Name George Grey
Spouse Eliza Grey
Resigned October 8, 1879
|Succeeded by Lieutenant Colonel Frederick Robe|
Succeeded by Colonel Thomas Gore Browne
Role Former Prime Minister of New Zealand
Died September 19, 1898, South Kensington, London, United Kingdom
Education Royal Military Academy Sandhurst
Previous office Prime Minister of New Zealand (1877–1879)
Books Polynesian Mythology and Anci, Journals of Two Expeditio, Polynesian Mythology and Anci, Journals of Two Expeditio, Polynesian Mythology
Preceded by Colonel George Gawler
Preceded by Captain Robert FitzRoy
Governor Grey with Dr Hazel Petrie
Sir George Grey, KCB (14 April 1812 – 19 September 1898) was a British soldier, explorer, Governor of South Australia, twice Governor of New Zealand, Governor of Cape Colony (South Africa), the 11th Premier of New Zealand and a writer. By political philosophy a Gladstonian liberal and Georgist, Grey eschewed the class system for the prosaic life of Auckland's new governance he helped to establish.
- Governor Grey with Dr Hazel Petrie
- Early life and exploration
- Marriage and children
- Governor of South Australia
- Governor of New Zealand
- First term
- Fighting in the Nelson area by Ngāti Toa
- Hōne Heke and the fighting in the Bay of Islands
- The Ngati Rangatahi and Hutt Valley Campaign
- Government at Auckland
- Legacy of Grey's first term as Governor
- Second term
- Invasion of the Kīngitanga
- The legacy of Sir George Grey
- Governor of Cape Colony
- Return to England
- Return and election as Premier of New Zealand
- Places and institutions named after Grey
- Taxa named after Grey
- Popular culture
Early life and exploration
Grey was born in Lisbon, Portugal, the only son of Bvt. Lieutenant-Colonel George Grey, of the 30th (Cambridgeshire) Regiment of Foot, who was killed at the Battle of Badajoz in Spain just a few days before. His mother, Elizabeth Anne née Vignoles, on the balcony of her hotel in Lisbon, overheard two officers speak of her husband's death and this brought on the premature birth of the child. She was the daughter of a retired soldier turned Irish clergyman, Major later Rev. John Vignoles. Grey's grandfather was Owen Wynne Gray (c. 1745 – 6 January 1819). Grey's uncle was John Gray, who was Owen Wynne Gray's son from his second marriage.
Grey was sent to the Royal Grammar School, Guildford in Surrey, and was admitted to the Royal Military College in 1826. Early in 1830, he was gazetted ensign in the 83rd (County of Dublin) Regiment of Foot. In 1830, his regiment having been sent to Ireland, he developed much sympathy with the Irish peasantry whose misery made a great impression on him. He was promoted lieutenant in 1833 and obtained a first-class certificate at the examinations of the Royal Military College, Sandhurst, in 1836.
In 1837, at the age of 25, Grey led a catastrophically ill-prepared expedition of exploration of north-west Australia – only one man of his party had seen northern Australia before. It was at that time believed that a great river entered the Indian Ocean from the north-west of Australia, and that the country it drained might be suitable for colonisation. Grey, in conjunction with Lieutenant Franklin Lushington, of the 9th (East Norfolk) Regiment of Foot, offered to explore this country and on 5 July 1837 he sailed from Plymouth in command of a party of five, the others being Lushington; Dr William Walker, a surgeon and naturalist; and Corporals Coles and Auger of the Royal Sappers and Miners.
Others joined the party at Cape Town, and early in December they landed at Hanover Bay. Wrecked, almost drowned, and completely lost, with Grey speared in the hip in a skirmish with Aborigines, they traced the course of the Glenelg River before giving up. They were picked up by the Beagle and Lynher and taken to Mauritius to recover.
Two years later, Grey returned to Western Australia and was again wrecked with his party, again including Surgeon Walker, at Kalbarri; they were the first Europeans to see the Gascoyne River, but then had to walk to Perth, surviving the journey through the efforts of Kaiber, a Whadjuk Noongar, who organised food and what water could be found (they survived by drinking liquid mud). At about this time, Grey became one of the few Europeans to learn the Noongar language of south-west Western Australia.
Upon the death of Sir Richard Spencer RN KCH, the Government Resident Magistrate at King George Sound, Western Australia, in July 1839, Grey was promoted to captain and appointed temporary resident magistrate.
