POLLOCK, Jonathan Frederick (1783-1870), of Queen Square House, Guildford Street, Mdx.

Published in The History of Parliament: the House of Commons 1820-1832, ed. D.R. Fisher, 2009
Available from Cambridge University Press

Constituency

Dates

1831 - Apr. 1844

Family and Education

b. 23 Sept. 1783, 3rd s. of David Pollock (d. 1815), saddler, of Charing Cross, Westminster and Sarah Homeria, da. of Richard Parsons, recvr.-gen. of customs. educ. Vauxhall (Mr. Allan); St. Paul’s 1800; Trinity Coll. Camb. 1802, BA 1806, fellow 1807, MA 1809; M. Temple 1802, called 1807. m. (1) 25 May 1813, Frances (d. 25 Jan. 1827),1 da. of Francis Rivers of Spring Gardens, 7s. (2 d.v.p.) 5da.; (2) 7 Jan. 1834, Sarah Anne Amowah, da. of Capt. Richard Langslow of Hatton, 4s. (2 d.v.p.) 3da. kntd. 29 Dec. 1834; cr. bt. 2 Aug. 1866. d. 23 Aug. 1870.

Offices Held

KC 12 June 1827; bencher, I. Temple 1827, reader 1836, treas. 1837; chairman, law commn. 1831; king’s att. and sjt. co. pal. of Lancaster Mar.-Dec. 1834; att.-gen. Dec. 1834-Apr. 1835, Sept. 1841-Apr. 1844; c. bar. exch. 1844-66; sjt.-at-law 15 Apr. 1844; PC 17 Apr. 1844; member, jud. cttee. of PC 1844.

Commissary, Camb. Univ. 1824-35; recorder, Huntingdon 1835-44.

Biography

Pollock was descended from a junior branch of the Pollocks of Balgray, Dumfriesshire. His great-grandfather David Pollock (c.1662-1743) was a yeoman of Spittal, Durham, whose son John Pollock (c.1705-50) settled in Berwick-upon-Tweed, where he became a burgess. John’s eldest son David Pollock (1739-1815), a stern Presbyterian, set up in London as a saddler and secured the official custom of the royal family. In 1779 he married, in defiance of her parents, Sarah Parsons, ‘a lady of remarkable energy and force of character’. Soon afterwards they were established in Down Street, Piccadilly, which remained the site of a branch of the business after their removal to free accommodation in the royal mews at Charing Cross. The enterprise enjoyed fluctuating fortunes and, with a large family to support, they were sometimes in difficulties.2 One of their younger sons recalled that the ‘connection with the royal family was unfortunate’, for when the prince of Wales’s debts were liquidated by the nation in 1795, Pollock, by the terms of the settlement, had ten per cent struck off the £3,000 owed to him, and no interest paid on it.3 Of his five surviving sons, two besides this Member distinguished themselves in public life: the eldest, David Pollock (1780-1847), died as chief justice of Bombay; and the fourth, George Pollock (1786-1872), an officer of the East India Company’s artillery, gained fame for his services in the Afghan campaigns of 1841-2.4 The second son, William Pollock (1782-1816), entered the family business, while the youngest, John Henry Pollock (1792-1873), became registrar of Bristol court.

Frederick Pollock, the third son, was a sickly child, though he subsequently enjoyed robust health. By his own confession, he ‘lost much time’ and ‘learned nothing’ at a succession of private schools; and for almost 18 months before he went briefly to St. Paul’s at the age of 16 he was ‘at no school at all’. Yet, encouraged by his mother, he was

during that time ... scarcely ever without a book in my hand, and was reading everything that came in my way ... This course of education has been of great service to me, and has enabled me to meet the sort of encyclopaedic demands that are now [1862] made upon every educated man.

