The Pamphlet Collection of Sir Robert Stout: Volume 64
IV.—The Leader of the Opposition
IV.—The Leader of the Opposition.
[unclear: rs] back it would have seemed presump-[unclear: for] or any ordinary man to have criticised [unclear: ge] Grey. Now it seems as natural as [unclear: cise] Mr Hall. What is the reason of [unclear: ge?] Let us see.
[unclear: He] posthumous son of a gallant Captain [unclear: who] fell at the storming of Badajos, [unclear: the] profession of George Gray—now, partly [unclear: to] sovereign's pleasure and partly from his [unclear: him,] Sir George Grey—was the army, [unclear: e] army he joined. An aristocrat, an [unclear: nt] and martinet, the army was, [unclear: s] the only profession in which his [unclear: et] love of command could be realised, [unclear: its] the army, too, he had to submit to the, [unclear: e] uncongenial task of being commanded, [unclear: fore,] when promotion came, he willingly [unclear: ged] his commission for the command of [unclear: ing] party in the wilds of Northern Western Australia. There he evinced [unclear: ck] and determination which have [unclear: d] his career through life; there, also, [unclear: me] of his travels, he received that [unclear: ound] which has been to him a thorn in [unclear: to] ever since. He discovered magnificent [unclear: ey] of great richness and productiveness, and [unclear: be] most interesting account of his travels. [unclear: we] it is typical of one phase of his character [unclear: s] magnificent country has been found [unclear: in] subsequent explorer. His travels termi-[unclear: d] in South Australia, where he became [unclear: st] and confidant of the then Governor, [unclear: wler.] He returned to England and [unclear: ed] to reconcile the differences then [unclear: g] between his late host and the Colonial [unclear: n] and with the like success that attended [unclear: hiden] Alden's courting of the Puritan maiden [unclear: s] for he was himself appointed to the [unclear: ship] of South Australia. On his [unclear: at] Adelaide it is said that Col. Gawler [unclear: ged] him, but, of course, a governor [unclear: not] fight one of his subjects, and so [unclear: ge] Grey was fairly launched in his [unclear: rial] career. To trace Sir George's [unclear: to] life is no part of my purpose, and his [unclear: in] life I can touch on but sketchily. [unclear: xt] employment was in New Zealand, [unclear: To] as Governor, before the granting of [unclear: tution] Act, he lived despotic. He [unclear: is] his nominee Council with an iron rod; parrelled with his Lieutenant-Governor, Captain Eyre, and with the people of Wellington, who clamored for his recall; and, on the passing of the Constitution Act, he was recalled. Sent as Administrator to the Cape, his unruly temperament brought him into trouble again. The Tory Government then in office, disapproving of his policy, and failing in obtaining his obedience to their instructions, recalled him in disgrace; but the Liberals coming to power again, offered him the Cape Governorship once more, on condition that he faithfully carried out the policy dictated by their pre-decessors. This he accepted, and he returned once more to Cape Colony, where he might have remained till the completion of his term, or until fresh difficulties with the Colonial Office once more quickened his return to England; but the breaking out of the Maori war necessitated the strong hand of a soldier, and Sir George Grey, with the knowledge of the country already acquired, and with his known military powers, was sent out to cope with the difficulty, and he succeeded. Here he gave proof that war was the only element in which that quick tempered, turbulent spirit could succeed; that in war his craft and bravery could be turned against the enemies of his country, instead of eating away his heart and trying to destroy the characters of his fellow colonists. Who can recall that then upright manly figure, "every inch a soldier and a gentleman," riding out from among his men just before the fight at Wereroa, riding out alone, unprotected, up the cleared slope to the very palisades of the pah, while a word from within could have sent five hundred bullets through his heart, to parley with the enemy; and then, his proposals rejected, ride slowly and with dignity, back again to order the attack—without grieving to see him now, not the leader of the country, but a mere panderer to popular prejudice and extreme radicalism. Or who that recollects his strategic capture of the great Te Rauparaha, at a time when a feeling of grave uneasiness pervaded the European population of the district as to the chief's warlike intentions, by secretly sending a man-of-war to Porirua and kidnapping the old Maori warrior and keeping him a prisoner till page 6 harmony was restored—can but regret "to what base uses he has come at last."