Marriage and children
On 2 November 1839 at King George Sound, Grey married Eliza Lucy Spencer (1822–1898), daughter of the late Government Resident. Their only child, born in 1841 in South Australia, died aged 5 months. It was not a happy marriage. Grey, obstinate in his domestic affairs as in his first expedition, accused his wife unjustly of flirting with Rear Admiral Sir Henry Keppel on the voyage to Cape Town taken in 1860; he sent her away. She lived a life of misery until old age brought a formal reunion, but co-existed unhappily until 1897.
Grey adopted Annie Maria Matthews (1853–1938) in 1861, following the death of her father, his half-brother, Sir Godfrey Thomas. She married Seymour Thorne George on 3 December 1872 on Kawau Island.
Governor of South Australia
Grey was the third Governor of South Australia, from 1841 to 1845, as a replacement for George Gawler, under whose stewardship the colony had become bankrupt through massive spending on public infrastructure. Gawler was also held responsible for the illegal retribution exacted by Major O'Halloran on an Aboriginal tribe, some of whose members had murdered survivors of the Maria shipwreck. Grey has been credited with restoring the South Australia's finances by stringent fiscal administration, but Gawler, to whom Grey ascribed every problem in the colony, has been largely vindicated: many of the works which he undertook to alleviate unemployment were of lasting value, and the real salvation of the colony's finances was the discovery of copper at Burra Burra in 1845.
Governor of New Zealand
Grey served as Governor of New Zealand twice: from 1845 to 1853, and from 1861 to 1868. He was arguably the most influential figure during the European settlement of New Zealand during much of the 19th century.
During this time, European settlement accelerated, and in 1859 the number of Pākehā came to equal the number of Māori, at around 60,000 each. Settlers were keen to obtain land and some Māori were willing to sell, but there were also strong pressures to retain land - in particular from the Māori King Movement. Grey had to manage the demand for land for the settlers to farm and the commitments in the Treaty of Waitangi that the Māori chiefs retained full "exclusive and undisturbed possession of their Lands and Estates Forests Fisheries and other properties." The treaty also specifies that Māori will sell land only to the Crown. The potential for conflict between the Māori and settlers was exacerbated as the British authorities progressively eased restrictions on land sales after an agreement at the end of 1840 between the company and Colonial Secretary Lord John Russell, which provided for land purchases by the New Zealand Company from the Crown at a discount price, and a charter to buy and sell land under government supervision. Money raised by the government from sales to the company would be spent on assisting migration to New Zealand. The agreement was hailed by the company as "all that we could desire ... our Company is really to be the agent of the state for colonizing NZ." The Government waived its right of pre-emption in the Wellington region, Wanganui and New Plymouth in September 1841.
Grey was appointed the third Governor of New Zealand in 1845. During the tenure of his predecessor, Robert FitzRoy, violence over land ownership broke out in the Wairau Valley in the South Island in June 1843. In March 1845 Māori chief Hōne Heke began the Flagstaff War, the causes of which can be attributed to the conflict between what the Ngāpuhi understood to be the meaning of the Treaty of Waitangi and the actions of succeeding governors of asserting authority over the Māori.
Fighting in the Nelson area by Ngāti Toa
A land dispute that began before Grey’s arrival in Zealand was a dispute as to sale of land on the Wairau plains to Captain Blenkinsop. He had negotiated with Ngāti Toa that he could take wood and water from Cloudy Bay in payment of a ship’s cannon. But the document that Blenkinsopp drew up in English, which the chiefs could not read, stated that 26,500 acres of the Wairau Plains were sold to Blenkinsopp.
A major clash came in 1843 when Te Rauparaha and his nephew Te Rangihaeata tried to prevent the survey of lands in the Wairau plains. These lands had been claimed by the New Zealand Company "on two grounds - alleged purchase by Captain Blenkinsop, master of a Sydney whaler in 1831-2; and the negotiations between their principal agent (Colonel Wakefield) and Rauparaha, the head of this tribe, in 1839".