It was at Cambridge, where his third term was wrecked by a recurrence of illness, that he blossomed intellectually. He continued there his habit of miscellaneous study ‘at all odd times - dressing, undressing, walking, travelling, waiting, etc.’, which he believed served him better than would have ‘dogged, unshrinking attention to ... an unattractive and even disagreeable or revolting pursuit’. At the end of his first year he was faced with the prospect of having to leave, because his father could no longer afford to maintain him; but his tutor, the Rev. George Tavel, who perceived his talent, generously agreed to subsidize him. Pollock, who was a member of the Cambridge Speculative Society, repaid his faith by emerging as senior wrangler in 1806.5

The financial independence conferred by a Trinity fellowship enabled him to take his chance at the bar. (He had originally been destined for the church.) He later wrote of ‘the disgust I felt in leaving Cambridge and substituting Tidd for Newton and Coke for Sophocles’, but he ‘stubbornly faced the difficulty and mastered it’. He took chambers at 18 Serjeant’s Inn, joined the Forensic Debating Society, where he met Leigh Hunt, and, after giving up his fellowship, went the northern circuit.6 His initial progress was slow, as he lamented to a friend from Carlisle, 21 Aug. 1811:

When I am not disposed to think pleasantly, I endeavour not to think at all and to shut myself up in a sort of tortoiseshell of apathy ... When I find myself spending in counties, where I have no connection and, of course, no employment, the produce of a precarious and almost accidental town business with no certainty ... that the income of the next year may not fall short of the necessary expenditure ... [and] when in addition to that I consider the situation of the rest of my family, I have little place for that gaité de coeur which once attended every pulsation and which is necessary to continue a correspondence on a journey supposed to be pleasurable.7

When his father died in 1815, leaving everything to his widow, his personalty was sworn under £450;8 but Pollock, who since his marriage had taken a house at 23 Bernard Street, Russell Square (he later moved to 25 Bedford Row), was able to report that his ‘circumstances had very much improved during the last 18 months, he had certainly become solvent and perhaps something better’.9 Through his friendship with the architect John Nash and Lord Yarmouth,* Pollock secured from the regent his mother’s succession as royal saddler: the accommodation and the royal custom afforded her an annual profit of about £250 until her death in 1817, when her effects were sworn under £200 and the business was apparently wound up.10

Pollock’s professional fortunes soon improved, and he built up an extensive practice both on the circuit and at Westminster, particularly in bankruptcy cases. He owed his success, in the words of an obituary

not so much to any showy qualities or attractive powers as a speaker, for these he never possessed, as to ... [his] extraordinary reputation for industry and general ability ... supported and confirmed as it was by the accurate and extensive legal knowledge which he displayed.11

On one circuit he got himself into ‘a serious scrape’ by committing the ‘high misdemeanour’ of dining with an attorney, but his rise was not impeded.12 He was ‘reasonably contented’ with the earnings of over £4,000 a year which he commanded in the early 1820s.13 To his surprise, his application for a silk gown in 1824, which had the backing of the duke of York, was unsuccessful; but he was only mildly disappointed, reckoning that promotion would cost him ‘in one direction at least £1,500 a year, with the chance only of improvement or indemnity in another’.14 Politically, he was a man of the right, and in an outburst to his brother George, 8 Feb. 1824, he damned the Whigs:

As a party they are in general very bad - selfish, proud, vain, haughty, conceited and incompetent ... Here and there talents are conferred on the most unamiable of them, and now and then some of the twaddling and inferior sort have something of the common kindness of human nature. But such a man as Fox, who had the brightest talents and the warmest benevolence, is not often to be met with anywhere. He was born a Tory and he died a Tory, and his Whiggism was the result of faction and disappointment; and after all Fox, their great boast, was deficient in businesslike ability and still more deficient in that consistency and integrity without which benevolence is useless and talent is mischievous.15

His first wife, who had been in a state of pregnancy for a total of nine out of the slightly less than 14 years of their marriage, died early in 1827, leaving him with 11 children. In the summer he obtained his silk gown.

In September 1827 Pollock was mentioned as a possible candidate for Cambridge University in the event of a vacancy, which did not materialize.16 That month he had narrowly the better of a spectacular tussle on the circuit with the Whig, Henry Brougham*, but their professional rivalry and wide political differences did not impair their friendship.17 On 30 Mar. 1829 he wrote to his eldest son from the circuit at York:

My table groans with briefs ... As to my health ... I know very little more than that I eat, drink, and sleep, and am decently fit for business. I am rather tired of the circuit and shall be glad of some change, without being very particular as to its nature.

