Thursday, December 18, 2008

Daniel Pollen, warts and all

I have previously posted about Daniel Pollen and his place in Avondale's history. The Observer and other papers published some fascinating insights into his life and career here in New Zealand. Suddenly, at least to me, he has become three-dimensional, and his character all the more intriguing.

(Post updated 10 March 2011)

The Colonial Journal.— On Monday the New Zealand Times [Wellington] was published in an enlarged form. Dr Pollen, who has been appointed its Editor, is to receive a salary of £300 per annum.
Southland Times, 1 May 1878

The New Zealander this morning, after giving an account of what took place in the House in June,1877, in reference to the Piako Swamp and Pepepe coalfield blocks, and the new telegrams on the subject which, have recently been made public, especially Mr Sinclair's telegram to Dr Pollen, of June 23rd, 1876, goes on to say, "The instructions which thus required one public officer to avoid another—one who was seeking official information to prove the truth of statements made on hia authority—information which honour and. fairness to Sir George Grey required should be produced, even if the Government cared,nothing for their own fair fame—had disappeared, no doubt, in accordance with other instructions. Murder will out, however, and guilty attempts to make away with evidence do not often succeed much better in real life than in novels, or on the stage. Some little point is overlooked, some chance of discovery is left unguarded, and at the right moment the fatal evidence crops up.

"No doubt Dr Pollen washed his hands gleefully in imaginary water with invisible soap when he knew that Mr- Sinclair had not placed his 'instructions' on record, but had burnt or otherwise destroyed them. Dr Pollen, however, with all his astuteness, forgot that his instructions had been telegraphed, and that it was only the copy which had reached Mr Sinclair. The original was, of course, in the telegraph office here, and here it is:—

'Wellington, June 23rd, 1876, Andrew Sinclair, Esq., General Government offices, Auckland.
Mr Tole, I understood, is now in the habit of visiting your office, and inspecting records for the purpose of obtaining information regarding administration of the confiscated land, which is afterwards most unfairly used. Should Mr Tole again apply to you for this purpose, be good enough to invite him in my name to attend to his own business, of which the administration of confiscated lands forms no part. I am ready to give my full and complete information on all and every subject to Mr Tole, or any other person whom it may concern, but application must be made  in writing and be referred to me—Daniel Pollen.'

There is something quite melodramatic about this discovery and leaving the Hon. Dr Pollen gazing in horrified amazement at the resurrection of the witness which he deemed long ago dead and buried, we drop the curtain, content with the knowledge that, no doubt in due course, public justice will be satisfied.
Otago Daily Times, 6 May 1878

The poor New Zealand Times, the once ambitious Colonial journal, continues to whine and cry about the Government advertisements. It has for years, ever since indeed the Vogel Government bought it and changed the name to the present one, been accustomed to live on Government patronage. It has regularly had about three times as much money per annum from the Treasury as the two evening papers put together, and this despite the fact that its circulation has never been much more than one-half that of the least popular of its evening rivals. That all this should cease just at the very time when a dangerous morning antagonist in the shape of the New Zealander threatens to drive the Times, never a paying property, into extremis altogether, is, of course, felt to be very hard lines, but all its complaints and pitiful appeals only excite public contempt and ridicule. Already people are beginning to speculate as to how many months more the Times is likely to exist. The New Zealander already more than doubles it in circulation. Desperate changes are being made in the Times's management to endeavour to stave off the inevitable collapse. Mr Thomas McKenzie, the former proprietor of the Independent who, since he sold out to the Times, has been their manager, has been quietly shelved, or rather reduced to the position of country collector, while Dr Pollen is not only editor but also managing superintendent, whatever that high-sounding title may imply in a newspaper sense. In connection with this change an amusing skit, in the shape of a new version of the popular song, "Tommy make room for your Uncle," has been going round the city within the last few days. Mr McKenzie's name is Thomas, and with poetic license "Saponaceous Dan" is assumed by the writer to stand in the relation of " Mine Uncle" to him.