The Ngāti Toa war party warned off the surveyors, but they persisted. Te Rauparaha burnt down a whaling hut (known as a whare) which contained the surveyors' equipment. The local magistrate ordered his arrest and deputised about 50 settlers for this purpose. Te Rauparaha resisted, fighting broke out and 22 settlers and at least four Māori were killed. Te Rangihaeata, the warlike nephew of Te Rauparaha, insisted on killing the captured men because his wife, who was Te Rauparaha's daughter and Capt Benkinsop's ex-wife, had been accidentally shot and killed. The settlers were furious as many of those killed in utu were unarmed Quakers. Te Rauparaha was astonished not to face a strong British military reaction. He left the Rangitāne land he had conquered and never returned. These events took place during the governorship of Robert FitzRoy. It was not until 1846 that Governor Grey had Te Rauparaha arrested. However, his imprisonment, which remained controversial amongst the Ngāti Toa, was not related to the Wairau Affray.
Hōne Heke and the fighting in the Bay of Islands
In 1845 George Grey arrived in New Zealand to take up his appointment as governor. At this time Hōne Heke challenged the authority of the British, beginning by cutting down the flagstaff on Flagstaff Hill at Kororareka. On this flagstaff the flag of the United Tribes of New Zealand had previously flown; now the Union Jack was hoisted; hence the flagstaff symbolised the grievances of Heke and his ally Te Ruki Kawiti, as to changes that had followed the signing of the Treaty of Waitangi.
There were many causes of the Flagstaff War and Heke had a number of grievances in relation to the Treaty of Waitangi. While land acquisition by the Church Missionary Society (CMS) had been controversial, the rebellion led by Heke was directed against the colonial forces with the CMS missionaries trying to persuade Heke to end the fighting. Despite the fact that Tāmati Wāka Nene and most of Ngāpuhi sided with the government, the small and ineptly led British had been beaten at Battle of Ohaeawai. Backed by financial support, far more troops, armed with 32-pounder cannons, that had been denied to FitzRoy, Grey attacked and occupied Kawiti's fortress at Ruapekapeka; this forced Kawiti to retreat. The Ngāpuhi were astonished that the British could keep an army of nearly 1000 soldiers in the field continuously. Heke's confidence waned after he was wounded in battle with Tāmati Wāka Nene and his warriors, and by the realisation that the British had far more resources than he could muster; his enemies included some Pākehā Māori supporting colonial forces.
After the Battle of Ruapekapeka, Heke and Kawiti were ready for peace. It was Tāmati Wāka Nene they approached to act as intermediary in negotiations with Governor Grey, who accepted the advice of Nene that Heke and Kawiti should not be punished for their rebellion. The fighting in the north ended and there was no punitive confiscation of Ngāpuhi land.
The Ngati Rangatahi and Hutt Valley Campaign
Colonists arrived at Port Nicholson, Wellington in November 1839 in ships charted by the New Zealand Company. Within months the New Zealand Company purported to purchase approximately 20 million acres (8 million hectares) in Nelson, Wellington, Whanganui and Taranaki. Disputes arose as to the validity of purchases of land, which disputes remained unresolved when Grey became governor.
The company saw itself as a prospective quasi-government of New Zealand and in 1845 and 1846 proposed splitting the colony in two, along a line from Mokau in the west to Cape Kidnappers in the east – with the north reserved for Maori and missionaries. The south would become a self-governing province, known as "New Victoria" and managed by the company for that purpose. Britain's Colonial Secretary rejected the proposal. The company was known for its vigorous attacks on those it perceived as its opponents – the British Colonial Office, successive governors of New Zealand, and the Church Missionary Society (CMS) that was led by the Rev. Henry Williams. Williams attempted to interfere with the land purchasing practices of the company, which exacerbated the ill-will that was directed at the CMS by the Company in Wellington and the promoters of colonisation in Auckland who had access to the Governor and to the newspapers that had started publication.
Unresolved land disputes that had resulted from New Zealand Company operations erupted into fighting in the Hutt Valley in 1846. The Ngati Rangatahi were determined to retain possession of their land. They assembled a force of about 200 warriors led by Te Rangihaeata, Te Rauparaha's cousin, also the person who had killed unarmed captives in Wairau Affray. Governor Grey moved troops into the area and by February had assembled nearly a thousand men together with some Māori allies from the Te Āti Awa hapu to begin the Hutt Valley Campaign.
The Māori attacked Taita on 3 March 1846, but were repulsed by a company of the 96th Regiment. The same day Grey declared martial law in the Wellington area.