In November that year, when a vacancy arose on the bench, he professed to have ‘no wish’ for further promotion, which ‘would much diminish my income, and I think would not add to my happiness’, even though the salary and retirement pension were not to be sneezed at.18 No offer was made to him. His name was again linked with the University representation at the general election of 1830, but the rumour was without foundation.19 Soon afterwards he boasted that he had ‘bagged more guineas in spite of the elections than on any former summer circuit’. That year he moved his London residence to a large house in Guildford Street.20

On 3 Nov. 1830 Pollock declined lord chancellor Lyndhurst’s offer of a puisne judgeship, ‘saying’, it was later reported, ‘he thinks the functions of an advocate more agreeable and more honourable’.21 To his niece Eliza Alexander he explained:

I mean ... to do everything in my power to justify the offer and the refusal ... I cannot refer my own decision to ambition or avarice, but to a prudent resolution not to sacrifice £3,000 a year for certainty and comfort. As to rank, and scarlet and ermine, and trumpets, and tipstaffs, and great dinners, and being called ‘My Lord’ in court and ‘Sir Frederick’ out of it, I will not say I have a contempt for it altogether, but a very considerable indifference not far removed from the same, and I mean to go on with the degree of wretchedness or happiness ... that belongs to my present condition till I see some better cause for change than is now before me.22

He expected the premier, the duke of Wellington, to ‘have the Tories with him and a regular Whig opposition against him’, but ‘never dreamt’ that he ‘could have done so indiscreet a thing’ as to make his declaration against all reform. Yet it was with ‘enormous surprise’ that he learned of the ministry’s defeat, 15 Nov. 1830. Initially he thought Lord Grey might fail to form a government and so permit the establishment of an anti-reform administration under ‘some middle, moderate or neutral man’. Alarmed by the ‘Swing’ riots, which he considered ‘entirely owing to 15 years peace’, he commented that ‘the times are fearful enough’ and ‘no man who has a good coat can be sure he will keep it long’. Pollock, who met Sir Robert Peel* for the first time in December 1830, continued to believe that either the Grey ministry or the new Parliament would not survive for six months.23 At a loss to conceive how ministers could ‘unite in any common measure’ of reform, he was confident that any ‘great and violent’ proposal would founder. The government’s token reduction of pensions he considered ‘a humbug’. Rumoured details of their reform scheme, which fell far short of the sweeping changes which they actually proposed, seemed to him to presage

a reform which I fear will be a revolution if carried into effect, and in a few years will trample down all other than popular rights, will put an end to the aristocracy and all their rights, will pull down the church and the throne behind it. But I hope the existing Commons will be firm enough to resist much of this and will leave us something of the constitution worth fighting for.24

In March 1831 he accepted the chairmanship of the reconstituted commission of inquiry into the defects of the law, which brought him an additional £1,200 a year: ‘butter for fish with a vengeance’, as ‘my bag is larger and more stuffed than ever [and] my fees increasing’. He expected to make that year at least £2,400 more than in 1830.25 He was one of the lawyers consulted by Brougham, the new lord chancellor, in the preparation of his scheme to reform bankruptcy administration.26

At the general election of 1831 Pollock stood with Peel’s brother Jonathan for Huntingdon, which the Dowager Lady Sandwich put at the disposal of the Tory opposition. Like Peel, he presented himself as ‘a moderate reformer’, and expressed approval of some features of the reform bill: the enfranchisement of large towns, the wider county franchise, the abolition of totally rotten boroughs and the attempt to reduce the expense of elections. But he objected to the proposed reduction in the number of Members and was not prepared to swallow ‘the bill, the whole bill and nothing but the bill’, fearing that if it was ‘carried immediately the result would be dangerous’. He denounced colonial slavery, but argued that its precipitate abolition would violate rights of property. ‘In conclusion, he avowed himself as favourable to nothing but improvements, and the friend to everything that will improve’. The opposition of two reformers, who forced a token poll, was a mere nuisance.27

