Robert Henchy: a choice of two collectors
D 12.395-404: ‘Hello, Crofton!’ said Mr Henchy to the fat man. ‘Talk of the devil....’ [...] ‘Why, blast your soul,’ said Henchy, ‘I’d get more votes in five minutes than you two’d get in a week.’
‘Mr Henchy’ appears as a central figure in ‘Ivy Day in the Committee Room’ and, though he is not described here as a rate-collector, the situation has (no doubt correctly) led Joyce scholars to identify him loosely with the Robert Henchy who was a colleague of John Stanislaus Joyce in the Office of the Collector-General of Rates for Dublin.
James Joyce presents Henchy as a jovial, self-possessed character – not as old as some of his fellow characters in the story. And this suggests a possible problem. The real-life Robert Henchy was the oldest of the rate-collectors of whom Joyce writes in ‘Ivy Day’, as he was born around 1823. Either Joyce has decided to reduce his age for literary purposes, or there is another explanation.
Fortunately another explanation offers itself. Robert’s son Robert John Henchy was also a rate-collector in the Collector-General’s Office, and John Stanislaus Joyce overlapped with both of them in his work there. To make matters more complicated, old Robert Henchy had an older son, John Robert Henchy, who was also employed by the Collector-General’s. Indeed, one frequent complaint against the Office by its detractors was that the Collector-General seemed to like to appoint relatives of staff already on his books.
We need to investigate the chronology of events to gain a closer understanding of the dynamics of the Office in relation to the Henchys.
As mentioned above, Robert Henchy senior was born around 1823, the son of John Henchy, a writing-clerk. He married Elizabeth Malone (both of Fountain’s Place, off Brunswick Street, Arran Quay ward, in North Dublin) on 2 November 1852, when he also described himself as a writing-clerk.
In the following year (1853) Robert Henchy joined the Collector-General’s department, soon after its formation in 1851. His son John Robert Henchy was born in about 1856, and three years later his son Robert John Henchy was born. We need to remember that John Stanislaus Joyce did not join the ranks of the Collector’s rate-collectors until 1883.
Robert Henchy senior was involved in all of the regular activities of a collector of rates. In 1866 he is found in the Court of Common Pleas confirming that the defendant owed the rates demanded of him:
Because of his seniority, Robert Henchy senior was normally the collector to offer thanks on behalf of the collectors for the ‘kindness and attention’ shown by the Revising Barristers at the Revision of the Jurors’ Lists which they attended as part of their job (e.g. Irish Times (1875) 9 November, p. 3)
He was examined in detail during the bracing Commission of Inquiry into the running of the Collector-General’s department in 1878, and in the following year he saw his son John Robert Henchy appointed as a Junior Clerk in the Collector’s Office (Freeman’s Journal, 4 April). On 31 January 1882 he was present at the marriage of John Robert Henchy to Mary Elizabeth Holt in Dublin.
It was at this point that John Stanislaus Joyce joined the staff of the Collector-General.
Soon after the birth of John Robert’s son Cecil in 1884 the family emigrated to America, leaving Robert Henchy senior as the only Henchy then working for the Collector-General.
As the senior collector, Robert Henchy senior leads the list of rate-collectors listed regularly in the Dublin newspapers:
He seems not to have been a Freemason, or would have been classified as such in this listing:
Robert Henchy senior’s employment with the Collector-General overlaps with that of John Stanislaus Joyce, as we can see from this report in the Irish Times:
In 1890 Robert Henchy senior retires from the Collector-General’s Office, and his son Robert John Henchy junior is appointed in his place:
These distrustful questions were quite normal when there were new appointments in the Collector-General’s Office. The Chief Secretary proceeded to answer each of the questions in detail, stating that everything was entirely above board and giving the formulas by which the pensions were worked out. The usual supplementary question was put:
It was three years later that John Stanislaus Joyce lost his job in the Office, and so his employment there overlapped with Robert John Henchy (junior) over this period. Future references to a ‘Mr Henchy’ within the Office relate to Robert John Henchy (junior).
To complicate matters further, Robert John Henry’s son Robert John Henchy was born in 1896.
It is possible that Robert John Henchy junior lost his job at the same time as John Stanislaus Joyce. Certainly he described himself as a ‘Superannuated Official’ at the time of the 1901 Ireland census, when he was living with his family and some of his wife’s family at 238 Brighton Square, Rathmines, in South Dublin.
Robert Henchy senior (entered as ‘Robert J. Henchy’) was then, at the time of the 1901 census, living in England, in Richmond, Surrey, with a widowed daughter and two American-born grand-daughters. Like James Crofton, he had left Ireland for the south of England.
At the time at which the final version of ‘Ivy Day in the Committee Room’ was written (1905), Robert Henchy senior was alive and living in England, and his son Robert John Henchy junior was living in Dublin. Robert Henchy senior died, in Richmond, on 8 April 1908, at the age of 85:
On the basis of the apparent age of ‘Mr Henchy’ in ‘Ivy Day’ it would seem more likely that James Joyce was remembering more strongly the junior Robert Henchy, but it would be dangerous to state this as a fact.
See the other collectors: James Crofton: a tradition of public service
William Weatherup: what the newspapers said
Edward Graham Cotter: another collector of rates?
Frederick Buckley: rifleman