Collecting the rates: Buckley, Cotter, Crofton, Henchy, and Weatherup
James Joyce’s father, John Stanislaus Joyce, joined the Office of the Dublin Collector-General of Rates in 1882 and remained with the Office until 1893. He left under a cloud, having got into trouble for borrowing rate money that he had collected and putting it to personal use. The story is told in masterful fashion by John Wyse Jackson and Peter Costello in chapters 10 to 15 of John Stanislaus Joyce; the Voluminous Life and Genius of James Joyce’s Father (1997). There is a suggestion that the I-narrator in ‘Cyclops’ may have been a rate-collector, as he recalls Boylan’s father's pretended deafness when he visits him about the water rate. At the same time (“How are the mighty fallen!” 12.24) he seems to have had John Stanislaus Joyce’s bad luck, and lost his job.
Over the years Joyce scholars have identified five names which occur from time to time in James Joyce’s writings as members of the Collector-General’s Office in John Stanislaus Joyce’s time. They were Frederick Buckley, Edward Cotter, James Crofton, Robert Henchy, and William Weatherup (spelt Wetherup by Joyce). But although Joyce uses the names of these collectors, little has been known of their lives and how they fit into Joyce’s narratives. The following articles attempt to go some way towards rectifying this.
The role of the office of the Collector-General
The collection of rates was an essential feature of the work of local government in Dublin, as it was elsewhere. Without the collection of rates, many of the basic functions of the administration could not be funded. There were several types of rates raised in Dublin, which until 1851 were collected by a number of different authorities. These included: the Police Rate, the Poor Rate, the Pipe Water Rate, the Borough Rate, the Improvement Rate, the District Sewer Rate, the Grand Jury Cess [= Assessment], the Bridge Tax, the Burial Rate, and the Vestry Cess Abolition Rate. The Pipe Water Rate was divided into the Domestic Water Rate, the Public Water Rate, the Meter Water Rate, the Contract Water Rate, and the Extra Municipal Water Rate.
Legislation was enacted in 1849 to ensure that all of these rates (except for the Bridge Tax and the Water Rates) would be collected as the Consolidated Rate by a new Collector-General’s Office, which was established in 1851 under the Collector-General, Mr Michael Staunton. He appointed a group of collectors (eleven, rising to twelve – referred to within the office as the ‘Twelve Apostles’) whose job it was to walk the streets of their allocated wards collecting rate money and issuing receipts, or arranging for ratepayers to visit the Rates Office to make their payments.
The Collector-General’s Office had other duties. As the rate-collectors worked from and updated a list of ratepayers as they went around from house to house, their consolidated lists were used to determine the list of voters within the various wards, and also those who were qualified by residency to sit on juries. It was vital, of course, that these lists were kept up to date.
Things seemed to work well under the first Collector-General, but problems arose under his successor, Denis Moylan – apparently a delightful man who was elderly when appointed and not up to the job. By all accounts he left too much of the management to his Chief Clerk and allowed the operation to run on without proper oversight.
The situation became so problematic that in 1878 a Government Commission was charged with reviewing the conduct of the Rates Office, with disastrous conclusions for the Collector-General. James Joyce’s father was not yet employed by the Office, but we read lengthy examinations of Crofton, Weatherup, and Henchy in the detailed report produced by the Commission.1 The Collector-General Denis Moylan was asked to tender his resignation on the grounds of maladministration, and a replacement was appointed. Moylan sadly died within weeks of the publication of the report. Cotter, and subsequently John Stanislaus Joyce, joined the Office soon afterwards.
Joyce’s father was probably too junior and too Catholic to be included in this enumeration.
We can look now in more detail at the collectors themselves. A word of warning: beware of simply equating Joyce’s characters with their real-life counterparts. The characters sometimes borrow features from their counterparts, but these are occasional strands of human life woven into the fabric of Joyce’s narratives.
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).