Richard Taylor, a CMS missionary from Whanganui, attempted to persuade the Ngāti Tama and Ngāti Rangatahi to leave the disputed land. Eventually Grey paid compensation for the potato crop they had planted on the land. He also gave them 300 acres at Kaiwharawhara by the modern ferry terminal. Chief Taringakuri agreed to these terms. But when the settlers tried to move onto the land they were frightened off. On 27 February the British and their Te Ati Awa allies burnt the Māori Pa at Maraenuku in the Hutt Valley, which had been built on land that the settlers claimed to own. The Ngati Rangatahi retaliated on 1 and 3 March by raiding settlers’ farms, destroying furniture, smashing windows, killing pigs, and threatening the settlers with death if they gave the alarm. They murdered Andrew Gillespie and his son. 13 families of settlers moved into Wellington for safety. Governor Grey proclaimed martial law on 3 March. Sporadic fighting continued, including a major attack on a defended position at Boulcott's Farm on 6 May. On 6 August 1846, one of the last engagements was fought – the Battle of Battle Hill – after which Te Rangihaeata left the area. The Hutt Valley Campaign was followed by the Wanganui Campaign from April to July 1847.
In January 1846 fifteen chiefs of the area, including Te Rauparaha, had sent a combined letter to the newly arrived Governor Grey, pledging their loyalty to the crown. After intercepting letters from Te Rauparaha, Grey realised he was playing a double game. He was receiving and sending secret instructions to the local Maori who were attacking settlers. In a surprise attack on his pā at Taupō (Plimmerton) at dawn on 23 July, Te Rauparaha, who was now quite elderly, was captured and taken prisoner. The justification given for his arrest was weapons supplied to Māori deemed to be in open rebellion against the Crown. However, charges were never laid against Te Rauparaha so his detention was declared unlawful. While Grey’s declaration of Martial law was within his authority, internment without trial would only be lawful if it had been authorised by statute. Te Rauparaha was held prisoner on HMS Driver, then he was taken to Auckland on HMS Calliope where he remained imprisoned until January 1848.
His son Tamihana, was studying Christianity in Auckland and Te Rauparaha gave him a solemn message that their iwi should not take utu against the government. Tamihana returned to his rohe to stop a planned uprising. Tamihana sold the Wairau land to the government for 3,000 pounds. Grey spoke to Te Rauaparaha and persuaded him to give up all outstanding claims to land in the Wairau valley. Then, realising he was old and sick he allowed Te Rauparaha to return to his people at Otaki in 1848.
Government at Auckland
Auckland was made the new capital in March 1841 and by the time Grey was appointed governor in 1845, it had become a commercial centre as well as including the administrative institutions such as the Supreme Court. After the conclusion of the war in the north, government policy was to place a buffer zone of European settlement between the Ngāpuhi and the city of Auckland. The background to the Invasion of Waikato in 1863 also, in part, reflected a belief that the Auckland was at risk from attack by the Waikato Māori.
Governor Grey had to contend with newspapers that were unequivocal to their support of the interests of the settlers: the Auckland Times, Auckland Chronicle, The Southern Cross, which started by William Brown as a weekly paper in 1843 and The New Zealander, which was started in 1845 by John Williamson. These newspapers were known for their partisan editorial policies – both William Brown and John Williamson were aspiring politicians. The Southern Cross supported the land claimants, such as the New Zealand Company, and vigorously attacked Governor Grey's administration, while The New Zealander, supported the ordinary settler and the Māori. The northern war adversely affected business in Auckland, such that The Southern Cross stopped publishing from April 1845 to July 1847. Hugh Carleton, who also became a politician, was the editor of The New Zealander then later established the Anglo-Maori Warder, which followed an editorial policy in opposition to Governor Grey.
At the time of the northern war The Southern Cross and The New Zealander blamed Henry Williams and the other CMS missionaries for the Flagstaff War. The New Zealander newspaper in a thinly disguise reference to Henry Williams, with the reference to "their Rangatira pakeha [gentlemen] correspondents", went on to state:
We consider these English traitors far more guilty and deserving of severe punishment, than the brave natives whom they have advised and misled. Cowards and knaves in the full sense of the terms, they have pursued their traitorous schemes, afraid to risk their own persons, yet artfully sacrificing others for their own aggrandizement, while, probably at the same time, they were most hypocritically professing most zealous loyalty.
