Grey leaves New Zealand after first term as governor

31 December 1853

Painting of Sir George Grey, c. 1860 (Alexander Turnbull Library, G-623)

During his first term as governor (1845–53), Sir George Grey was praised for ending the Northern War, opening up land for settlement and fostering the colonial economy. However, he angered settlers by delaying the implementation of a constitution that would have given them political power.

After the New Zealand Constitution Act (UK) 1852 came into force in early 1853, Grey’s departure from New Zealand was widely anticipated – many settlers felt that his dictatorial manner made him incapable of working with a representative government.

Grey’s end-of-year exit was preceded by months of farewell appearances around the colony. Shortly before leaving, he wrote a letter to the Māori people that was to be printed and distributed after his departure. Typically, he praised his own achievements, and boasted of turning ‘ignorant and heathen men’ into ‘good citizens and real brothers of the European’. To the dismay of many settlers, though, Grey did not summon the General Assembly whose members had been elected between July and October (it would not meet until May 1854).

After further farewell dinners and addresses, Grey and his wife Eliza left Auckland on the barque Commodore on 31 December. After some time back in England, he took up his new post as Governor of Cape Colony and High Commissioner for South Africa. Grey would return to New Zealand eight years later for a second dramatic term as governor (1861–8) and, later still, serve as premier (1877–9).