Pollock, one of the ‘king’s counsel brought in to oppose the [reform] bill’, tried twice to speak in the debate on the second reading, but was not called.28 He voted against the second reading of the measure, 6 July, and four days later arrived in York for the summer circuit (he was granted formal leave on 18 July) with ‘as base a hoarseness as ever mortal man that lived by his lungs was annoyed with’. He was on the circuit, which was ‘pleasant more than usual and profitable in a still higher degree beyond the average’, until 29 Aug. 1831, and so missed the protracted debates on the details of the bill.29 He was present to vote in the majority on the Liverpool election bribery scandal, 5 Sept., and against the passage of the reform bill, 21 Sept. In June 1831 the Whig Tom Macaulay*, who considered Pollock a boring speaker, had amused a party at Holland House with the tale of his dream, all too likely to come true, that he ‘heard Pollock speak in the House of Commons, that the speech was very long, and that he was coughed down’.30 In the event Pollock’s début, in enthusiastic support of Brougham’s bankruptcy court bill, 14 Oct. 1831, was politely received, as he told his son:

I ... gave great satisfaction to Brougham and all his friends. I am glad I am no longer a silent Member. I should have been mortified if November had come and found me undelivered of my maiden speech. It was, however, a very trifling effort, delivered with a very hoarse voice. Still, some people have been very civil about it.31

Pollock divided against the second reading of the revised reform bill, 17 Dec. 1831. He supported attempts to regulate and encourage the study of anatomy, 17, 26 Jan. 1832, when he joined in the attack on ministers over the Russian-Dutch loan: the House could not ‘sanction the payment of money on the equitable construction of a treaty, without being put into possession of the supposed circumstances under which that construction had been devised’.32 On 7 Feb. he made suggestions for refinement of the provisions of the reform bill concerning the residential qualification for £10 householders. Next day he presented a Huntingdon petition against Campbell’s bill to establish a general registry of deeds. His statement that he felt obliged by the outcry against the bill to oppose it, even though he personally thought it could be advantageously modified, led Campbell to accuse him of surrendering his own opinion to ‘popular dislike’. This, he retorted, had a rich irony in the mouth of a supporter of the reform bill. On 20 Feb. Pollock focused his mathematical expertise on the calculations made by Lieutenant Drummond, at the behest of government, to arrive at a revised list of boroughs for disfranchisement. He maintained that Drummond had blundered by adding rather than multiplying the figures derived from the averages of the number of houses and the amount of assessed taxes in each, with the result that a number of boroughs were incorrectly placed on the scale of relative significance. Lord John Russell invoked the names of the leading mathematicians who had approved Drummond’s method and Pollock rather feebly backed down, though the following day, when he argued that Appleby ought in justice to retain one Member, he repeated his reservations about the calculation. He voted against the enfranchisement of Tower Hamlets, 28 Feb., but only paired against the third reading of the reform bill, 22 Mar., when he was presumably away on the circuit. Two months later, when the crisis of May had ended in the Grey ministry’s return to office, he wrote to his son that ‘the Commons have in effect voted the king a cypher, and the House of Lords an obstruction to the public good’. He was inclined to criticize Peel for refusing to take office, but acknowledged the validity of his determination not to ‘play over again the game of the Catholic question’, though he thought ‘a better excuse (if it be true and sincere) would be that half the bill would be as bad as the whole, as both would be fatal’:

I would not give a pin to choose whether I should take ten grains of arsenic or five only, when one or two would be a deadly blow ... I take a very different interest in public affairs from what I did. I may be in another Parliament, but I think scarcely a third. I consider the constitution is at an end. The revolution has begun and practically we are a republic.

Yet a fortnight later, in anticipation of the bill becoming law, he was more positive:

I hope I have not so little sense and temper as to wish all the melancholy forebodings ... of our friends to be realized. I do not want to see the king dethroned, the church despoiled, the bishops driven from their seats among the peers, the peers themselves shorn of their honours, Lord Grey’s coronet in the dust ... I rather (now that the affair is over) am disposed to make the best of it, and to hope that the next Parliament may be composed of men more intelligent, more wealthy, more conservative than the present.33

He spoke and voted against government on the Russian-Dutch loan, 12 July, and supported inquiry into the admission procedures of the inns of court, 17 July 1832, believing that rejected candidates should have the right of appeal against exclusion. After recuperating from the rheumatism and hoarseness which had dogged him on the summer circuit, Pollock sought re-election for Huntingdon, whence he wrote to his niece, 4 Dec. 1832:

The dissolution ... took place yesterday. The king fired a proclamation at the Parliament ... and it expired without a groan. The old phoenix is dead and I am part of the ashes and I mean to rake myself together and endeavour to form part of the new bird. Perhaps I may vindicate to myself a better station that I filled before, and contribute to a brighter plumage. Good heavens, what stuff!!34