Official communications also blamed the CMS missionaries for the Flagstaff War. In a letter of 25 June 1846 to William Ewart Gladstone, the Colonial Secretary in Sir Robert Peel's government, Governor Grey referred to the land acquired by the CMS missionaries and commented that "Her Majesty's Government may also rest satisfied that these individuals cannot be put in possession of these tracts of land without a large expenditure of British blood and money”. By the end of his first term as governor Grey had changed his opinion as to the role of the CMS missionaries, which was limited to attempts to persuade Hōne Heke bring an end to the fighting with the British soldiers and the Ngāpuhi, led by Tāmati Wāka Nene, who remained loyal to the Crown.
When he returned to New Zealand in 1861 for his second term as governor, Sir George and Henry Williams meet at the Waimate Mission Station in November 1861. Also in 1861 Henry’s son Edward Marsh Williams was appointed by Sir George to be the Resident Magistrate for the Bay of Islands and Northern Districts.
Legacy of Grey's first term as Governor
During Grey's first tenure as Governor of New Zealand, he was created a Knight Commander of the Order of the Bath (1848). When Grey was knighted he chose Tāmati Wāka Nene as one of his esquires. Sir George Grey was a profound influence on the final form of the New Zealand Constitution Act 1852, after the 1846 Act was largely suspended at his request. He was briefly appointed Governor-in-Chief, while he oversaw the establishment of the first provinces of New Zealand.
He took pains to tell Māori that he had observed the terms of the Treaty of Waitangi, assuring them that their land rights would be fully recognised. In the Taranaki district, Māori were very reluctant to sell their land, but elsewhere Grey was much more successful, and nearly 33 million acres (130,000 km²) were purchased from Māori, with the result that British settlements expanded quickly. Grey was less successful in his efforts to assimilate the Māori; he lacked the financial means to realise his plans. Although he subsidised mission schools, requiring them to teach in English, only a few hundred Māori children attended them at any one time.
Grey gave land for the establishment of Auckland Grammar School in Newmarket, Auckland in 1850. The school was officially recognised as an educational establishment in 1868 through the Auckland Grammar School Appropriation Act of the Provincial Government. Chris Laidlaw concludes that Grey ran a "ramshackle" administration marked by "broken promises and outright betrayal" of Maori people. Grey's collection of Māori artefacts, one of the earliest from New Zealand and assembled during his first Governorship, was donated to the British Museum in 1854.
Grey was again appointed Governor in 1861, to replace Governor Thomas Gore Browne, serving until 1868. His second term as Governor was greatly different from the first, as he had to deal with the demands of an elected parliament, which had been established in 1852.
Invasion of the Kīngitanga
Immediately prior to Grey’s re-appointment as governor there were rising tensions in Taranaki that eventually led to the involvement of British military forces at Waitara, in what is sometime called the First Taranaki War, from March 1860 until the fighting subsided in 1862.
The leaders of the King movement or Kīngitanga, had written a letter to Governor Browne stating that the Waikato tribes had never signed the Treaty of Waitangi and that they were a separate nation. Browne regarded the stance of the Kīngitanga as an act of disloyalty; and prepared plans for the invasion of Waikato, in part to uphold "the Queen's supremacy" in the face of the Kīngitanga challenge.
Grey launched the invasion of the Waikato in 1863 to take control of the heartland of the Kīngitanga. The war brought thousands of British troops to New Zealand: 18,000 men served in the British forces at some point during the campaign, with a peak of about 14,000 troops in March 1864.
In the later 1860s the British government determined to withdraw Imperial troops from New Zealand. At the time the Maori chiefs Te Kooti and Titokowaru had the colonial government and settlers extremely alarmed with a series of military successes. With the support of the Premier Edward Stafford, Grey evaded instructions from the Colonial Office to finalise the return of the regiments, which had commenced in 1865 and 1866. In the end the British government recalled Grey in February 1868. He was replaced by Sir George Bowen and during his term hostilities concluded with the abandoned pursuit of war leader Riwha Titokowaru — again in Taranaki — in 1869.
The legacy of Sir George Grey
Grey was greatly respected by Māori, and often travelled with a company of chiefs. He induced leading chiefs to write down their accounts of Maori traditions, legends and customs. His principal informant, Wiremu Maihi Te Rangikāheke, taught Grey to speak Māori. Historian Michael King noted:
He learned Māori and persuaded Māori authorities to commit their legends and traditions to writing, some of which were subsequently published ... His collected papers would turn out to be the largest single repository of Māori-language manuscripts.
