Saturday, March 9, 2019

Edward and George. (The Greys of Fallodon, Part II)

(Continues on from the previous blog post about Anna Sophia Ryder who married into the family known as the Greys of Fallodon.)

Anna and her husband Sir George Grey had only one son George Henry Grey, but seven legitimate grandchildren * and although there were four sons, none would leave male successors and the title eventually passed to a cousin.

Sir Edward Grey (1862-1933) is perhaps the most famous member of the family. In 1914, he was Britain’s Foreign Secretary and the duty fell to him on 3rd August to tell the House of Commons that the country was about to go to war with Germany.

It is said that after giving his speech, he returned to his desk in the Foreign Office, working until evening. It was then he looked out his window to see the gas lamps being lit in St James Park and he uttered his famous prophetic and pessimistic words:-

Sir Edward had believed in the future of a peaceful and civilised Europe and so had every right to be worried. That he looked out to St James Park in his darkest moments also reflected another aspect of his character; he was a nature-lover and in particular a keen, bordering on fanatical, ornithologist and he would often spend time observing the water fowl in the Park between breaks in his political duties.  This cartoon obviously picked up on that proclivity.

Vanity Fair, 26 March 1913
"The general colour of the Secretary Bird is blueish gray"
Copyright National Portrait Gallery London

He had a desultory education at Winchester and at Oxford, where he preferred sports and was described as a ... distinguished tennis player but little else .... Edward was eventually sent down from Balliol College for idleness ... having shown himself entirely ignorant of the work set him. (See The Two Edwards by Peter Hof).

The cynic might suggest that one of the few options open to academic failure would be a shot at politics, but Edward found his calling and would become a much-esteemed statesman. Elected as the youngest member of the House of Commons in 1885 (age 23), he then embarked on a curiously chaste marriage with Frances Dorothy Widdrington, who apparently refused to have anything to do with the physical side of things. Presumably the marriage was sustained by a common interest in nature, such as bird-watching and hiking the moors. It was very likely that the young and wealthy Edward would have had no trouble finding consolation with more accommodating ladies. He is believed to have had at least two illegitimate children, one of whom was socialite Audrey Coats. After Dorothy died in a road accident, Edward married Pamela Wyndham.

Sir Edward and his second wife, Pamela, c. 1920s
Copyright National Portrait Gallery, London

In spite of being nearly completely blind by the end of his life, Edward had managed to write a number of books, including The Charm of Birds and another on Fly Fishing.

Contrast the rarefied political and high society life of Edward with that of his younger brother, George, whose adventurous life would be ended by a lion in Africa in 1911.

Newcastle Journal, 11 February 1911

Considerable newsprint space at the time focussed, often in detail, on the name-dropping hunting expedition that resulted in the incident at the Athi River in Kenya on property belonging to Sir Arthur Pease.

Sir Arthur Pease, Teddy and Kermit Roosevelt, 1909

From those newspaper reports - and combined with modern-day perceptions about the sort of people who indulge in big-game hunting - on first appearances it is all too easy to assume that George Grey was just another indolent upper-crust Englishman only interested in killing animals for sport. 

Nothing could be further from the truth.

None of those obituary columns give much detail about George's earlier years in Africa and all that he accomplished in the way of military exploits, prospecting, and administration. To tell his story in detail would require a full-length biography that no-one has yet written. Here are a few notable points:

Grey's Scouts was founded by George Grey at the time of the Matabele Rebellion and became a crack mounted infantry regiment familiar to everyone who has connections to the old Rhodesia (Zimbabwe). This image from the front page of The Graphic of 8 August 1896 has the caption: The Matabele Revolt, Captain Grey's Scouts and the Afrikander Corps in Action.

Copyright Illustrated London News
Badge and Grey's Scouts Trooper c. 1970s

Founder of the Copperbelt on the borders of Northern Rhodesia (Zambia) and Katanga (now part of Democratic Republic of Congo). It was George Grey who discovered and pegged the ancient African copper workings in the area and negotiated the concessions for many of the mines that still operate today.

Epic Cyclist. Horses too often fell prey to the diseases of Africa and George had to take to two wheels instead. Several of his epic journeys are detailed in the book Generation of Men by W.V. Brelsford, when travelling 600 miles in one week was nothing unusual. One example from 1899, when there was no railway, no mail service and no telegraph, George set off on his own by bicycle through rough country all the way from Katanga to Bulawayo, about 860 miles, carrying urgent information on the copper concessions. He accomplished this in less than a week and carried no equipment or arms but "merely a bottle of Bovril, some bars of chocolate and his razors. No-one ever saw him unshaven". 

Fighter of Slave-Traders. Also detailed in Generation of Men, are accounts of George and his African companions having fights with slave caravans, sending the slavers packing and releasing the slaves.

Special Commissioner for Swaziland. In the years 1907-1910, George, who could not abide red tape, managed to sort out much of the tangle of land concessions in Swaziland (now Eswatini). His work guaranteed that white people would be excluded from owning most of the best agricultural land and that it would remain with the Swazi people.

One of George's contemporaries, Frederick Selous, said of him "... one of the finest specimens of an Englishman in the country - quiet, self-contained and unassuming, but at the same time brave, capable and energetic".

George Grey
From the book, Generation of Men
Copyright W.V. Brelsford

For these and many other tales about George Grey, see Chapter 9 of Generation of Men by W.V. Brelsford, unfortunately not available to read in full online.

A number of other articles about Grey appear in old issues of the Northern Rhodesia Journal. Some of these can be accessed online via but be aware that the website is old and not always reliable.

The family seat, Fallodon Hall, Northumberland

* An online family tree shows at least one child, a William Grey, born to George Henry Grey before he married Harriet Jane Pearson, but this would need more thorough investigation. This is not to say that George Henry didn’t have illegitimate children, but usually in such circumstances and at that time, such births were considered so disgraceful that the children may have been registered and baptised with either the surnames of the mothers, or those of foster or adoptive parents.


  1. Hello I am a founder member of the modern day Grey's Scouts, I am desperately trying to locate Brelsford,s book any further info would be much appreciated. mw

  2. Hello Michael. There are copies around but scarce and expensive. If you are in UK, one currently for sale on eBay for around 71 pounds Stg.

  3. Many thanks, I will try E bay, may be able to get it through my library will try that too :0)) Take care.

  4. I have some more pictures of George Grey if you are interested, let me know how I can send them to you :0)))

  5. Yes, thanks, I'd be delighted to see other pictures. He's an elusive character. You can contact me via email on the contact form on my website or private message me via the Rhod history Facebook page.