Father Pollock And His Brother:
Mission Priests Of St. Alban's Birmingham
With A Letter From The
Right Reverend Charles Gore, D.D.
Lord Bishop Of Birmingham
Transcribed by Robert Stevens
"Heaven within the reed
Lists for the flute note; in the folded seed
It sees the bud."
AMONG the countless names of holy and devoted Priests whose noble lives make glorious the annals of our English Church, none are more worthy of honour than those of Father Pollock and his Brother, the Mission Priests of S. Alban-the-Martyr, Birmingham.
The names of Father Pollock and Father Tom were household words in Birmingham during their ministry there, but little other fame has been accorded to them. They were just two plain Mission Priests, humble, unobtrusive, self-sacrificing, saintly, spending and being spent to the utmost of body, soul, and spirit in the service of their LORD. Both brothers were richly gifted, physically and mentally, as well as spiritually. Those who knew them sometimes thought it strange that two men, apparently so fitted for a far different sphere, should have spent their lives in toiling amongst the sordid slums of a great smoky town.
There was, indeed, something unique and striking in the career and personality of each.
Father Pollock, with his noble, earnest, spiritual face, beautiful in featurehis eyes were remarkably sobut still more beautiful in expression; his tall, commanding presence, his irresistible charm of manner, the perfection of simplicity and courtesy, made up a figure which, once seen, was not easily forgotten. In later years his tall figure became bent with the burden of frail health and many cares and sorrows, and the sweeping chestnut beard was frosted white.
Father Tom, tall, erect, and soldier-like in bearing, was quite as handsome and attractive in a different way: with his keen, bright eyes, and authoritative, but always kindly voice, he had more of the soldier than of the mystic about him; though the bearing and actions of both brothers bore witness to their soldierly descent. Both had always much sympathy with soldiers; and Father Pollock inscribed one of his excellent little manuals of devotion "to soldiers, by a soldier's son."
The grand old motto noblesse oblige found visible embodiment in their lives, belonging as they did to a race rich in noble records. There is another untranslatable French word, prud'hommemeaning the perfection of Christian chivalry and uprightnesswhich exactly describes the character of Father Pollock and of his Brother.
The early home of these future heroes of the Cross was in the then unspoiled and very lovely Isle of Man. Both were born at Strathallan House, close to Derby Castle. "Vaughton's Hole," as their unlovely mission district in Birmingham used to be called, must have been in sharp contrast to the scenery with which they were familiar.
Father Pollock and his Brother were the sons of Major Pollock of the 43rd Light Infantry, a hero of the Peninsular War. It is not exactly true, as has been often stated, that Major Pollock "led the forlorn hope at Badajoz." The true statement of the incident has been supplied by Lieutenant-Colonel A. W. Alsager Pollock, nephew of the brothers Pollock, who writes as follows:
"The following extract from The Historical Records of the 43rd Light Infantry, describing the assault on Badajoz, gives the actual facts:
The soldiers swung themselves down cheering lustily. At the bottom of the ladders, Lieutenant Pollock, 43rd, who was in command of Lord Fitzroy Somerset's company, with Cooke, Considine, and Madden, met Captain Duffy of the regiment, who exclaimed, "Pollock! they (meaning the storming party and the forlorn hope) are all wrong; they have gone to the 4th Division breach" pointing at the same time to the small one. Thus undesignedly this company were the first up to the sword blades.'
"Lieutenant Pollock was almost immediately struck down, severely wounded,' and in the course of the fight his three subalterns were also wounded. Lieutenant Pollock did not lead the forlorn hope,' but was accidentally called upon to lead his company in the attack upon the breach which the forlorn hope ought properly to have assaulted.
"Captain Lord Fitzroy Somerset, the future Field-Marshal Lord Raglan, was serving on the staff of the commander-in-chief, and in his absence Lieutenant Pollock, the senior subaltern of the regiment, commanded the company.
"In the assault on Badajoz, the 43rd Light Infantry lost 20 officers and 335 sergeants and rank and file killed and wounded. Of Lieutenant Pollock's company, only 17 men were unhurt."
Major Pollock is frequently mentioned in the annals of that time, particularly in the history of the 43rd, by Sir Richard Levinge. The stories show him to have been a brave soldier, of cool head and warm heart, and able to inspire his men with his own invincible courage. We read of his carrying two soldiers, either really or professedly, unable to march, up a hill on his back (during the retreat to Corunna); and again, of his entering the "ditch" before Badajoz with 98 men, and coming out of it with 41.
