Polack, Joel Samuel (DNB00)

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POLACK, JOEL SAMUEL (1807–1882), trader, and author of works on New Zealand, was born in London of Jewish parents on 28 March 1807. In early life he appears to have travelled both in Europe and America, to have done some work as an artist, and to have served under the war office in Africa in the commissariat and ordnance departments. In 1831 he emigrated to New Zealand, and, after living for a year at Hokianga, moved to the Bay of Islands, a settlement still in its infancy. There he opened a ship-chandler's store in connection with a broker's business at Sydney. He paid long visits to Sydney, for four or five months at a time, and travelled much about New Zealand. He learned the Maori language, gained the confidence of the natives, and purchased about eleven hundred acres of land. In May 1837 he returned to London. Next year he was a prominent witness before the select committee of the House of Lords on New Zealand. But his veracity being impugned by a writer in the ‘Times,’ Polack brought an action against the ‘Times,’ and on 2 July 1839 secured a verdict, with 100l. damages.

In 1838 Polack published ‘New Zealand: a Narrative of Travels and Adventures.’ It gained the notice of Robert Montgomery Martin [q. v.], editor of the ‘Colonial Magazine,’ who in 1838 proposed him as a member of the newly formed Colonial Society of London. A second and more ambitious work by Polack, ‘Manners and Customs of the New Zealanders,’ was published in London in 1840 (2 vols.). This book furnishes one of the earliest accounts of the natives of New Zealand, and displays considerable erudition and capacity for observation; the illustrations were drawn by the author.

Polack lived for a time with a sister in Piccadilly, but eventually went to the United States, and settled in San Francisco, where he married the widow of William Hart, who had also been a settler in New Zealand. He died in San Francisco on 17 April 1882.

[Polack's evidence before select committee of House of Lords on New Zealand, 1838; prefaces of Polack's works; Times, 2 July 1839, report of Polack v. Lawson; information obtained through the agent-general for New Zealand.]

C. A. H.