Document Type

Book Chapter


Sir George Grey (1812-98) was a renowned British colonial governor who engaged in various studies of indigenous peoples and their cultures, particularly their language and spoken poetry. Two key questions will be considered here: within what intellectual traditions did Grey work, and how do we now read his work 'in the margins of anthropology'? These questions are important because Grey's reputation and legacy in each of the three colonies with which he is associated are complicated and controversial: many see him as a loyal and brilliant servant of Empire, others (in his own time and later) as duplicitous and malevolent. Controversy has been fuelled rather than assuaged by the seven biographies, the first published in 1892, the most recent in 1998. The most authoritative of these, by James Rutherford, describes Grey as perhaps the greatest liar the British Empire ever spawned; on the other hand George Stocking, whilst noting Rutherford's views, calls Grey 'one of the more perceptive ethnographers of his day, and author of some of the most influential ethnographic work of the century.