Colley, George Pomeroy (DNB00)
|←Colleton, John||Dictionary of National Biography, 1885-1900, Volume 11
Colley, George Pomeroy
COLLEY, Sir GEORGE POMEROY (1835–1881), major-general, governor of Natal, was third and youngest son of the Hon. George Francis Colley of Ferney, co. Dublin (who took that name instead of his patronymic Pomeroy), by his wife, Frances, third daughter of Thomas Trench, dean of Kildare, and was grandson of the fourth Viscount Harberton. He was born in November 1835, and educated at the Royal Military College, Sandhurst, where he was first in general merit and good conduct at the examinations in May 1852, and was appointed at the age of sixteen to an ensigncy without purchase in the 2nd or Queen's foot. After two years' service with the depot, he was promoted to a lieutenancy without purchase, and joined the headquarters of his regiment, then on the eastern frontier of Cape Colony. In 1857-8 he held a border magistracy at the Cape, and showed great energy. On one occasion he received notice from the governor, Sir George Grey, of an insurrection which he had already suppressed. He was also employed to execute a survey of the Trans-kei country, a dangerous service in the then disturbed state of Kaffirland. When the Queen's were ordered to China, Colley rejoined his regiment, in which he obtained his company on 12 June 1860, and was present with it at the capture of the Taku forts, the actions of 12-14 Aug. and 18-21 Sept. 1860, and the advance on Pekin. His regiment went home, and he returned for a brief period to the Cape to complete his work there, and then entered the Staff College, Sandhurst. He came out at the head of the list the same year, having passed with great distinction in ten months instead of the ordinary two years. Colley was an accomplished artist in water-colours, and spent much of his leave in sketching tours on Dartmoor, in Normandy, Spain, and other places. His literary attainments were considerable. He was in the habit of rising early, and securing always two hours before breakfast time for some special study. He thus acquired the Russian language, and studied chemistry, political economy, and other subjects not directly connected with his profession. In recognition of his services he was promoted to a brevet-majority on 6 March 1863. After serving for some years as major of brigade at Plymouth, the headquarters of the western district, he was appointed professor of military administration and law at the Staff College. While there he wrote the article 'Army,' extending over sixty pages, for the ninth edition of the 'Encyclopaedia Britannica.' He was engaged on this work from June to November 1873. The last portion of the manuscript was sent in a few days before the author, now a lieutenant-colonel, started for the Gold Coast to join the Ashanti expedition under Sir Garnet Wolseley. Arriving at a time when the failure of the transport was causing serious apprehension, Colley infused new life into that service ; and the administrative skill and energy which he displayed contributed largely to the success of the expedition. Early in 1875 Colley, who had been made a colonel for his services in Ashanti, accompanied Sir Garnet Wolseley on a special mission to Natal, where he temporarily undertook the duties of colonial treasurer, in which capacity he was instrumental in introducing many reforms into the administration of the colony. But the chief feature of this visit to South Africa was a journey that he made into the Transvaal, and thence through Swaziland to the Portuguese settlement at Delagoa Bay, which bore fruit in a valuable report, and a map, which is entered in the 'British Museum Map Catalogue,' 67075 (6). When Lord Lytton was appointed viceroy of India, early in 1876, he took Colley as his military secretary. This appointment was subsequently exchanged for the higher one of private secretary to the viceroy. It is no secret that in this capacity Colley exercised great influence in the events which led to the occupation of Cabul and the treaty of Gandamuk. He was still holding the office of private secretary to the viceroy when Sir Garnet Wolseley, on being ordered from Cyprus to Natal, after the disasters in Zululand, asked that Colley might join him, to which Lord Lytton consented. Colley accordingly served as chief of the staff to Wolseley in Zululand and the Transvaal, until the murder of Sir Louis Cavagnari [q. v.] at Cabul and the outbreak of the second Afghan war caused his recall to India, when he resumed his post of private secretary to the viceroy. Colley, who had received the distinctions of C.B. and C.M.G., was created K.C.S.I. in recognition of his official services in India during a period of which the history has yet to be written. On 24 April 1880 he was appointed to the Natal command, with the rank of major-general, succeeding Sir Garnet Wolseley as governor and commander-in-chief in Natal, and high commissioner for South-eastern Africa. The close of that year found affairs in the Transvaal, which had been annexed since 1877, in a very critical state. On 16 Dec. 1880 a Boer republic was proclaimed at Heidelberg, Transvaal, and with the new year Colley found himself compelled to take immediate measures for the relief of the small garrisons of British troops scattered throughout that territory, and already besieged. With the small force available about fifteen hundred men he at once proceeded to the extreme northern border of Natal, and in the course of January had several conflicts with the Boer forces, the principal being at Laing's Nek and Ingogo, the former of which was unsuccessful. On 17 Feb. 1881 Sir Evelyn Wood, who had been appointed second in command, arrived at Newcastle with some additional troops, afterwards returning to Pietermaritzburg, and on 26 Feb., by a night march, Colley, with part of the troops, occupied, after an arduous climb of eight hours, a height known as Majuba, commanding the Boer camp. Next morning, after a comparatively harmless fusillade, the hill was suddenly and quite unexpectedly carried by a rush of the Boers, Colley being shot dead by a rifle bullet through the forehead. The most trustworthy account of this campaign, which deprived the army of one of its ablest and most accomplished officers, is to be found in the parliamentary blue books of that year. Colley was beloved by his comrades in arms, and looked up to, especially by the rising soldiers of the modern school, as a future leader. A high military authority speaks of him as 'the ablest soldier I have ever served with,' and attributes the disaster at Majuba to the fact that even the best troops are liable to panic.
Colley's capacity as an administrator was of a very high order. During his short government of Natal he effected improvements and initiated progressive undertakings which are still gratefully remembered by the colonists. Colley married, in 1878, Edith, daughter of Major-general H. Meade Hamilton, C.B.
[Burke's Peerage, under 'Harberton;' Army Lists. For an excellent account of Cape frontier affairs, when Sir George Colley was first employed in the Trans-kei, see a series of articles on Kaffir Wars, by V. Sampson, in Colonies and India, 1879. For notices of Transvaal affairs see, under that heading, Annual Register, 1875, 1877, and 1881 ; also Parliamentary Papers, various years. An account of the engagements at Laing's Nek and Ingogo, by an officer present, is given in Proceedings Roy. Art. Institution, xi. 677 et seq. A portrait of Sir George Colley, after a photograph by Mayall, is given in the Illustrated London News, 1881.]