Berkeley Lionel Scudamore Dallard, known to his friends as Bert, was born at Christchurch on 27 August 1889, the son of Sarah Maria Day and her husband, George Joseph Dallard, who had settled at Waikari, North Canterbury. His mother was the local postmistress, while his father, formerly a miller, worked as a railwayman and small-scale farmer. The eighth of ten children, Bert Dallard was baptised a Presbyterian, although his parents and siblings were all Anglican. He attended Waikari Public School then Rangiora High School, and represented North Canterbury in junior rugby in 1906.
Having passed his junior civil service examination, in 1907 he became a cadet in the Stamp Department in Wellington. He also attended Victoria University College part time and qualified as an accountant. In 1913 Dallard transferred to the Audit Department as an examiner. Three years later he was put in charge of the Imperial Government Supply Department and in 1920 he was appointed advisory accountant to the Board of Trade.
By this time Dallard had a young family. He had married Agnes Rowand Inglis, daughter of a Scottish Presbyterian minister, on 7 April 1915 at Auckland, and they had three daughters. Throughout their lives both Bert and Agnes Dallard remained active members of the Presbyterian and then the Anglican churches.
Dallard continued to move quickly through the ranks of the public service. In 1924 he was made inspector in the Office of the Public Service Commissioner. Two years later, at the behest of the commissioner, Paul Verschaffelt, he took up the post of controller general of prisons. He retained this title until 1933, when he took over the running of the whole Department of Justice as under-secretary. He was also acting assistant public service commissioner from 1929 until 1933, and a member of the Law Revision Committee from its inception in 1937 until 1949.
It is for his time in charge of prisons that Dallard is best remembered. The later 1920s was a period of economic uncertainty and this is probably why Dallard, an accountant, was chosen as controller general. Since 1912 prisons had been undergoing considerable reform and by the early 1920s there was a feeling abroad that liberalisation had gone too far. This may have been another reason why Dallard was appointed, because in his personal outlook he was deeply conservative. Throughout his life he supported the sterilisation of mental defectives, the flogging of sex offenders, and capital punishment for murderers. He loathed homosexuals and communists, and regarded pacifists with thinly veiled contempt.
Dallard was an authoritarian leader, who ran his department with a minimum of delegation. He involved himself in administration at all levels, demanding servility from his subordinates and giving dedicated service to his superiors. Faithful almost to a fault, he once reported a minister of the Crown, D. G. McMillan, to the prime minister, Peter Fraser, for what he saw as disloyalty. The errant minister had made a derogatory comment about a statue of Queen Victoria.
Indefatigable, Dallard frequently worked into the night and later regretted that because of his commitments he saw little of his wife, who died seven years after his retirement. The weight of responsibility he assumed was considerable, and although he operated in his ministers' names, most departmental activity was taken on his initiative. He had a major say in the policy and affairs of the Department of Justice, with ministers acquiescing in most of his plans. Indeed, Dallard claimed that before hanging was first abolished in 1941, it was he who made the final recommendation on whether or not a death sentence should be carried out. This decision was then passed to the cabinet for ratification by the governor general.
Because of the mood of conservatism, the depression and the Second World War, there was little in the way of penal development in the 23 years that Dallard was in charge of prisons. He believed in the deterrent value of imprisonment and was careful not to depart from this principle. Only one new institution, Arohata Borstal, was opened during his period of service and his work was principally concerned with rationalising economic performance. Accordingly, he revitalised prison industries and expanded the agricultural programme. Although his ideal of economic self-sufficiency was never achieved, by 1933 prisons were producing up to 40 per cent of the cost of their rations.
Correctional philosophy stagnated under Dallard, but it was not until the Second World War that his administration came under scrutiny from the New Zealand public. The leading critics were the pacifists who had spent time in detention. Many were articulate and politically astute men who, as the war came to an end, began systematically to campaign against Dallard and the conditions of the institutions he ran. The result was an intense and bitter public debate over the failings of the penal system, resulting in a broad conclusion that Dallard had outlived his time. Although he had been appointed a CMG in 1948, his retirement the next year was met with overall relief. In Parliament Dallard's era was criticised from several quarters, being described as a 'valley of dry bones' by the member for Timaru, Clyde Carr. Two decades of vigorous reform followed.
Throughout his adult life Dallard was deeply involved in charitable and voluntary work. Apart from the church, he served as the first master of the Khandallah Scout Group from 1911 to 1913, and later, in 1938, as president of the Wellington Savage Club. He sat on the board of governors of Queen Margaret College between 1931 and 1938 and was board chairman for the final two years. He was a Rotarian and chairman of the Rotary Club of Wellington in 1947. Following his retirement, Dallard remained active in public life. He sat on the Wellington City Council between 1949 and 1963, and was a member of numerous committees. He was chairman of the council's Works Committee, the Wellington Hospital Board, and the Metropolitan Licensing Authority. In addition, at various times he sat on the board of directors of the Wellington YMCA and was a member of the local Honorary Justices of the Peace Association and the Wellington regional Braille committee. The Berkeley Dallard apartments in Nairn Street, Wellington, are named after him.
In 1976 Dallard made a nine-hour tape recording on his life and opinions, and in 1980 he wrote Fettered freedom, a monograph that dealt with his contribution to, and thoughts about, New Zealand penal policy. He died in Wellington on 5 September 1983, at the age of 94.