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Sir George Grey

George Grey (1812 - 1898) was a British colonial governor and statesman. Grey had a military background but in 1837 volunteered to lead a Royal Geographical Society expedition to Australia. He was subsequently appointed governor of South Australia in 1840 and took up this position in 1841, focusing his attention on restoring the colony’s failing economy. In 1845 he was asked to become governor of New Zealand. Grey advocated the treatment of New Zealand’s Maoris as British subjects and attempted to protect them from the excesses of colonists’ racist exploitation. He was knighted in 1848 and in 1854 became governor of the Cape Colony. There he attempted to create a coherent ‘native’ policy, which emphasised the integration of black South Africans into the white-led economy and society; this was a scheme, as he saw it, of modernising and ‘civilising’ South Africa’s indigenous population. To this end Grey encouraged missionary work and granted funding to educational centres such as Lovedale and Healdtown. He also initiated irrigation schemes and road building in the Eastern Cape, where he wanted to increase the employment of the Xhosa people. Grey was opposed to the formation of separate ‘native areas’ and believed that whites and blacks should be mixed geographically, to promote black ‘assimilation’. He advocated the formation of a single, common ‘native policy’ for all South Africa, and was strongly opposed to British recognition of the independence of the Boer Republics, which pursued their own individual retrograde native policies.

In 1858 Grey wrote a report advocating the formation of a South African federation which included the two Boer Republics, which resulted in tensions between Grey and the imperial government and led to his dismissal in 1859. On his return to London, Grey found that there had been a change of government and he had been reappointed, returning to the Cape in 1860. On the voyage to the Cape, Lady Grey “committed a romantic indiscretion” (Du Toit 1968: 329) which effectively ended the Greys’ marriage. After just a year at the Cape, Grey asked for permission to return to New Zealand, where he arrived in 1861 and served as governor until 1867. He eventually returned to Britain in 1896 and died there in 1898. Although he was undoubtedly an imperialist, Grey was liberal and progressive in his thinking and regarded widely, even at the time, as a man of moral courage.

Schreiner was an admirer of George Grey and dedicated her Trooper Peter Halket of Mashonaland to him. The dedication reads, “To a great, good man, Sir George Grey, once governor of the Cape Colony, who, during his rule in South Africa, bound himself to the Dutchmen, Englishmen, and Natives he governed, by an incorruptible justice and a broad humanity; and who is remembered among us to-day as representing the noblest attributes of an Imperial Rule.” Schreiner’s only extant letter to Grey is dated 4 February 1897 and thanks him for his words of sympathy about Trooper Peter, and also reminds him of their meeting on her parents’ mission station when she was but a baby. She had sent him an advance copy of the book asking his permission to dedicate it to him.

For further information see:
James Belich (2004) ‘Grey, Sir George (1812-1898)’ Oxford Dictionary of National Biography Oxford University Press http://www.oxforddnb.com/view/article/11534
A.E. du Toit (1968) ‘Grey, Sir George’ in (ed) W.J. de Kock Dictionary of South African Biography¬† Vol I Pretoria: National Council for Social Research, pp. 326 - 331
J. Rutherford (1961) Sir George Grey London: Cassell.
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collection icon Auckland Libraries: Olive Schreiner’s single letter to Sir George Grey is part of the George Grey Collection. Its excellent website provide... Show/Hide Collection Letters
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mentioned icon Mentioned In
collection icon Auckland Libraries: Olive Schreiner’s single letter to Sir George Grey is part of the George Grey Collection. Its excellent website provide... Show/Hide Collection Letters
collection icon Bodleian Libraries Special Collections: Schreiner’s few remaining letters to Frank (or Harriet) Colenso, to Alfred Milner and to Cecil Rhodes are part of the l... Show/Hide Collection Letters
collection icon Cullen Library, Historical Papers, University of Witwatersrand: Historical Papers in the Cullen Library is a leading location for accessing archival papers across many periods, organisation... Show/Hide Collection Letters
collection icon Humanities Research Center, University of Texas at Austin: The HRC, Austin, is one of the world leading locations for archival papers pertaining to literary life and manuscripts across... Show/Hide Collection Letters
collection icon National Archives Depot, Pretoria: The National Archives Depot is Pretoria is a leading location for archival papers across a wide time-period, organisations an... Show/Hide Collection Letters
collection icon National English Literary Museum, Grahamstown: The National English Literary Museum is the leading location for collections pertaining to the imaginative and creative writi... Show/Hide Collection Letters
collection icon SCCS Edited Extracts: Four groups of edited extracts from Olive Schreiner's letters can be accessed from here, made by her estranged husband Cronwr... Show/Hide Collection Letters
collection icon National Library of South Africa, Cape Town: Special Collections at the NLSA provide one of the leading locations for archival papers across many periods, organisations a... Show/Hide Collection Letters
collection icon University of Cape Town, Historical Manuscripts: Manuscripts & Archives at the University of Cape Town is a leading location for accessing archival papers across many per... Show/Hide Collection Letters
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