Otago Witness, 29 June 1878

Speight made some capital points in his speech, and told some good stories. There was a good deal of humour in his recital of Dr. Pollen's successful struggle for a pension. The doctor had been refused it by the Grey Government on the clearly-expressed .and well-reasoned opinion of its Attorney-General that he had forfeited his claim by acting as Minister and Premier for several years, because these offices carried no pensions with them. That a Civil servant should he Premier of the Colony — he, in fact, his own servant — was a disgraceful anomaly. Dr Pollen should have resigned "before going into political life and have taken his pension then if he was entitled to it.

His being allowed to act otherwise was one of the evil things done in an evil time, when the Legislature was indulging in State prosecutions and carrying things with the high hand — that brought Sir George Grey into the field, and rallied the people so enthusiastically to his support. The change of Ministry brought consolation to the patriotic doctor, as it did to many others. A new Attorney-General reversed the opinion of his predecessor, and a new Government gave to the doctor both the pension and the full arrears for which he had before been fighting in vain.

Mr. Speight was right in describing this proceeding as very detrimental to the character of the Ministry. It appears they were afraid to propose the vote in a form that would render it open to discussion; so they merely placed it among the permanent appropriations under the Pensions Act, and carefully kept hack the doctor's name. It figured as "Arrears of pension, £1433." and it was by the merest accident that the true meaning of this item leaked out. For a long time it had been regarded as providing for arrears of an ordinary kind and excited no comment. When the discovery was made it was too late for definite action during that session.

It seems, too, that among the offices held by the doctor, and for which the Government have thus pensioned him at the expense of the Colony, is that of Paymaster of Imperial Pensions. It was an office that Dr. Pollen filled only in name, but of which others did the duty. It had nothing whatever to do with Colonial responsibilities or with the Colonial service; yet Ministers include in their calculation of his pension the £300 a-year which he was supposed to draw for duties which he was not even supposed to perform. A more dishonest action could not have been perpetrated, and Ministers will yet find it rising up against them. Mr. Speight has done good service in recalling public attention to it.
Observer 9 April 1881

Pen and Ink Portraits.
No. 24. — Daniel Pollen,
The doctor came to New Zealand, I am told, in a whaling ship, in 1839, landing at the Bay of Islands. Many people think that he came to New Zealand at a later date, but the doctor said in the debate which took place on the New Zealand Settlement Act, in November 1862, in the General Assembly, in Auckland:

"Allusion has been made to the Treaty of Waitangi, and the rights the natives acquired under the treaty. He (the speaker) was present at the meeting of Waitangi on the 6th of February, 1840, when the treaty was proposed, and he was an attentive and anxious listener to all that had passed. He had heard Her Majesty's representative arguing, explaining, and promising to the natives, pledging the faith of the Queen and of the British people to the due observance of it — giving, upon the honour of an English gentleman, the broadest interpretation of the words in which the treaty was couched ; and he could assure the Council that definite and clear as the terms of the treaty appeared to us now, they bear about the same relation to the picture which it was made to represent to the natives, on that day, as the skeleton does to the living and breathing body."

Many, many years after the signing of the treaty, and many after the .words above quoted were spoken, the whirligig of time saw the doctor Native Minister. In January, 1877 the doctor interviewed the King natives and left a record of his interview in the Native Office. It read as follows :— " On landing at Kaipoha, on the 30th of January, I was met with the usual welcome. Manuhiri and the other chief men came forward to shake hands. They left me whilst food was being prepared, and, after dinner, Manuhiri and Takerei, and two or three others, returned. I being invited, it was Maori etiquette, for which the old men are great sticklers, that they should speak first. We sat in silence, face to face, for a long time, Manuhiri occasionally looking up and smiling, and then dropping his head, and apparently relapsing into contemplation of his stomach. Finally, he spoke, and was again silent. After waiting long, I saw that nothing more was to be done that day, and I rose to take leave, saying that I would wait at Alexandra next day and see any of them that came to me. All the party except Manuhiri himself, who is feeble and unable to travel, came into Alexandra on that evening. On the next day, we had our interview, and I entertained our distinguished visitors, some of them sans cullotes, at dinner. We had much drink, and were extremely sociable."

