincing these two upright but as yet unsophisticated men that the proposed constitution would place in jeopardy equally the rights of the natives and the independence of the settlers. We do not know what page 52arguments he used. Reviewing the whole subject forty-five years later, he alleged that in 1847 he was actuated by two motives. He believed that the popular sovereignty would be imperilled, and he dreaded the effect upon the natives of a policy that would practically exclude them from all control of the affairs of New Zealand. Whether he also used the argument that the natives' secure possession of their lands would be endangered, we do not know. We may suspect that it was, because this was evidently, as we may judge from their subsequent public action and printed utterances, the consideration that most weighed with both of these just and able men, who were pronounced philo-Maoris. Either they failed to perceive the mixture of selfish ends with loftier motives in the mind of the Governor, or they elected to overlook it. At all events, however it may have been managed, these high officials were gained over, and, with them at his back, the Governor felt strong enough to take one of the boldest steps the Governor of a British colony ever took. He ignored his Instructions, refused to allow the Imperial Act to have the force of law, and suspended the operation of the Constitution.

So, at least, it appears on the face of it, and so the incident is commonly narrated. The real manner of his defiance was less Promethean. Earl Grey's despatch (of December 23,1846) left to the Governor the discretionary power of fixing the date at which he should promulgate the new charter. Of this power Grey prepared to avail himself. In the reply-despatch of May 3, 1847, he stated the chief objection to the new constitution. Eequiring that every elector should be able to read and write the English tongue, it would disfranchise, on its own territory, the entire Maori race, of whom not one was known to the Governor to possess the required qualification. Yet the great majority, taught by a band of devoted missionaries, could read and write the Maori language. Not only so. "In natural sense and ability," the Governor urged, the Maori race was equal to the majority of the European population. And he deprecated the attempt to force on a proud and high-spirited page 53people a form of government that would bring them into subjection to an insignificant minority of European settlers. He would therefore, with the leave of the Secretary for the Colonies, refrain from giving effect to the portion of his Instructions that provided for the creation of representative institutions. All else should be carried out. Even this obnoxious portion he was prepared to put in force, if, after perusing this despatch, Earl Grey still adhered to his resolution. He nevertheless requested that the Instructions should be revoked, if the reasons he had stated should "command the assent of Her Majesty's Government." Thus, in the substance of the despatch there is little, in the manner of it there is not a trace, of the Titanic rebellion with the glamour of which it has dazzled the eyes of posterity.