Pollock, Joseph (1752–1824), barrister, reformer, and polemicist, was born in Newry, Co. Down, the first son of James Pollock; Joseph was a cousin of John Pollock (qv) (d. 1825) of Newry. Admitted to the King's Inns and Middle Temple (1773), he was called to the Irish bar (1778). As captain of the first Volunteer company of Newry, he played a prominent role in the movement in the late 1770s and early 1780s, urging the Volunteers to admit catholics to their ranks. In 1779 he became a member of the influential political and social club, the Monks of the Order of St Patrick (Monks of the Screw). He published anonymously the Letters of Owen Roe O'Nial (1779), one of the most radical and celebrated pamphlets of the period, which won him the reputation of the ‘Irish Rousseau’. The Letters argued in favour of the immediate legislative independence of the Irish parliament against ‘the tyranny of the British Parliament’, invoking the Irish constitutional tradition and the natural rights of Irishmen, and also called for the gradual emancipation of catholics. During the Dungannon Volunteer Convention (15 February 1782), organised to support the claims of the parliamentary patriots, at Henry Grattan's (qv) suggestion he drew up and moved the resolution rejoicing in the relaxation of the penal laws and co-wrote (with Francis Dobbs (qv)) the resolution declaring that by ‘learning the use of arms a citizen does not abandon any of his civil rights’.
After the constitutional settlement of 1782, he continued to agitate for parliamentary reform. On 7 June 1784 he took part in a political meeting in Dublin which called for more frequent elections and equal representation and for the franchise to be extended to catholics. He was one of a committee of nineteen (which included noted reformers such as James Napper Tandy (qv), William Bruce (qv), John Keogh (qv) and Pollock's brother-in-law, William Todd Jones (qv)), appointed to draw up a petition to the crown and an address to the nation embodying these resolutions. As the reform movement lost impetus in 1785, he appears to have lost interest in public affairs. For a few years he dedicated himself, apparently without much passion, to his profession, until his political enthusiasm was revived by the French revolution. In 1790 he attended the debates of the Trinity College Historical Society, and became a member of the select club founded by Theobald Wolfe Tone (qv) in the winter of 1790–91 to discuss and propagate whiggish political ideals; the club produced little of note and fizzled out in late 1791.
Pollock was present at the preliminary founding meeting of the Dublin Society of United Irishmen on 7 November 1791 at Pill Lane, and was later admitted as an honorary member. His inconstancy towards United Irish ideals led William Drennan (qv) to give him the nickname ‘Pendulum’; Drennan remembered him as ‘acute, argumentative, agile yet strong’, and considered him a sensible man but ‘easily made very sore’ (Drennan-McTier letters, i, 379, 79–81). Elected Co. Down delegate of the Dungannon Volunteer Convention (15–16 February 1793), Pollock was troubled by the republican leanings of some of his fellow delegates. Before the convention he consulted with whig leaders Henry Grattan and John Forbes (qv) in composing a moderate set of resolutions. He insisted that the convention should seek to obtain its aims of parliamentary reform and catholic emancipation solely through petitioning, and that it should unequivocally affirm its attachment to the connection with Britain. He also opposed a resolution denouncing the government's establishment of the militia, claiming that this was justified during wartime. His moderate views led to clashes with some of the convention's more democratic delegates, in particular the presbyterian minister and United Irishman William Steel Dickson (qv). Afterwards, in his pamphlet Letters to the town and lordship of Newry (1793), Pollock emphasised the distance between the moderation of his suggested proposals and the resolutions actually adopted by the convention. He continued to maintain a high opinion of the achievement of the ‘revolution’ of 1782 – at a time when many radicals dismissed it as a superficial constitutional change – and accused the United Irishmen of extremism in their demands for reform. Despite his declared approval of the United Irishmen's founding principles, which in Pollock's words advocated that Irishmen should ‘become one people enjoying one law’, he feared they harboured a ‘republican spirit’ that could endanger the constitution and open the door to revolution.
After 1793 he slowly withdrew from active politics, becoming Burkean in his outlook. Tone considered him responsible for his letter of July 1791, advocating the separation of Ireland from England, falling into government hands, but Pollock denied any responsibility. Appointed assistant barrister for Co. Down (1796–1820), with a salary of £400 a year, in July 1797 he was sent as legal advisor to General Gerard Lake (qv), then engaged in crushing disaffection in Ulster. After examining the arrests made by Lake, he recommended releasing several prisoners on bail, much to Lake's annoyance. In December 1797 Pollock sent the chief secretary Thomas Pelham (qv) a long memorandum (NAI 620/33/156) on using the military for policing actions. He admitted that there were occasions when the army might have to ‘go beyond the law in order to preserve it’ but that they should do so with restraint, and he criticised the ill-disciplined behaviour of the military around Newry. He took little part in public life for the remainder of his life and died 20 March 1824 at Armagh, aged 72 years.
He married Frances Jones of Lisburn; they had four children.