Sir George Grey: A Great Proconsul
George Grey was governor in succession of South Australia, New Zealand, Cape Colony and New Zealand again. Cyril Hamshere charts a most remarkable career in the Victorian Colonial service.
When Sir George Grey died in 1898 at the age of eighty-six, he was known as the Great Proconsul. In the year that followed Queen Victoria’s Diamond Jubilee, when so much emphasis had been placed on the British Empire, it was appropriate that he should have been laid to rest in St. Paul’s Cathedral.
There was no doubt about his outstanding character, although there was perplexity about its nature. Admired by many, he had been hated by some. For comparison at least one contemporary turned to William the Silent of Holland, and called him Grey the Inscrutable, seeing him as a man who said a lot without giving much away about himself.
Sir George Grey served as Governor in South Australia from 1841 to 1845, in New Zealand from 1845 to 1853, in Cape Colony from 1854 to 1861 and in New Zealand again from 1861 to 1868. Starting as the youngest governor ever appointed, at the age of twenty-eight, he served for twenty-eight years, ending his colonial career before he had reached retiring age. At one time there was a possibility of his appointment to Canada and also to the Viceroyalty of India; but he was never to reach the top of the tree.
If Grey’s career is to be properly understood, two facts have to be remembered: the Colonial Office was only established as a separate Department in 1835; and there was no cable communication between London and the Antipodes during his colonial career. If there had been, that career would have been brief, and had the Colonial Office been in existence earlier he could never have been given his first Governor’s appointment at the age of twenty-eight.