Grey, Third Earl Henry George
b. 1802-12-28
d. 1894-10-09
Henry George Grey, third Earl Grey, was a politician, and the eldest son of Charles Grey, second Earl Grey, whig prime minister, and his wife, Mary Elizabeth.
Son of the prime minister and a whig aristocrat, Grey moved easily into a parliamentary career. His first position, parliamentary under-secretary at the Colonial Office, was obtained through the nepotism of his father. While there, Grey was given the freedom to pursue reforms conversant with his values, which were a mixture of old disinterested, aristocratic paternalism and the newer values of self-help, free-trade and utility held by the rising commercial class. 1
In office, Grey ended colonial land grants and replaced them with auctions, using the money to pay for the emigration of workers to the colonies. In December of 1832, he devised a plan to gradually emancipate British slaves, but this was defeated by commercial interests in the West Indies.
From 1835 to 1839, Grey was secretary of war. In vain, Grey sought to reform the British military. Despite some limited successes, Grey was thwarted by this, one of the most hide-bound of British institutions.
During this time Grey was very critical of colonial policy, and clashed frequently with his colleagues in government. This likely resulted in his being offered the Post Office in a cabinet reshuffling. Insulted by this obvious demotion, Grey resigned from office in August, 1839.
Grey did not reenter office until July 1846, when he was given the colonial secretaryship in Lord Russell's new administration. Grey assumed his new role when the adoption of free trade and the inevitability of self-government were rapidly changing Britain's usual paternal relationship with its colonies in Canada, Australia, New Zealand and South Africa. Grey was convinced that Canada showed enough maturity to govern and defend itself, and sanctioned control over internal affairs and British conventions of cabinet government.
Grey was made colonial secretary just after the Oregon boundary dispute had been settled in favour the United States. He believed that the Americans would continue to encroach on British territory and predicted that without some action to strengthen the British presence on Vancouver Island, it too would be lost to encroaching American settlers. Nevertheless, Grey was adverse to strengthening British claims by colonization at a cost to the British crown. Grey thought he found a solution to both the problem of cost and getting more colonists to the Columbia in the form of the HBC. The expense could be defrayed if organizing and seeing to colonists could be borne by a sufficiently large, rich and local British agent: the HBC. Grey believed that the HBC's experience in the west, its large reserves of capital, and its established farms on Vancouver Island made it an ideal, and cheap, way to secure British interests in the region. Grey's suggestions were adopted on 13 January 1849 by the government, and the HBC was made the true and absolute lords and proprietors of Vancouver Island for a period of 10 years, charged with developing and colonizing the island for the British government. 2
Grey left office permanently in February of 1852 with the fall of Lord Russell's government. Disillusioned by politics, Grey remained a critic of military and colonial affairs from the House of Lords until 1880. Fearful of democratic reforms that began in the 1850s, Grey became a staunch opponent of the 'Americanization' of British politics.
Grey died on October 9, 1894 at Howick Hall, Northumberland.
  • 1. Galbraith, John S. The Hudson's Bay Company as an imperial factor, 1821-1869. New York : Octagon Books, 1977, c1957.
Mentions of this person in the documents
  1. DNB
  2. John S. Galbraith, The Hudson's Bay Company as an imperial factor, 1821-1869 (New York: Octagon Books, 1977, c1957), 289.
People in this document

Russell, John

Places in this document

Oregon Territory, or Columbia District

Vancouver Island