Earl Grey and the Australian Colonies, 1846-1857: A Study of Self-Government and Self-Interest

Earl Grey and the Australian Colonies, 1846-1857: A Study of Self-Government and Self-Interest

Earl Grey and the Australian Colonies, 1846-1857: A Study of Self-Government and Self-Interest

Earl Grey and the Australian Colonies, 1846-1857: A Study of Self-Government and Self-Interest

Excerpt

This book deals with a particularly vital and stirring period in the relations of Britain and Australia-that of the eighteenforties and the eighteen-fifties. British colonial policy was then being set on a new course by the triumph of free trade and the rapid evolution of responsible government. In Australia important changes of every kind crowded on top of one another. Britain separated Victoria and Queensland from New South Wales, gave responsible government to most of the Australian colonies, ceased to send convicts to eastern Australia and planned to form a federal union that would have anticipated by half a century the foundation of the Australian Commonwealth. Simultaneously, Australia was being transformed by the gold discoveries, by the rapid increase of population and by economic changes such as the improvement of land and sea communications and the growing development of the interior.

Throughout the most decisive years of the period the Colonial Office in London enjoyed an unusual continuity of ministerial control. Few men can ever have brought to the management of colonial affairs such a variety of great qualities as did the third Earl Grey, who was Secretary of State for War and the Colonies from 1846 to 1852. A son of Earl Grey of the reform bill, he was an enlightened Victorian liberal, gifted with real intellectual power and possessing a wide knowledge of the empire. He believed in free trade, had a lofty conception of imperial responsibility and was prepared to support colonial self-government. Unfortunately, he was also a difficult colleague in cabinet and an unpopular minister both in parliament and in the colonies. Honesty compelled him to admit that his unpopularity was great enough to hinder his work as Secretary of State.

Australians have remembered him mainly as the minister who obstinately tried to continue convict transportation long after the colonies had wished it to cease; the charge is true in substance though less than fair to Grey when it is pressed without a proper examination of his motives. Grey was in fact a high-minded minister, who sought to act wisely and rightly towards the empire as a whole. In the case of Australia he made the most extensive and determined efforts to improve its system of goovernment. As an ardent free-trader, he thought that the Australian colonies ought to be federated so that tariff barriers . . .

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