From these extracts it will be learned that the doctor was a not undistinguished guest at the meeting held at Mr. Busby's farm on the 5th and 6th of February, 1840 ; and what sort of a Native Minister the Honourable Daniel Pollen proved himself to be. I shall be obliged if any of your readers will correct any chronological errors in this portrait.

The doctor came to Auckland with Messrs Whitaker and Kelly, from Kororareka, in 1840. The carcase would be cut up in Auckland, and thither the eagles gathered. The doctor took to medicine, and the lawyer to law. Daniel Pollen, at this time, was reputed to be a member of the Catholic Church, and his name will be found, in the list of subscribers to the erection of the first Catholic Chapel built in Auckland, promising to pay three pounds towards so holy an object — a large sum in those days. Catholicity, in Auckland, in those days, was a different thing to what it is now, and the Catholics were so poor and mean in those days that Pollen did not care to be seen with, or identified with, them. Some few years after this the doctor married a Protestant lady possessed of money in her own right, when his connection with the church of his forefathers became complete, and he has since that period looked with coolness on men and women more steadfast than himself, and with hatred, on the faith from which he apostatised.

Early in the forties the doctor lived at Parnell, and had a horse at his command to visit his patients. To soothe their minds and allay their tears were the main features of his treatment. Thus, when Saunder's mother sent for the doctor to visit her son, (now in the House of Representatives) who was supposed to be sick, the doctor paid his visit on horseback and found the patient ready to hold his horse. On being told that the stripling at his horse's head was sick, the doctor felt his pulse, looked at his tongue, told him to take care of himself, to avoid excitement, and prescribed some bread pills. Trivial as this anecdote may appear, it is emblematic of the life of Daniel Pollen. Quieta non movere has been the guiding maxim of his life, provided the "great things" were pleasant.

Early in his Colonial career Dr Pollen commenced to write for the Press. In the columns of the New Zealander will be found his letters vindicating the policy of Sir George Grey against land-sharking interests. They are signed X. Writing in a clear and humourous style, they commanded attention and exercised considerable influence. Writing for position, the doctor chose, as he thought, the winning side. From being a contributor to the New Zealander he became its editor. It was at one time expected, after his connection with the New Zealander there, hie might be induced to espouse the Methodist form of faith. Williamson and Wilson and others were fain to believe that the doctor was adapted to shine in a religious vocation.

After his connection with the Press the watch episode in his career took place. His wife's mother having visited New Zealand was greatly pleased with the attendance given to her by some long celt, who acted as the doctor's body servant. On her departure for the old country she promised Mike, or whatever his name was, that she would send him a present as a token of her appreciation of his services. True to her word, she sent him a watch consigned to the doctor. Mike, however, had misbehaved himself in the Pollen eye, and had been discharged from wearing the Pollen livery, and eating the Pollen food. Ingratitude in the doctor's mind was a deadly sin, and so it was determined that Mike should not have the watch. The court case and all the details, are they not in the Auckland papers, and in the recollections of its old residents?

Beside physic and the Press the doctor has been engaged in manufactures. Many years since he commenced brickmaking at the Whau on a somewhat extensive scale. He employed some new chums to commence his manufactures on the same terms that the Egyptians long since sought to impose on the Jews. The brickmakers in both instances became discontented men. In this case, however, as in the days of Pharaoh an impressive and enduring structure was intended to have been constructed from Pollen bricks. A well known Auckland auctioneer, not long dead, tired of waiting for the receipt of a long due account, gave the Doctor an order for several millions of bricks, which he intended to utilise by constructing a palatial residence at the North Shore. Fortunately for the brickmakers of those days the order was countermanded, the auctioneer got his account, and the palatial residence was, unfortunately, never built.

