Polack, Joel Samuel

views updated


POLACK, JOEL SAMUEL (1807–1882), adventurer and author. Born in London, he was the son of the artist Solomon Polack (1757–1839). Before his arrival at Hokianga, New Zealand, in 1831, he had been an artist, Californian gold miner, South African ordinance officer, and Australian ship's chandler. His dominant personality enabled him to survive among the rough whalers and semi-cannibalistic Maoris of Hokianga and Kororareka, where he opened a store in 1833. He learned to speak Maori fluently, and won the confidence of the Maoris. In 1838 his Kororareka store containing military and naval explosives blew up and he returned temporarily to London. There he urged the colonization of New Zealand in evidence before a select committee of the House of Lords. The Times attacked Polack's New Zealand dealings, describing him as "a worthy and wandering offshoot of the seed of Abraham." Suing The Times for libel, he was awarded £100 damages. In 1838 Polack wrote New Zealand, being a narrative of travels and adventures in that country between 1831 and 1937, and Manners and Customs of New Zealanders in 1840. Both books, especially the second which is profusely illustrated by Polack himself, are valuable documentaries of New Zealand's precolonization history. Polack returned to New Zealand after the proclamation of British sovereignty in 1840, but soon left for the Californian goldfields. He died in San Francisco.


Journal and Proceedings of the Australian Jewish Historical Society, 3 (1949–53), 142–51; Rubens, in: jhset, 14 (1940), 108–12. add. bibliography: odnb online; J. Chisholm, "Joel Samuel Polack," in: Dictionary of New Zealand Biography.

[Maurice S. Pitt]