Pollock, whom Benjamin Disraeli† denigrated as ‘a weak man’, served as attorney-general in both Peel’s ministries.35 In 1844, when he was reputedly earning £18,000 a year, he was appointed chief baron of the exchequer.36 As such, according to his obituarist, ‘he showed himself an excellent judge - sound, safe, sensible, able, and indefatigable, ever ready at his post, and inflexible in the discharge of his judicial duties’.37 In 1834 he remarried and acquired ‘a small portion’ of ‘the dull, stale, flat (but not unprofitable) soil of Hounslow Heath’ at Hatton. His second wife bore him a further 12 children. He retired from the bench with a baronetcy, at the age of 82, in 1866. The following year he reflected that he could ‘look round with leisure and calmness to see what I have done, and I am thoroughly contented and satisfied’.38 His old friend Henry Crabb Robinson described him in his retirement as ‘a capital talker, and a kind and generous man’39; while David Veasey wrote of ‘his varied knowledge, his cheerfulness, his fund of anecdote and his wonderful animation’; he was often ‘merry ... as a boy’ even in old age.40 His son Edward’s contemporary Richard Webster found him alarming at first, but thereafter ‘extremely kind, and always most genial’.41 Pollock died in August 1870.

Ref Volumes: 1820-1832

Author: David R. Fisher

Notes

See Visct. Hanworth, Lord Chief Baron Pollock (1929).

  • 1. The Times, 26 Jan. 1827. Oxford DNB erroneously gives 27 Jan.
  • 2. Hanworth, 1-6; The Times, 24 Aug. 1870.
  • 3. Sir F. Pollock, Personal Remembrances, ii. 224-5.
  • 4. Oxford DNB.
  • 5. Hanworth, 7-15, Pollock, i. 58, 60; G. Pryme, Autobiog. Recollections, 54; Palmerston-Sulivan Letters, 10-11, 40, 47.
  • 6. Hanworth, 16-17; Add. 38111, f. 359.
  • 7. Hanworth, 33-34.
  • 8. PROB 8/208; 11/1573/513.
  • 9. CUL, Pollock mss (Add. 7564) C/2, Pollock to G. Pollock, 3, 16 Sept. 1815.
  • 10. PROB 6/193/227.
  • 11. The Times, 24 Aug. 1870.
  • 12. Lord Kingsdown, Recollections, 24; Macaulay Letters, i. 208.
  • 13. Pollock mss C/2, Pollock to G. Pollock, 8 Feb. 1824.
  • 14. Ibid. C/2, same to same, 31 Oct. 1824.
  • 15. Ibid. C/2.
  • 16. Bucks. RO, Buckinghamshire mss, Lansdowne to Goderich, 17 Sept. 1827.
  • 17. Macaulay Letters, i. 227; Life of Campbell, i. 448.
  • 18. Hanworth, 43-44; Pollock, i. 25-26.
  • 19. Add. 51578, Carlisle to Holland, 10 July [1830].
  • 20. Hanworth, 47; Pollock, i. 35.
  • 21. Hanworth, 47-48; Life of Campbell, i. 485.
  • 22. Pollock mss A/4, Pollock to E. Alexander, 4 Nov. [1830].
  • 23. Ibid. A/4, same to same, 1, 4, 9, [16], 17, 20 Nov., 6 Dec. 1830.
  • 24. Ibid. A/4, same to same, 7 Feb. 1831.
  • 25. Hanworth, 48; Pollock mss A/4, Pollock to Alexander, 12, 22 Jan. 1831.
  • 26. Brougham mss, Pollock to Brougham, 21 Mar. 1831.
  • 27. Hanworth, 68; Pollock, i. 33; Pollock mss A/4, Pollock to Alexander, 26 Apr., 2, 4 May; Huntingdon, Bedford and Peterborough Gazette, 30 Apr., 7 May 1831.
  • 28. Life of Campbell, i. 517; Pollock, i. 34.
  • 29. Pollock mss A/4, Pollock to Alexander, 10 July, 1, 14, 22, 30 Aug. 1831.
  • 30. Macaulay Letters, i. 227; ii. 26.
  • 31. Hanworth, 68-69.
  • 32. Three Diaries, 184.
  • 33.