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Story: Pollard, George Arthur

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Pollard, George Arthur


Salvation Army officer, administrator

This biography, written by C. R. Bradwell, was first published in the Dictionary of New Zealand Biography in 1993.

George Arthur Pollard was born on 18 January 1863 at Heckmondwike, Yorkshire, England. His parents, Catherine Ledward and her husband, James Pollard, a schoolmaster, were 'comfortably situated' Congregationalists. In 1869 the family shifted to London where George attended school and eventually obtained clerical employment. In 1879, influenced by a young Salvation Army recruit, he attended evangelistic meetings and underwent a conversion experience. Inspired by Bramwell Booth, the Army's chief of staff, whom he met at Whitechapel, he volunteered early in 1881 to pioneer the Salvation Army's work in Peckham. In September of that year he gave up his office job and was commissioned as a lieutenant. He was sent to Portadown in Ireland, where he overcame considerable opposition from larrikins. His zeal and powers of leadership came to the attention of General William Booth, founder of the Salvation Army, during Pollard's subsequent postings to New Basford and Marylebone back in England.

In November 1882, with his Army already operating throughout Britain and in six overseas countries, William Booth decided to respond to urgent pleas from individuals in New Zealand who wanted the Army to help reform their society and work among the poor. He selected George Pollard (now promoted to captain) and Lieutenant Edward Wright for this task. The two youths sailed on 11 January 1883. A couple named Burfoot and a young labourer, Lieutenant Johnny Bowerman, were recruited in Melbourne, Australia, and the pioneer party of five Salvationists reached Port Chalmers on the Manapouri on 27 March 1883.

George Pollard's ambitious plan of campaign was to dispatch Wright and Bowerman to Auckland, himself commence work in Dunedin with the Burfoots, and later meet up with Wright in Wellington. The Salvationists, with their exuberant unconventionality and the opportunity they offered for women to participate at all levels, soon infused an element of colour and adventure into the religious life of depression-ridden New Zealand. Opposition was aroused from conservative sectors of society as well as from ruffians, some of whom were violent, but a good deal of support was forthcoming from other evangelically minded Christians.

Pollard followed the traditional Salvationist principle of putting his converts to work, and he capitalised on his charismatic platform personality, versatile musical ability, and great drive and organisational skills. Before the end of the first year he had established 11 thriving corps between Invercargill and Auckland. Some reinforcement officers were sent out from England and among them was a young woman, Captain Pearcey, a convert during Pollard's work at Peckham. On 24 October 1883 Pollard married Alice Pearcey in the home of the Reverend J. G. Paterson of St Paul's Presbyterian Church, Invercargill. They were to have four sons, the first of whom died in infancy.

In 1884 George Pollard transferred the Salvation Army headquarters from Dunedin to Christchurch. The year saw a remarkable list of strategic thrusts into provincial towns and country areas, with a further 19 corps being established. Pollard also laid the foundations of the Army's widespread social work with the establishment of three rescue homes for prostitutes and unmarried mothers, and two prison-gate brigades for work among discharged prisoners.

Much to the distress of his New Zealand comrades, Pollard was sent to Sydney, Australia, in September 1885; he was promoted to colonel and given command of all Army operations in New South Wales. Although only 21 or 22, in less than 2½ years in New Zealand he had directed the opening of 33 corps, established the social work on a sound basis, recruited more than 60 full-time men and women officers, enrolled an estimated 3,000 soldiers, and demonstrated outstanding evangelical and administrative leadership. By 1886 there were more than 5,000 Army adherents in New Zealand.

Transferred back to London in 1891, Pollard had a very influential career in the Army; he had close contacts with both William and Bramwell Booth. Sometime between 1894 and 1896 he was promoted to commissioner and he became the Army's first chancellor of the exchequer in 1896. He accompanied General William Booth on tours to Australasia in 1895 and 1899 and to the USA in 1902, and was given the responsibility of organising the great 1904 International Congress in London. This resulted in a complete breakdown in Pollard's health; he resigned his commission in 1905.

Eventually Pollard accepted an executive position with the catering firm of J. Lyons and Company. He became a director in 1919 and remained on the board until he died in Beckenham, Kent, on 20 March 1939. It is not known when or where Alice Pollard died. Pollard's Salvation Army involvement after his resignation was minimal. However, during the constitutional crisis of 1928 and 1929, which led to the deposition of Bramwell Booth as general, Pollard publicly leapt to the defence of his old chief. He was ever a man of impetuous and prompt decision backed by great force of character. He would never have accomplished so much in the 1880s in New Zealand had he been otherwise.

How to cite this page:

C. R. Bradwell. 'Pollard, George Arthur', Dictionary of New Zealand Biography, first published in 1993. Te Ara - the Encyclopedia of New Zealand, https://teara.govt.nz/en/biographies/2p22/pollard-george-arthur (accessed 7 July 2022)