POLLEN, George Augustus (1775-1808), of Little Bookham, Surr.
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Family and Education
b. Jan. 1775, 1st s. of Rev. George Pollen (d. 1812) of Little Bookham by Mary, da. of William Goode of Newent, Glos. educ. Eton 1789; Emmanuel, Camb. 1792; I. Temple 1792. m. 1803 at St. Petersburg, Elizabeth Primrose, da. of Sir Charles Gascoigne, Bt., counsellor of state to the Emperor of Russia, s.p.
Capt. Rutland vol. cav. 1796-9; col. Loyal Surr. Rangers 1799.
Pollen wrote to Pitt, 15 Jan. 1795:
I have received a most liberal education at Eton and Cambridge and both myself and my friends seem satisfied that I have not altogether neglected the advantageous opportunities I have had of improving myself. My pecuniary expectations are completely independent in consequence of my being heir to an entailed property of £5,000 p.a. at least but as I am destined to spend the remaining twelve months of my legal infancy either in the dissipations of London or in indeterminate and interrupted application, my ambition of becoming immediately useful stimulates me to offer myself ... to you ... to initiate me in ... public business in some department or other ... for the sake of employment alone.
He wrote again on 27 Feb. 1795, but nothing came of it.1 In January 1796 he approached Pitt through Lord Auckland for a seat in Parliament as a friend of his administration, wishing to come in ‘as easily and as cheaply as possible’. At the end of February he canvassed Leominster under the aegis of Viscount Malden*.2 In the ensuing election he defeated the Whig candidate sponsored by the Duke of Norfolk and survived a petition against the return.
Described as ‘a dashing young man, who is continually exercising himself for public speaking’, he made his debut on 28 Feb. 1797 in support of Sheridan’s amendment, stating that, as Britain was now ‘insulted in its navy, sinking in its trade, and dishonoured in its credit’, his confidence in Pitt’s ministry was shaken. On 1 Mar. he complimented Pitt on his concession of the call for inquiry into the Bank stoppage. On 9 Mar. he joined the ‘armed neutrality’, voting against the revival of the secret committee on the Bank and, ‘if persevered in’, for the addition of Fox to it. Next day he moved an amendment for the immediate nomination of the secret committee, without any stipulations as to its composition, but with a hint of his aversion to Members whose votes were premeditated. He was defeated by 123 votes to 40. On 13 Mar. in supporting the previous question against Harrison’s motion, he suggested that the same committee should inquire into public retrenchment, but he voted for the addition of Fox to the committee. On 22 Mar. he called for further inquiry before the Bank was indemnified for its stoppage of cash payments. On 30 Mar. he gave notice of a motion on war and peace and proceeded with it on 10 Apr. Sitting on the ministerial side, he argued that Britain, deserted by her allies, was in danger of financial ruin and invasion and that negotiation for an armistice was the more justifiable. Quoting the French Directory’s vindication of the breakdown of negotiations at Lille, he moved for an address to the King for a British manifesto to prove the government’s wish for a respectable peace. Pitt, as anticipated, announced a further peace bid and the motion was lost by 291 votes to 85. The Times commented ‘whether he will go as far we cannot say, but he is resolved to begin as early as Mr Pitt’.3 Like the young Pitt, he was a supporter of parliamentary reform, 26 May 1797, though he urged that it must be ‘temperate’:
Every man who went into a populous place at the time of an election must be sensible that things could not go on on this present footing. Every hand was open for a bribe. All idea of a representation was scouted. It was a mere profligate scene of corruption, and consequently presented to government the certain means of influencing the majority in that House.
It was on 10 Nov. 1797 that Pollen rallied to ministers, on the question of an armistice: opposing Sinclair’s amendment to the address, he said that peace was now impracticable and promised the utmost opposition to France. The alarmist tone of this volte-face was ridiculed in the Whig press, though Pollen was once more in opposition to Pitt on 28 Dec. 1797 when he objected to the triple tax assessment as far as small farmers were concerned. He subsequently became a cavalry officer and on 3 Apr. 1798 wrote from his barracks to Pitt to suggest a volunteer expedition to defend the Swiss against France.4 In September 1799 he raised a fencible regiment at his own expense. His only further gesture in the House was to vote for a call of it on Tierney’s motion, 22 Jan. 1800. He subsequently went to Halifax, Nova Scotia with his corps of rangers.
Pollen had no hope of re-election at Leominster in 1802 and, on his return from foreign service, proceeded ‘on a roving electioneering expedition’, without any prospect of success. He was defeated at Malmesbury and then at Cricklade, where he professed ‘an utter aversion to party or faction’.5 Subsequently he again went abroad.
Sir George Jackson, who came across him in Berlin in March 1804, described him as ‘A Colonel Pollen, who once attempted to play a part in the House of Commons and did distinguish himself as effectually there, as elsewhere, by his most consummate effrontery’. He added:
For some time he has been travelling about the Continent, because it is not very convenient to him to remain in England; and last year he married a Miss Gascoigne at St. Petersburg, after a few days’ acquaintance. He came to Berlin about a month ago, and has contrived to push himself so forward as to have the opportunity of doing a thing unheard of in the annals of this or any other court. There had been a consultation about the dresses to be worn at the f’te of the 12th in the Queen’s quadrille. Pollen went off in search of some prints and returned with them while the King and royal family were at dinner. Without any ceremony, he walked into the dining room and familiarly commenced his conversation with their majesties, who were so good as not to order him to be turned out ... He is one of the sort of travellers who bring discredit on our national character.6
At the same time he was writing to Sir Joseph Banks, President of the Royal Society, in the hope of obtaining funds for a projected expedition to Lhasa to purchase the Lama’s manuscripts, and was bitterly disappointed when Banks refused to back ‘the claims of an absolute stranger’ and doubted whether public money should be entrusted ‘to a man who has been unable to take care of his own’.7 He was lost at sea off Memel, 7 Apr. 1808, together with Viscount Royston* (his wife was rescued): ‘if he had returned to his native country (as he was attempting to do when this dreadful accident put a period to all his hopes) ... he would have proved a distinguished ornament of it’. His body was recovered months afterwards and buried at North Berwick.8
Ref Volumes: 1790-1820
Author: R. G. Thorne
- 1. PRO 30/8/168, ff. 21, 23.
- 2. Ibid. 110, ff. 301, 303; Arundel Castle mss, Malden to Norfolk, 1 Mar. 1796.
- 3. Farington, i. 201; PRO 30/9/32, Abbot diary, 9 Mar.; Morning Chron. 11, 14 Mar.; Ailesbury mss diary, 9 Apr. 1797; Colchester, i. 96; The Times, 14 Apr. 1797.
- 4. Morning Chron. 13, 17 Nov. 1797; PRO 30/8/168, f. 25.
- 5. Cricklade Hist. Soc. Elwell mss, Pollen’s address, 7 July, Pollen to Crowdy, 8 July, Estcourt to same, 8 July 1802.
- 6. Jackson Diaries, i. 178.
- 7. Banks Letters ed. Dawson, 678-9.
- 8. Gent. Mag. (1808), i. 461; (1811), i. 541; Brayley, Surr. iv. 482.