Upon the termination of his second New Zealand Governorship, Sir George Grey's career, so far as regarded Imperial employment, ended. The youngest K C.B. on the rolls, and atone time loved and trusted, he had by this time become noted in the official world for obstinacy and unreliability. Bitterness, impracticability, and disobedience of orders had rendered him unpalatable to both parties in English politics, and upon his return to Great Britain Sir George Grey found "his occupation gone." He stood at the general election for Newark, in the Radical interest, but against the Liberal candidate whom the Government supported. He was urged to retire, Mr Gladstone even promising to support his candidature for the first vacant seat if he would do so, or to give him employment again; but, in his opinion, Mr Gladstone was afraid of him; he curtly refused and was defeated. This made him hate the Liberals; but the Conservatives, who had had occasion to rebuke and recall him from the Cape, he hated more cordially still, and he returned to the colony, having done nothing but write a democratic pamphlet upon the Essex family, an embittered man, and nursing his growing enmities. He retired to his lovely home at Kawau and lived there for some time, first ejecting his tenant, the late Captain Holt, with every indignity. And while speaking of Kawau, it is curious to pause and observe how his imperious mind drove him to where he could exercise undisputed sway without fear of contradiction. His taste for islands led him further. It is amusing to hear his grand invectives against the holders of large runs, while Kawau with 10,000 acres, Rakino, very much smaller, and one or two other islands, in the Hauraki Gulf are his, each a little kingdom, where he can exercise his autocratic will without fear of interruption—so much so, that Kawau is said to be excepted from the county system; and so this friend of the people pays no rates! From the small state Sir George keeps up in Wellington, no one would imagine the fine house, magnificent grounds and plantations, shooting and fishing, of which he is master at Kawau. His library of black-letter books and manuscripts would be greedily bought up in England at a cost of thousands.
Here, in this island, redolent of beauty, luxury, and peace, lived Sir George Grey, until the attack upon the effete system of Pro-vincialism Bounded. Seizing this as the keynote of his future performances, he came to Auckland, issued his celebrated petition to the Governor and the Home Government, was elected Superintendent of Auckland, [unclear: and] its representatives in Parliament, [unclear: without] sition and amidst great enthusiasm, and [unclear: and] to Wellington to take his place as a [unclear: m] of that House to which he had so [unclear: often] from the throne. What a career [unclear: was] open to him! Greeted with every [unclear: a] courtesy and respect by the House; [unclear: ad] by the people, and followed with [unclear: most] obedience by a large and compact [unclear: pa] which he was at once elected [unclear: leader] been a politician, or even a moderate [unclear: e] man, he might have achieved [unclear: anything] he did nothing. From the first he [unclear: assa] political opponents with the most [unclear: te] vituperations—their every motive was [unclear: t] impure—their every measure was to [unclear: gr] some personal desire; they trampled the [unclear: p] under foot, they made themselves [unclear: rich] expense of the country, they sold land [unclear: to] friends at low prices; in fact, every [unclear: poli] crime of which an utterly corrupt and [unclear: w] administration could be guilty was [unclear: charg] the door of his opponents. Can it be [unclear: wood] that the gloves were taken off all round, [unclear: that] the unmerited blows he dealt [unclear: we] turned whenever he laid himself open attack?
A stranger entering the House is once impressed with the gentlemanly [unclear: b] ing, the earnest tone, the [unclear: el] language of the leader of the [unclear: Opp] tion. He sympathises with his [unclear: consid] for the future of New Zealand, for [unclear: post] he has not heard it before. Take a [unclear: pa] at random from one of his great [unclear: spee] "I stand here knowing that [unclear: my] are apparently limited to [unclear: this] Chamber, that my eyes are not [unclear: to] beyond the groups who sit [unclear: upon] benches; but I know that even in [unclear: this] itself there are persons watching, [unclear: with] as deep as our own, the votes which [unclear: are] to-night. I know that they will be [unclear: his] votes; and I know that beyond the [unclear: wal] this House there is an expectant country [unclear: w] will take heed of every word that [unclear: falls] every member of this House on the [unclear: pr] occasion; and I know that [unclear: beyond] country-even in other lands—[unclear: there] people watching the movements [unclear: which] going on here; and I know that the [unclear: peop] future times will look back upon [unclear: this] and try to judge for themselves the [unclear: asp] those men who are determined to pursue [unclear: th] own interests, and determined to [unclear: ignore] interests of the people of this land in [unclear: w] they live. They are determined [unclear: to] a last stand in defence of those [unclear: mo] privileges which for years they have been allowed to enjoy—privileges against [unclear: the] page 7 [unclear: of] the whole human race, and against [unclear: ir] own happiness, did they but know [unclear: t] truly and really constituted their happi-[unclear: and] their well-being upon earth!" And [unclear: so] Beautiful language. Perhaps the only [unclear: king] in the House worth reporting verbatim, [unclear: t] there approval must cease; reason [unclear: and] in nearly all his speeches, give place to [unclear: eration] and fatuity. The manner of his [unclear: es] is gentlemanly and finished, but the [unclear: ter,] "though it make the unskilful laugh, [unclear: but] make the judicious grieve." He [unclear: per] supports his position by weight of argu-[unclear: or] by soundness of reasoning, but by ad[unclear: dum] appeals to the galleries, and by a [unclear: stant] reviling of that class in which he [unclear: was] and to which, in spite of all his protesta-[unclear: s,] he belongs. A low Radical, almost [unclear: tionary] tone, is more and more [unclear: marking] and his followers; and a constant attempt [unclear: set] classes against one another tends [unclear: to] the breach that exists between the [unclear: king] man and the man of higher education [unclear: ady.] He can allow no conciliatory spirit [unclear: ater] his embittered heart to work for the [unclear: e] good. He must have his way or be [unclear: ked] down; and the latter treatment [unclear: he] lately been much subject to.
