Story: Jolliffe, William

Page 1: Biography

Jolliffe, William

1851–1927

Newspaper editor, law draftsman, film censor, philatelist

This biography, written by James W. Brodie, was first published in the Dictionary of New Zealand Biography in 1996.

On 16 September 1851 William Jolliffe was born in Bloomsbury, Middlesex, England, the son of William Peter Jolliffe and his wife, Harriett Penny. His father was a barrister and William received legal training. He qualified, and practised in London, Newcastle upon Tyne and North Shields. His father died in 1887, leaving him no further entitlement than the sums of money already advanced to him. William left England about this time.

In 1896 he moved to New Zealand after many years in Australia, where he had most recently printed and published the Korumburra Free Press in Gippsland, Victoria. He settled in Ashburton where he was for a time editor of a newspaper and in 1900 a commission agent. In September 1899 Jolliffe was elected to the Ashburton Borough Council and took an active part in the affairs of the town.

For some time before 1898 William Jolliffe had been engaged on two compilations of aspects of New Zealand law for the Christchurch publishers Whitcombe and Tombs. Volumes on education law and local government law were published that year. He shifted to Wellington in 1900, and his demonstrated ability presumably influenced his appointment late in the year to the Crown Law Department as law draftsman, after a short time in the bills office of Parliament. On 6 November 1902 William Jolliffe and 20-year-old Nellie Young, daughter of an Ashburton blacksmith, were married at Lower Hutt.

Besides his involvement in preparing current legislation, Jolliffe worked on a draft version of the consolidated statutes of New Zealand, the first volume of which (Act–Con) was published in 1902. In 1903 three commissioners were appointed under the Reprint of Statutes Act 1895, and Jolliffe was appointed secretary to the commissioners. He had the task of collating each consolidating statute before it was considered by the commissioners. Although critical of his earlier compilation and his reluctance to revise it, on the publication of the five-volume consolidation in 1908 the commissioners praised Jolliffe's 'skill as a draftsman both in language and arrangement'.

With the consolidation completed, Jolliffe again took up the production of compilations of statutes on specific subjects. Farmers' law in New Zealand, Local government in boroughs, Local government in counties and Licensing law in New Zealand all appeared in 1909. The local government compilations were particularly well received, and appeared in a number of successive editions. Further compilations were published in 1910 and 1911. Just how much of this work was Jolliffe's private initiative is not clear. For a time he also kept premises as a solicitor in Lambton Quay, and his daughter recalled lying in bed listening to the voices of her father and mother as they checked proofs in the evenings.

In 1916 Jolliffe drafted the Cinematograph-film Censorship Act, and during the year came to see himself in the post of censor. Conveniently, the legislation was passed and the regulations gazetted almost at the time of his retirement as law draftsman. He was appointed to the position of Censor of Cinematograph Films on 16 September 1916, at the age of 65. In his first full year (1917–18) he reviewed 2,825 films totalling over 1,400 hours, refusing approval to 43 and requiring cuts to be made to 279. There was only one appeal against his decision, and it was dismissed. Fees for the examination of films more than covered the costs of his office. An assistant, James McDonald, was appointed in August 1918.

In 1917, after church groups objected to D. W. Griffiths' film Intolerance being passed without cuts, the minister of internal affairs suggested Jolliffe adopt a list of prohibited topics. He demurred, believing that it was impossible to formulate principles applicable to all cases, a view that became a tradition among New Zealand film censors. Nevertheless, he did have his own list of matters he generally cut from films. They included, 'The commission of crime in a manner likely to be imitated, especially by the young, or to give information as to methods to persons of a criminal tendency', indecency in dress, irreverent treatment of religious subjects, disloyalty to King and country, and 'matter likely to effect class hatred'.

In May 1921 the minister directed Jolliffe to see that any film (except Classical works) in which 'thieving, robbery, murder, or suicide is made the feature' was not approved for exhibition. A major increase in rejected films did not ensue, and the requirement was quietly dropped by 1925. While Jolliffe's rejections and cuts were not inconsiderable, there were few appeals, and most of his decisions were upheld. When faced with a particularly difficult decision it was his custom to telephone his wife, Nellie, who would view the film with him and help with her opinion.

One of Jolliffe's private interests was philately. He joined the Philatelic Society of New Zealand in 1911 and that year gave a paper, 'The evolution of penny postage in New Zealand', which was reprinted in British and Australian stamp journals. From 1911 to 1920 he served on the society's committee. In 1911 the society asked Jolliffe to compile a specialist monograph on the stamps of New Zealand. The result appeared in 1913 as The history of New Zealand stamps, for many years the authoritative handbook on the subject.

Jolliffe's other personal enthusiasm was gardening, in which he took great delight. He was a member of the Hutt Horticultural Society, twice its president, and a prize-winner for his ferns. On an unpromising area of grass-covered sand-dunes at Muritai, Eastbourne, he made a garden that was one of the show-places of the neighbourhood. He died in office on 26 April 1927 after a period of ill health, survived by his wife, two daughters and a son.

How to cite this page:

James W. Brodie. 'Jolliffe, William', Dictionary of New Zealand Biography, first published in 1996. Te Ara - the Encyclopedia of New Zealand, https://teara.govt.nz/en/biographies/3j7/jolliffe-william (accessed 23 May 2019)