James Crofton: a tradition of public service
D 12.477-80: - This is Parnell’s anniversary, said O’Connor, and don’t let’s stir up any bad blood. We all respect him now that he’s dead and gone – even the Conservatives, he added, turning to Crofton.
U 12.1588-92: Sure enough the castle car drove up with Martin on it and Jack Power with him and a fellow named Crofter or Crofton, pensioner out of the collector-general’s, an orangeman Blackburn does have on the registration and he drawing his pay or Crawford gallivanting around the country at the king’s expense.
U 15.4350: ... Crofton out of the Collector-general's ...
James Thomas Ambrose Crofton (‘Crofton’) is presented unfavourably by Joyce as solidly-built, stolid, and taciturn. One imagines that his father did not speak too well of him in the stories which were passed down to James. He makes several cameo appearances in Ulysses, and also in Dubliners (particularly in ‘Ivy Day in the Committee Room’, but he is also mentioned in 'Grace'.). According to James’s brother Stanislaus:
Public service was in the Crofton family’s blood, over four generations. James Crofton’s father, Mervyn Paget Crofton, was Supervisor of the Pipe Water Department, and was frequently noted in the Freeman for attending fires in Dublin to ensure that the Fire Brigade had a constant supply of pipe-water. Mervyn's own father had also worked for the Pipe Water Department.
James Crofton was born in Dublin on 16 April 1838. His family was clearly quite well-to-do, and we first encounter him on 28 March 1867 awaiting his return passage (‘Saloon’, not ‘Steerage’) on 3 April on the barque the ‘Charlie Palmer’ from Brisbane, Australia bound for London (Brisbane Courier, 28 March, p. 2). Perhaps he had family in Australia too. Certainly his brother’s wife and family emigrated to Brisbane in the early twentieth century.
Once back in Ireland, he married Elizabeth Lamb at St Peter’s Church on 5 August 1868, and soon afterwards they started a family. At the time of his marriage he was living at 22 Bloomfield Avenue, in the Donnybrook/Rathmines area of South Dublin. Soon afterwards he was living two streets east of this in Stamer Street – where his extended family occupied houses at Nos 1, 2, 4 and 6 for much of the rest of the century. We might recall that Stamer Street was also the home of Major Powell, Patrick Meade, and the Gallahers. His son Ashley Paget Crofton was born on 10 May 1869 (Ashley later attended Trinity College and entered the church).
We should probably regard this reference as one of James Crofton’s first forays into conservative activism:
He doubtless hoped to use his family and conservative contacts to obtain a job, and in 1871 very nearly became Master of the Workhouse run by the South Dublin Union:
Sadly he was ultimately unsuccessful in this application, but – undaunted – soon afterwards put in for the post of Cattle Market superintendent for the Dublin Corporation:
Again he just missed out on the appointment, but must have felt that luck would be on his side soon. A year later we find him attending (along with his father and two of his brothers) Sir Arthur Guinness’s Banquet for members of the Dublin Constitutional Club, a vehemently Tory organization of which we later learn he was secretary (Freeman’s Journal, 20 February). At around this time his younger brother Richard Willson Ledger Crofton was also progressing within the hierarchy of the South Dublin Union, from rate-collector, to Master of the Workhouse, and finally to Clerk of the Union, before his early death in July 1879.
James Crofton’s contacts worked, however, and on 21 December 1874, nine years before John Stanislaus Joyce, he joined the Collector-General’s department as a collector. Things cannot have been easy for the new collector, approaching middle age. Just over two years later, on 2 March 1877, his wife Elizabeth (‘Bessie’) died at 6 Stamer Street, and the Collector-General’s Office was in turmoil and about to be descended upon by the Lord Lieutenant’s Commission of Inquiry.
The extensive report of this inquiry, published in June 1878, but reported in the papers as it happened several months earlier, contains an extensive interview with James Crofton. A taste of the examination on the running of the Office to which he was subjected is revealed in a short excerpt:
His tendency towards judicious taciturnity is not explicitly revealed in the Inquiry report, but the contemporaneous newspaper reporting of the Inquiry is more forthcoming:
Moylan’s replacement as Collector-General, John Byrne, also served as an occasion for the Freeman to inveigh against the conservatism (with a small c) of the Office:
Under the next two Collector-Generals James Crofton is found out and about serving the Office, collecting rates, attending registration meetings (Voters’ and Jurors’ Lists), and (as so many of his contemporaries seem to do) attending funerals of their friends and acquaintances. Joyce has him - perhaps later – involved in the ‘registration’ for Robert T. Blackburn(e), Secretary to the Grand Jury and then Dublin County Council. Here he is, with Henchy, Cotter, and John Stanislaus Joyce, representing the Collector-General at the Revision of the City Jurors’ Lists:
By the early 1890s James Crofton is taking a much more active role (as a Director) in the Dublin City and County Conservative Club Ltd. itself. He had been a member from the early days, when the Club was constituted as the successor of the Dublin Commercial Club:
He was elected Vice-Chairman of the Conservative Club in 1893 (the year John Stanislaus Joyce left the employ of the Collector-General), and moved around this time to No 14 Rostrevor Terrace, Orwell Road, Rathfarnham, Dublin, the address he gave when he remarried in London, to Mary Rattray, widow of the late William Rattray of Kensington, on 15 August 1894.
James was later to up sticks and move to England with his new wife, but at present they remained in Dublin and James become Chairman of the Conservative Club in February 1895, a post he held for four years. At about this time he seems also to have become a Justice of the Peace. His interests have led him some way from social fellowship with John Stanislaus Joyce, and this distance is perceived in James Joyce’s attitude towards Crofton.
By 1899 he was set to leave Dublin for good, and so was not living in the city on Bloomsday 1904, when he makes his appearances in Ulysses. He is a memory from the time of John Stanislaus Joyce’s time at the Collector-General’s:
At the time of the 1901 censuses in England and Ireland we find him living (apparently separately from his wife) in Bournemouth. For whatever family reasons he sells some land he had acquired earlier in Brisbane on 21 November 1903 (Brisbane Courier 23 November, p. 8), and four years later he made one last fateful visit to Dublin:
His gravestone in Mount Jerome Cemetery reads:
See the other collectors: William Weatherup: what the newspapers said
Robert Henchy: a choice of two collectors
Edward Graham Cotter: another collector of rates?
Frederick Buckley: rifleman
1 Report to His Grace the Duke of Marlborough, K.G., Lord Lieutenant-General and General Governor of Ireland, of Commissioners of Inquiry into the collection of rates in the city of Dublin, with minutes of evidence (1878), p. 43.