Grey bought Kawau Island in 1862, on his return to New Zealand for a second term as governor. For 25 years he lavished large amounts of his personal wealth on the island's development, including enlarging and remodelling Mansion House, the former residence of the copper mine superintendent. Here he planted a huge array of exotic trees and shrubs, acclimatised many bird and animal species, and amassed a celebrated collection of rare books and manuscripts, artworks and curiosities, plus artefacts from the Māori people over whom he had ruled.
In 1865, during Grey’s second term as governor, the capital was transferred to Wellington, which was seen as a better choice for an administrative capital because of its proximity to the South Island.
Governor of Cape Colony
Grey was Governor of Cape Colony from 5 December 1854 to 15 August 1861. He founded Grey College, Bloemfontein in 1855 and Grey High School in Port Elizabeth in 1856. in 1859 he laid the foundation stone of the New Somerset Hospital, Cape Town. When he left the Cape in 1861 he presented the National Library of South Africa with a remarkable personal collection of medieval and Renaissance manuscripts and rare books. In South Africa Grey dealt firmly with the natives, but endeavoured by setting apart tracts of land for their exclusive use to protect them from the white colonists. On more than one occasion, Grey acted as arbitrator between the government of the Orange Free State and the natives, eventually drawing the conclusion that a federated South Africa would be a good thing for everyone. The Orange Free State would have been willing to join the federation, and it is probable that the Transvaal would also have agreed. However, Grey was 50 years before his time: the colonial office would not agree to his proposals. In spite of their instructions, Grey continued to advocate union, and, in connection with other matters, such as the attempt to settle soldiers in South Africa after the Crimean War, instructions were ignored.
All considered it was unsurprising that Sir George was recalled in 1859. He had, however, scarcely reached England before a change of government led to the offer of another term, on the understanding that he abandon schemes for the federation of South Africa and, in future obey his instructions. Grey was convinced that the boundaries of the South African colonies should be widened, but could not obtain support from the British government. He was still working for this support when, war with the Māori having broken out, it was decided that Grey should again be appointed governor of New Zealand. When he left his popularity among the people of Cape Colony was unbounded, and the statue erected at Cape Town during his lifetime described him as
a governor who by his high character as a Christian, a statesman, and a gentleman, had endeared himself to all classes of the community, and who by his zealous devotion to the best interests of South Africa and his able and just administration, has secured the approbation and gratitude of all Her Majesty's subjects in this part of her dominions.
Return to England
Although by philosophy Grey was a liberal, his extremist views on the questions of the Colonial Empire, of emigration, of Home Rule for Ireland and the cause of the English poor were contrary to the interests of Gladstone's Liberal government. Grey was marked as a "dangerous man". In 1870, at a parliamentary by-election for the Borough of Newark that followed the death of the sitting Liberal MP, Grey stood as an independent liberal against Gladstone's Liberal candidate Sir Henry Storks. Determined that Grey should not be elected and seeing that splitting the liberal vote would result in both Grey and Storks losing to the Conservative candidate, the Liberal government engineered an arrangement where both would withdraw, leaving another Liberal candidate, Samuel Boteler Bristowe, to take the seat. Storks was rewarded with the post of Surveyor-General of the Ordnance and Grey returned to New Zealand later that year.
Return and election as Premier of New Zealand
In 1875 Sir George was elected Superintendent of Auckland Province (24 March 1875 – 31 October 1875). He stood in the general election for both the Auckland West and the Thames electorates in the 1875–76 general election. In the two-member Auckland electorate, only Grey and Patrick Dignan were put forward as candidates, and were thus declared elected on 22 December 1875. The two-member Thames electorate was contested by six candidates, including Julius Vogel (who was Premier in 1875), William Rowe and Charles Featherstone Mitchell. On election day (6 January 1876), Grey attracted the highest number of votes and, unexpectedly, Rowe beat Vogel into second place (Vogel also stood in Wanganui, where he was returned). Hence Grey and Rowe were declared elected for Thames. A protest against Grey's election was lodged with the returning officer the following day, protesting that Grey had not been eligible to stand in Thames as he had already been elected in Auckland West. This petition was filed to the House of Representatives at the end of January.
