3a: Sir Jonathan Frederick Pollock, Lord Chief Baron of the Exchequer

Lord Chief Baron of the Exchequer, 1844-66
Attorney-General, 1834-35

The second son of David Pollock the Saddler and his wife Sarah Homera became an eminent lawyer, the Rt Hon Sir Jonathan Frederick Pollock, always known as Frederick. His early life is detailed in the History of Parliament website. As a young man he was elected a Fellow of the Royal Society in 1816 and wrote a number of papers on mathematics including one on what is now known as the Pollock’s conjecture. He was the MP for Huntingdon from 1831 to 1844, during which time he had two periods as Attorney General under the premiership of Sir Robert Peel. From 1844 to 1868 he served as Lord Chief Baron of the Exchequer, hearing common law cases in the court of equity. (This was one of the two courts that merged in 1875 to form the Queen’s Bench Division.) He was knighted in 1834 and made a Baronet in 1866.

His son William Frederick, the second baronet from 1870, was a barrister who became a master of the Court of Exchequer (1846) and from 1874 to 1886 held the ancient office of Queen’s Remembrancer. Wikipedia records that “Pollock was a man of liberal culture and rare social charm. His entertaining Personal Remembrances, which he published in 1887, [vol.1] [vol.2] show how various were his accomplishments, and how numerous his friendships in the world of letters, science, and art.” Among his friends was Charles Darwin.

William’s son, Sir Frederick Pollock, the third baronet (1888), took after his father. He was an eminent academic lawyer, a fellow of Trinity College, Cambridge from 1868 and author of a series of text books that emphasised underlying principles and helped modernise English legal education. However, his interests ranged much wider than law: he wrote a biography of Spinoza and gave a talk about him at the South Place (now Conway Hall) Ethical Society that was reprinted in a collection (Religious Systems Of The World, 1892) of South Place lectures. He gave a series of lectures at the Royal Institution in 1882, later published as An Introduction to the History of the Science of Politics (1890). With other eminent figures he was a vice-president of the Sunday Lecture Society (“To provide for the delivery on Sundays … of Lectures on Science – physical, intellectual and moral – History, Literature, and Art; especially in their bearing upon the improvement and social well-being of mankind”) whose President was Thomas Henry Huxley and which ran into occasional trouble with the Lord’s Day Observance Society.

He counted among his close friends many other advanced thinkers of his day, including the eminent mathematician and philosopher William Kingdon Clifford (1845-1879) after whose death he co-edited with Sir Leslie Stephen a two-volume collection of his lectures and essays to which he wrote an extensive introduction. In this he made clear that he was himself one of a “knot of Cambridge friends [led by Clifford who] were carried away by a wave of Darwinian enthusiasm… Natural Selection was to be the master-key of the universe… it was to give us a new system of ethics…” (p.33). He made clear that he like Clifford was one “to whom the dignity of manhood and the fellowship of this life, undazzled by the magic of any revelation, unholpen of any promises holding out aught as higher or more enduring than the fruition of human love and the fulfilment of human duties, are sufficient to bear the weight of both life and death” (p.24). Clifford had written to Sir Frederick in 1876 “It frightens people to be told that historical Christianity as a social system invariably makes men wicked when it has full swing. Then I think the sooner they are well frightened the better.” (J M Robertson, A History of Freethought in the Nineteenth Century vol , p412), a sentiment he clearly believed Pollock shared. Towards the end of his life Sir Frederick wrote a charming book of reminiscences of life in Victorian times, For My Grandson, Remembrances of an Ancient Victorian (John Murray. 1933) in which he writes of many of his contemporaries, including Huxley and his clash with Bishop Wilberforce, Herbert Spencer and John Tyndall.

Sir Frederick’s first cousin on his father’s side, Ernest Pollock KBE, PC, was another eminent lawyer: he served as Master of the Rolls from 1923 to 1935 and was made a Baron (Lord Hanworth) in 1926 and 1st Viscount Hanworth in 1936. He wrote a biography of grandfather, Sir Frederick Pollock: Lord Chief Baron Pollock – A Memoir (John Murray, 1929).