Two things are said of the doctor which I neither venture to affirm nor to deny. They are that he caused the seat of Government to be removed from Auckland that he might be made Resident Agent; and that he broke poor John Williamson's heart. Some Auckland men still enquire "Had Tinri peace who slew his master." Yet on the green old age of the doctor remorse seems to carry no time, indeed, as his detractors say, he has still a wicked wink for a wench.

The Williamson and Wilson people put the Doctor into the Auckland Provincial Council, having first squared Bracy to resign, and canvassed the district to make the doctor's election sure. He then, if my memory serves me right, became Provincial clerk, an office afterwards called Provincial secretary. His special delight in the Council was to bully Daldy and then run away.

Some of my readers will remember a large building that was erected at Freeman's Bay for a bacon curing establishment. The names of the builder and bacon curer have both passed from my recollection. It came into the doctor's possession, and was used by him as a kind of emigration depot. When men, not over wise in this respect, wanted work, he used with a humourous kind of benevolence to send them to clear his land at so much per acre. The men worked with a will, but found that their labour was requited at an insufficient price. But still the land was cleared.

Through a long and varied career, the doctor has nourished and lived on the public. He will do so for the remainder of his days. His pension is secure; his seal in the Council is a life seal; and has he not the brick yard at the Whau. He is a clever man although he called the men he brought from Australia the scum of the earth. He hates the Thames with a deadly hatred — and Grey with a still greater virulence. He has held many offices in his day. He has been Government agent in Auckland ; Sub-Treasurer for the purposes of the Native Lands Act ; Paymaster of Imperial Pensions ; Receiver of Land Revenue; Commissioner of Confiscated Lands; Trust Commissioner, under the Native Lands Fraud Prevention Act; Treasurer to the Waste Lands Board; Native Minister, and Premier of New Zealand. He was born in the year 1812.
Observer,16 July 1881

A correspondent writes : " The reference in the excellent pen and ink portrait of Dr Pollen in a recent issue, to the fact of that gentleman having ' seceded ' from the religion of his fathers, reminds me of a little incident which occurred, in the Auckland Club some years ago, when it occupied the building now used by the new Auckland Club, called by irreverent people the ' Boys' Club.' It was a Friday, and a large number of gentlemen were sitting at lunch. Among them was a Catholic gentleman (who was not ashamed to conform to the requirements of his church, and who was making his lunch off fish) and Dr Pollen, who was eating meat. The latter jeeringly said to the former, ' Ha, you are one of the good people who starve themselves once a week.'

'Yes,' was the reply, ' and if everyone acted according to the dictates of his conscience you also would be eating fish.'

The doctor got as near to blushing as he ever did in his life, and, hastily finishing his lunch, went away to keep an appointment.
Observer, 30 July 1881

A special reporter met Dr Pollen one day in the lobbies and informed him that he was suspected of being the author of the "Ignotus" papers. In his blandest so(a)ponacious style the doctor replied, " Well, of course, you must have known that I did not write them, because there were so many statements in them that you and I know to be contrary to fact."

" Why, my dear doctor," replied the reporter, " that was the very reason I attributed them to you." The doctor had an appointment down the street.
Observer, 8 October 1881

(On members of the Legislative Council)
Daniel Pollen has been and still, is a valuable member. The infirmities of age are, however, creeping upon him. I do not think there is a single bill or paper laid before the Council but what he studies carefully. He is thoroughly conscientious, and records his vote accordingly. Thus it is that he is not looked upon with favour, in Auckland. He is a man wno could not be well spared from'the Council.
Otago Witness, 5 November 1881