In the History of the Oxfordshire Light Infantry, by Captain J. Hanbury Williams, we read:
The loss of the 43rd exceeded that of any other regiment. The day following the fall of Badajoz, as Lieutenant Pollock, of the 43rd, lay wounded in his tent, a private of his company brought him an offering of three fine fowls, remarking that they would make fine broth. This man had been a rather disorderly character, and Pollock had on many occasions administered punishments. He was, therefore, surprised by the act, and said, Howard, you are the last man in the company from whom I should expect such attention.'
"'Sir,' replied Howard, I have gratitude. You might have had me flogged twenty times; but, sir, you always punished me yourself, and I have gratitude.'"
There was not a very great difference in the ages of the Priest-Brothers, the elder, James Samuel Pollock, being born on March 16, 1834, and the younger, Thomas Benson Pollock, on May 28, 1836. When James Samuel, fresh from his contemplation of a monkey on a barrel-organ, first saw the little brother who was to be so much to him, "Very like mukkey!" was his unflattering remark.
From the scanty records that remain, the brothers seem not to have been without the spirit of mischief which, some time or another, possesses most boys. Father Tom, who never lost an opportunity of exalting Father Pollock at his own expense, used, as an instance of the latter's superior truthfulness when they were boys together, to relate that two cats were once tied together by their tails. Upon the discovery of this piece of mischief by the father of the supposed delinquents, the following conversation ensued:
"Tom, did you tie those cats' tails together?"
"James, did you?"
"No; but I held them while Tom did."
He also tells the following touching little story against himself:
"One evening, when I was just old enough to be trusted with a gun, I was on my way home after a day's shooting. There was a charge in the barrel, which I wished to get rid of before going into the house. A little hedge-sparrow perched on a bush before me, and without a thought I shot it. I went to pick it up. It lay on the grass on its side wounded, and as I came up, it turned its head towards me. As long as I live I shall never forget the look in that little bird's eye. It seemed to say, as plainly as looks could, You have killed me. What harm did I ever do you? And what good am I to you now?' I was as thoughtless as most boys of my age, but I felt myself utterly shamed. I would have given all the money I had to bring back the life that was the bird's all. I often now, after twenty-five years or more, seem to see that little bird's eye turned on me with gentle, pitiful reproach."
In later years both brothers were very fond of dumb animals; those who knew them will remember their handsome Skye terriers, especially "Guy," and the little chairs which used to be placed for them on the hearthrug in the parsonage dining-room of a winter's night.
Father Tom was himself a great lover of birds. The sparrows at the parsonage were always protected, and he would often himself separate the feathered combatants in a sparrow-fight. Looking one day at a picture of S. Francis preaching to the birds, "Ah," remarked Father Tom, "they could teach him a great deal more than he could teach them."
Speaking of birds, a poetical aspirant among his flock once owed much gratitude to Father Tom. Had it not been for the kindly correction of his pen-stroke, the "stricken warbler" of a certain poem on a dead lark would, to the lasting confusion of the budding poet, have been depicted as lying among the clover blooms with "a bullet through its breast!"
Father Tom was very fond of canaries, of which he had many, and upon one of the last occasions on which he spoke to the writer of these pages he mentioned the beauty of some nestlings he had, and said twice, "Be sure you come and look at them."
It may be added, as a touching and beautiful incident, that upon each occasion, when, "in the bleak mid-winter," the remains of these two Saints of GOD were committed to the earth, a robin red-breast carolled sweetly while the Burial Service was being read.
A characteristic anecdote of their early days, which reads like a foreshadowing of the future before them, relates that the brothers, having discovered a desecrated font which was being used as a horse-trough, removed it bodily to the churchyard.
Both the brothers were graduates of Trinity College, Dublin, Father Pollock taking his B.A. degree in 1858, and his MA. in 1861.
Father Tom gained the Vice-Chancellor's prize for English verse in 1855; he took his B.A. degree in 1859, and his MA. in 1863.
Of their days at Trinity College, Dublin, Father Pollock used to describe how his brother, who had not then thought of taking Holy Orders, was carried by main force to the Divinity lecture room by his fellow-students and compelled to listen to the lecture. This may be considered the inauguration of his work as a Priest. He really intended to be a doctor; he studied medicine, and had walked the London Hospitals, and was described by his poor people, in the early days of the mission, as "young Tom Pollock, 'im as is 'alf a doctor."
Father Pollock was ordained Deacon in 1858 by the Bishop of Chester. His first curacy was at Bowdon, in Cheshire; and he was afterwards curate of S. John the Evangelist's, Hammersmith.
Father Tom took Deacon's Orders in 1861, and was ordained Priest by the Bishop of Lichfield on the Feast of S. Thomas, 1862. His first curacy was at S. Luke's, Leek; and he was curate of S. Thomas', Stamford Hill, London, from 1863 to 1865.