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:

Writing to Jim in Paris, I described the committee-room and the people who frequented it just as they appeared in ‘Ivy Day in the Committee Room’ [...] I unwittingly supplied all the material for the story.

My Brother’s Keeper (1958) 206

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:

Parliamentary Revision… The Lodger Claims – South City and Mansion-House Wards… Mr Crofton (Conservative inspector) deposed that the wall in which the door stood was whitewashed over on one side and papered on the other.

Freeman’s Journal (1868) 26 September

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:

South Union – Yesterday… Election of Master [of the workhouse]. There were twenty candidates for this important office, all of whom with one or two exceptions were present in the boardroom, and in answer to questions from the clerk informed the guardians of their qualifications. They then retired, and of the twenty names on the list of candidates four were first selected by vote, viz. – Messrs. C. H. Bourne, James T. A. Crofton, J. M. Cunningham and S. L. Shelly. Messrs. Bourne and Crofton were then chosen, and ultimately Mr. Bourne was declared elected, he having received thirty-six votes, being a majority of sixteen over those recorded for Mr. Crofton.

Freeman’s Journal (1871) 26 May

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:

The house proceeded to elect a Cattle Market superintendent, and collector of stage tolls, rates, and rents, at a salary of 100l. per annum. There were eighteen candidates. From this number in a first ballot there were selected – Messrs. F J Gallagher, J Crofton, and H Mackon… The final ballot was taken between the two for whom the majority of votes were recorded, and the result showed – for Mr. Gallagher, 27 votes; for Mr Crofton, 25. Mr Gallagher was declared elected.

Freeman’s Journal (1873) 4 February

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 organisation 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:

Minutes of Evidence […] Mr. James Crofton examined […]

546. Chairman. – I believe you are in the Collector-General’s office? – Yes.

547. In what year did you enter it? – I was appointed on the 21st December, 1874, and had my official recommendation in 1875.

548. Had you been connected with the office before that? – No; I had not.

549. Had you been discharging any duties analogous to those of a collector? – No; but I knew the working of the office.

550. In what way had you become acquainted with it? – From the formation of the Constitutional Club I had been connected with it, though not officially. I was for six months assistant secretary of the Constitutional Club.

551. How did that come to give you a knowledge of the working of the office? – Simply by coming into it with payment of rates, so as to secure the franchise of parties.1

His tendency towards judicious taciturnity is not explicitly revealed in the Inquiry report, but the contemporaneous newspaper reporting of the Inquiry is more forthcoming:

In answer to further questions, Mr. Crofton was understood to say that he thought till the 31st October should be the limit for payment of the rates […] Further, the infliction of a small penalty for persons not coming to declare that they were rateable might be useful […] The witness observed that he had perhaps better say no more on that point.

Freeman’s Journal (1878) 4 January

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:

The appointment is a timely reminder that after very little scraping of the Conservative you will find the Orangeman beneath.

Freeman’s Journal (1878) 29 June

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:

Amongst those present were – Ed. T. Kennedy, Esq., LL.D., (Collector-General); Charles Kernan, Esq., Clerk of the Peace; Messrs R. Henchy, M‘Intyre, Crofton, Buckley, Dowman, Wilkinson, Cotter, and Joyce.

Irish Times (1888) 8 November , p. 6

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:

The Chairman, in putting the motion, mentioned that Mr. Crofton had taken a very active part as a former member of the executive committee here, and he had been instrumental in bringing about a number of important reforms. (Hear, hear.) […] On the motion of Mr. Brunker, seconded by Mr. Twanley, the retiring directors were re-elected. They were Sir Henry Cochrane, DL; Mr. James Dobson, J.P.; Mr. James T.A. Crofton, and Mr. Thomas Steen.

Irish Times (1891) 9 February, p. 3

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:

Thursday, the 28th September. Residue Sale at 14 Rostrevor terrace, Orwell road, of a superior collection of Old Dublin-made furniture, Handsome Gilt China Cabinets, Lofty Overmantel Glasses, Excellent Brussels Carpets, Silk Tapestry Hangings, some Paintings, Plated Ware, and Miscellaneous Effects, per directions of J. T. A. Crofton, Esq., who is leaving Ireland.

Particulars in future Advertisements.

Irish Times (1899) 16 September

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:

Funeral of the Late J. T. A. Crofton, J.P.

Many will learn with regret of the death of Mr. J. T. A. Crofton, formerly of Rathgar, Dublin. After an absence from Ireland of eight years, he returned to this country a fortnight ago. A severe chill quickly brought on complications, which in the short space of one week resulted in his death. He was buried in the family grave on Saturday last at Mount Jerome Cemetery.

Irish Times (1907) 26 August, p. 9

His gravestone in Mount Jerome Cemetery reads:

No.5256. In | Loving Remembrance | BESSIE | wife of | J. T. AMBROSE CROFTON | died 2nd

March 1877 | […] JAMES THOMAS | AMBROSE CROFTON | who fell asleep in Jesus August 22 1907 |

"With Christ"

John Simpson


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.

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

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