Dan Pollen, you're the finest flour
That ever found a buyer;
But though you're nice, and never sour,
You're seconds to Josiah.
The Jews made bricks —
I don't know how —
Sans straw, the clime was sunny;
You beat them out there at the Whau —
You made bricks without money.
Observer, 11 February 1882

It was stated last week that the saponaceous Daniel, with his usual artfulness, had contrived to get water on the cheap from the City Supply. Further inquiry shows that the modus operandi was thusly — there is a main which supplies the Hospital, Gaol, and Mount Eden Railway Station and a number of private residences, the charge being calculated by measuring the quantity used by the latter and charging the Government with the difference. It appears, however, that some years ago instructions were issued that the doctor was to be left out of the calculation, and by lapse of time he had come to regard free water supply in the light of a vested right. The thing was discovered by the merest accident. Orders have now been issued that the doctor shall be made to pay the same as other consumers.
Observer, 29 July 1882

Our somewhat dull but esteemed contemporary, the Hokitika Guardian, has somehow or other drifted into the weak way of which the Reefton paper set the example instead of giving the public its own opinion as to respective merits of the candidates. The Guardian of the 5th publishes a parliamentary sketch of Mr Wakefield written many months ago by some flaneur or hanger of the Press. It appeared originally over the signature of "Ignatus," in the New Zealand Times, and the literary cuttle-fish who wrote it was generally supposed to be the Hon. Daniel Pollen, or " Soapy Dan," as the Auckland people dubbed him, and they ought to know best the application of the soubriquet. Dan, be it understood, is a successful civil servant and a disappointed politician. He is a genial and cultivated old gentleman, a cross between the satirist and humorist, with a spice of malice ever at the end of his quill. He is one of those old veterans who live in the past, and treat the rising generation with lofty contempt, though rather partial to administering a prod when occasion serves. The colony owes Dan nothing. He has done his work, raked in his rocks, and can now take a back seat.
Grey River Argus, 11 May 1883

Dr. Pollen invites the Government to alter New Zealand's anniversary day to the 30th January, instead of the 29th, to make it more strictly accurate.
Observer, 12 July 1890

Dr. Pollen has been gathered to his fathers at the sunset of a busy and eventful life, the greater part of which has been bound up with the public affairs of this Colony. He was a resident of Kororareka in January, 1840, when Captain Hobson, the first Governor of New Zealand, landed there and proclaimed the sovereignty of Great Britain over these islands. Through all the most troublous period of our early history he played an active part both as journalist and politician in moulding and leading public opinion.

How severe those early troubles were, Dr. Pollen has himself pointed out in a speech delivered in the Legislative Council in 1890.

“After the sacking of Kororareka,” he said, “we had war in the North and war in the South. We had an empty Treasury, and an Income Tax with but few incomes. We had paper money. We had shin-plasters for twopence, threepence, and fourpence, all taking the place of the ordinary currency of the times. Coin had disappeared, and it is a fact within my knowledge that, when it was necessary to send troops to the Bay of Islands, the gentleman who, at that time, was Assistant Commissary-General, bought 500 sovereigns at £1/5s each, and had to pay in Commissariat bills at par, the market value of which was 10 per cent, at least above the nominal value.”

Forty-two years ago, Dr Pollen was associated in the Provincial Executive of Auckland with Col. Wynyard, the first Superintendent of the Province. Since then, he has been a Minister of the Crown on several occasions, Premier for one brief period, and up to the very last, a member of the Legislative Council. He was, perhaps, the most polished speaker in Parliament, and certainly the most witty and humorous. His wit and humour were pointed, but never descended to rude personality, and he had a very happy faculty for neat epigram and keen, incisive satire. Take as an illustration the manner in which he hit off Sir Robert Stout in his speech on the Threats and Molestation Bill in September, 1890: —