[unclear: at] while in Opposition he thus alienated the [unclear: ence] of thinking men, it was thought that power he would work the reforms he vaguely [unclear: ed] in his speeches. Through the treach-[unclear: of] Mr Larnach, Sir George got into office [unclear: at] was put fairly upon his trial as an adminis-[unclear: r] and signally failed. His term [unclear: of] was noted for the greatest squandering public money the colony has known. The [unclear: ces] of the country were placed in the [unclear: st] jeopardy. New schemes of public [unclear: s] were inaugurated which it was impossi-[unclear: to] finish; the Native office reached the [unclear: it] of its career of extravagance, mis-[unclear: gement] and worse; and the credit of the [unclear: y] was tottering, when four men, erstwhile [unclear: porters] of Sir George Grey, making senti-[unclear: t] give way to reason, saved the colony by [unclear: ing] an end to his government. None [unclear: of] Liberal measures he had promised were [unclear: duced;] the Civil Service reared its [unclear: head] flourished, and even his Native [unclear: policy] -the Maoris knew him too well to be be-[unclear: ed] To our advances they replied,
"No, no! that's very fine:
But Grey will never do.
He is not black enough for us,
Nor white enough for you."
Protesting against the existence of a nominee [unclear: ber,] he did not hesitate to fill it up [unclear: with] in every respect much below the calibre of the members already there. His Govern-[unclear: left] no mark behind it. His proposed measures were never workable, but of the same nature as his wonderful Local Government Bill this session, aptly described by Mr Levin the other night, as "emotional and impracticable."
Now that Sir George Grey is back in Opposition it is difficult to say what his real position is. Although by many who are opposed to the Government he is not recognised as leader, he will not abdicate that post, and is the only man capable of holding it; certainly he is the only man in the House who has a compact personal following. Perhaps it is not individually a following of which a man ought to be proud, for it is composed of such men as Mr Speight and Mr Moss,
"Men, plugless word spouts,
Whose deep fountains are within their lungs,"
Mr Tole and Dr. Wallis—all persons without influence or merit, and who owe their seats solely to the fact that their leader extended his mantle of protection over them, and they were elected. But of them I shall speak another time. It is sad to hear the old man who should have, and could have, raised the tone of the House to as high a standard as it once held, gently applauding and uttering that dry "Hyar, hyar!" to the drivel or coarse insinuations of his supporters, which they, taking example from him, so freely indulge in.
His influence with the people may still remain—the next elections will show it—but his influence with a very large majority of the present House is gone. Like Giant Pope, in the "Pilgrim's Progress," he sits and clenches his hands, and gnashes his teeth, at the passers-by—but for the present he is harmless.
He has driven from him all those men in the House whose friendship or good opinion is worth having;
"And that which should accompany old age,
As honors, love, obedience, troops of friends,"
he has forfeited for the applause of the galleries, for the friendship of a set of men whom, in his Governor days, he would not have talked with, and for the leadership of a party with whose civil pursuits it would have gone hard if Falstaff had been enlisting in their district.
What a contrast is there in the different phases of Sir George Grey's career. The young, manly patrician, the soldier, and explorer, ending as the embittered and disappointed Governor. Then the love, reverence, and praise which met him on emerging from his retirement to fight the battles of the colony, and the belief that the whole political tone of the country would be raised by him, ending as before, in grievous disappointment; in the failure to bring about, or even propose, page 8 any practical reforms tending towards the amelioration of the people, and in reducing the House to the level of the other Australian Colonies, upon which we had formerly looked down.
His success is attributable to his oratory, which is, without question, of the first order; to his power of interesting himself in the affairs of poor people and recollecting them; and, above all, to his almost mesmeric power to sway a mob. They listen enwrapt, not understanding a quarter of what is said, but carried away by his eloquence, his earnestness and his simplicity, they fancy his teaching whatever it is, must be right.
His failure, on the other hand, is due [unclear: to] want of sincerity, for, not to put too [unclear: f] point upon it, Sir George Grey is a [unclear: hu] A rank Radical in theory, to obtain [unclear: the] plause of the multitude, he is in his [unclear: he] Tory. Autocratic in his daily life, [unclear: he] autocratic as Premier, dictating to [unclear: or] missing his Ministry at his free pleasure-[unclear: will] might never be curbed. His [unclear: crafti] his long-standing hatreds, and his [unclear: bitter] have alienated his best friends, and he [unclear: sta] a central figure in politics still, but [unclear: mistrus] by his followers, condemned and hated [unclear: by] opponents.