With this controversy going on for several months unresolved, Grey advised in mid June 1876 in a series of telegrams that he had chosen to represent Auckland West. On 8 July, the report of the committee inquiring into his election for Thames was read to the House. It was found that this was in accordance with the law, but that he had to make a decision for which electorate he would sit. On 15 July 1876, Grey announced that he would represent Thames, and he moved that a by-election be held in Auckland West for the seat that he would vacate there.
Grey opposed the abolition of the provinces, but his opposition proved ineffective; the provincial system was abolished in 1876. On defeating Harry Atkinson on 13 October 1877 in a vote of no confidence, he was elected Premier by Parliament. He asked Governor-General Lord Normanby for a dissolution of parliament, but was flatly refused. Grey thought New Zealand's unique constitutional 'provincialism' was under threat, so championned radical causes, such as one man-one vote. An economic downturn in 1878 put pressure on incomes; defection across the floor of the house of four Auckland members defeated Grey on a vote in October 1879. He resigned as prime minister. Grey described his philosophical radicalism:
This is a revolt against despotism…. What I am resolved to maintain is this, that there shall be equal justice in representation and in the distribution of land and revenue to every class in New Zealand … equal rights to all — equal rights in education, equal rights in taxation, equal rights in representation … equal rights in every respect.
His government did not operate particularly well, with Grey seeking to dominate the government came into conflict with the governor. His term as premier is regarded by historians as a failure. Towards the end of 1879, Grey's government got into difficulties over land tax. Eventually, Grey asked for an early election, in 1879.
Grey was elected in both the Thames and the City of Christchurch electorates in September 1879. Grey came first in the three-member Christchurch electorate (Samuel Paull Andrews and Edward Stevens came second with equal numbers of votes, 23 votes ahead of Edward Richardson). Richardson petitioned against Grey's return on technical grounds, as Grey had already been elected in the Thames electorate. The electoral commission unseated Grey on 24 October, with Richardson offered this vacancy a few days later. Grey kept the Thames seat and remained a member of parliament through that electorate.
In the 1881 election, Grey was elected in Auckland East and re-elected in the 1884 election. In the 1887 election Grey was returned for the Auckland Central electorate.
In 1889, Grey put forward the Election of Governor Bill, which would have allowed for a "British subject" to be elected to the office of Governor "precisely as an ordinary parliamentary election in each district."
By now Grey was suffering from ill health and he retired from politics in 1890, leaving for Australia to recuperate. On returning to New Zealand, a deputation requested him to contest the Newton seat in Auckland in the 1891 by-election. The retiring member, David Goldie, also asked Grey to take his seat. Grey was prepared to put his name forward only if the election was unopposed, as he did not want to suffer the excitement of a contested election. Grey declared his candidacy on 25 March 1891. On 6 April 1891, he was declared elected, as he was unopposed. In December 1893, Grey was again elected, this time to Auckland City. He left for England in 1894 and did not return to New Zealand. He resigned his seat in 1895.
Grey died at his residence at the Norfolk Hotel, Harrington Road, South Kensington, London on 19 September 1898, and was buried in St Paul's Cathedral. Grey lived longer than any other New Zealand Prime Minister, 86 years and 158 days.
Places and institutions named after Grey
Places named after Grey include Greytown in the Wairarapa region of New Zealand's North Island, the Grey River in the South Island's West Coast region (and thus indirectly the town of Greymouth at the river's mouth), and the Auckland suburb of Grey Lynn; the Division of Grey, an Australian Electoral Division in South Australia and the town of Grey in Western Australia. Grey Street, Melbourne is also believed to have been named after George Edward Grey.
In South Africa, Grey was instrumental in the founding of the Grey Institute, later named the Grey High School, Port Elizabeth, Grey College, Bloemfontein and Grey's Hospital in Pietermaritzburg. Grey's Pass near Citrusdal and the towns of Greytown, KwaZulu-Natal and Greyton, Western Cape are named for him, while Lady Grey, Eastern Cape is named after his wife. The main business thoroughfare in the town of Paarl (Western Cape) is named Lady Grey Street after his wife.
Grey's Spring, sometimes called Grey's Well, is a historic site in Kalbarri, Western Australia.
Taxa named after Grey
Menetia greyii, a species of lizard, is named after Grey. Other taxa named in his honour include two mammals and a bird.
The Governor, an historical drama miniseries based on Grey's life, was made by TVNZ and the National Film Unit in 1977, featuring Corin Redgrave in the title role. Despite critical acclaim, the miniseries attracted controversy at the time because of its then-large budget.