“There is no one who has a greater admiration for Sir Robert Stout than I have. I look upon him as being an eminently clever man — as a many-sided man in the widest sense of that term, but, unfortunately, the sides, owing to the limited nature of human faculties, are not all of them broad. There are some of them to which may be applied another expression of a very different value from that. He is emotional, like numbers of the Celtic stock from which come my honorable friend opposite (Sir P. Buckley) and myself, and very much at times a creature of impulse that takes the colour of its surroundings. In reading some of the speeches and some of the letters which he is credited with having written and uttered, I am constantly reminded — the thought constantly occurs to me — that after the termination of one of these strange speeches he must in self applause have felt inclined to use the favourite expression of David Copperfield's friend, Miss Moucher, and, like her, exclaim, " Ain't I volatile." '

It was Dr. Pollen who, in allusion to the Premier's activity in mining legislation, declared it was his own opinion that “if the jurisdiction of this Colony could be extended from the Kermadecs and the Bounty Islands to the planet Mars, we would immediately see an Order-in-Council with "R. J. Seddon" and "God Save the Queen" at the end of it, constituting that fiery orb a mining district and declaring that the canals which have been discovered in that planet could be utilised as sludge channels or for the deposit of tailings.”

It was Dr Pollen who, in reference to an address delivered by Mr. W. J. Napier before the Auckland Liberal Association, in the course of which he had said the Legislative Council was in its dotage sarcastically remarked that the learned gentleman “found it necessary occasionally to make a little quacking and flapping in the little duckpond of Liberalism in the North.” And it was Dr Pollen also who retorted upon the Hon. John Mackenzie: “It would not be difficult for me to put an
arrow into that loud-tartan waistcoat which has been sent about the country like the fiery cross to summon the clans to the poll. I could place an arrow in that waistcoat which would stick and sting.”

The busy mind is now stilled for ever, the eloquent tongue is mute, and the place of the statesman will know him no more. After life's fitful fever he sleeps well.
Observer, 23 May 1896

Here is a reminiscence from the early life of the late Dr. Pollen, related in his own words :— “

In the closing years of the first quarter of this century, I was myself, as a boy, fighting with tiny weapons amongst those of my countrymen who were struggling for that freedom which they thought would be accomplished for them by what was then known as Catholic Emancipation. I can remember, too, with what determination I saved my pocket money how I stinted myself in the usual luxuries of sugar-stick and gingerbread — in order that I might have the delight, on the Sundays, of flinging the coppers that I had saved in the faces of my oppressors when I made my weekly contribution to what was known — in the vernacular of my country — as the ' rint '— ' the Catholic Rint.'
Observer, 23 May 1896

The story goes that back in the days when Dr Pollen was Premier of the colony, he was staying in Auckland at a critical period, and a local journalist was sent to his residence in the small hours of the morning to get some urgently needed information. Rat-tat-tat went his knock on the big front door, and the reporter waited for results.

Presently the window of a bedroom was thrown up with a bang, and the Premier appeared at it in his nightshirt, with the shining barrel of a shotgun painfully in evidence, and gruffly demanded what right anyone had to come and disturb a peaceful citizen at that unearthly hour. Terrified at the apparition, the pressman stammered out bis request for information, but neither his efforts at politeness nor the added weight of his editor's compliments had any influence. Daniel Pollen was a determined, and in this instance an indignant man, and he resolutely refused to parley with the disturber of his slumbers. Argument with an armed man is obviously a bootless business, and the reporter fled back to his ottice thankful to escape with a whole skin, while Daniel Pollen returned to bed chuckling at the success of his little ruse.

Observer, 8 December 1906


  1. I am playing the part of Dr Daniel Pollen during Heritage Week in Thames. I note in this blog that it is stated that "He hates the Thames with a deadly hatred - and Grey with a still greater virulence."
    Do you know why Pollen felt this way? Rather ironic considering that Thames main street is named after him.

  2. There must have been a reason why his contemporaries would say that. There might be some additional info in Papers Past, but it's running a tad slow at the moment.