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:

Mr. Robert Henchy and Mr. Thomas M‘Hugh, collectors of rates in the plaintiff’s office, were examined on behalf of the plaintiff, and proved the service of the usual notices of demand for rates for each year at the several houses in respect of which the rates were claimed.

Freeman’s Journal (1866) 14 May

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:

City Jurors’ Revision Court [...] The following staff of collectors connected with the Collection of Rates Department and who prepared the lists under the supervision of Mr. John Byrne – Messrs Robert Henchy, William Weatherup, Hugh M‘Intyre, James A Crofton, F A Buckley, H. Dowman, Henry Hughes, A G Cotter [sic], and Mr. H A Perry, chief clerk in the department, &c.

Freeman’s Journal (1883) 12 October

He seems not to have been a Freemason, or would have been classified as such in this listing:

Mr. Gray has given notice that on Tuesday, the 10th instant, he will ask the President of the Local Government board [...] whether the staff is thus constituted: - Dr. Kennedy, acting Collector-General, Freemason and Protestant; collectors – F. Buckley, Freemason and Protestant; H. Hughes, Protestant; W. Weatherup, Freemason and Protestant; E. G. Cotter, Protestant; J. F. Crofton [sic], Freemason and Protestant; H. Wilkinson, Protestant; R. Henchy, Protestant; H. Dowman, Protestant; H. M‘Intyre, Roman Catholic.

Freeman’s Journal (1885) 4 March

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:

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

In 1890 Robert Henchy senior retires from the Collector-General’s Office, and his son Robert John Henchy junior is appointed in his place:

Mr. Sexton asked the Chief Secretary with reference to the fact that since the introduction this session of a bill containing provisions for transferring the collection of certain local rates to the Corporation of Dublin Robert Henchy and William Perry, of the office of the Collector-General of Rates, Dublin, have been retired by the Lord Lieutenant upon pensions of £311 0s 1d and £40 respectively chargeable to the city of Dublin, and Robert J Henchy (son of the before-named Robert Henchy, Robert M Richardson, and William Welsh have been appointed by the Lord Lieutenant to the staff of the Collector-General’s office at salaries of £170, £130, and £110 respectively, mainly chargeable to the city of Dublin; can he state what were the salaries, ages, and terms of service respectively of Robert Henchy and William Perry; why two warrant officers were appointed in place of one retired; what were the occupations of Robert J Henchy, Robert M Richardson, and William Welsh, before their appointment to the Collector-General’s Office; whether they were recommended by the Collector-General and their appointments declared to be requisite; and whether he is aware that Mr. Richardson and Mr Welsh are fifty years of age, and will he explain why they have been appointed at such an age to offices bearing the right of pension chargeable on the funds of the city.

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:

Mr. T. Healy [asked] whether Mr. Welsh, who had just been appointed, was not the Tory agent on the revision of voters’ claims in the city of Dublin; and was it decent to put a pronounced partisan of that kind into an office connected with the franchise? (Irish cheers).

Freeman’s Journal (1890) 18 July

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).

Parliamentary Revision Courts. Dublin City [...] Mr Henchy, representing the Collector-General, stated that the rates in respect of 26 Pembroke street had not been paid and that through an inadvertence the name of Mr Bolger had been erroneously returned by the Collector-General to the Town Clerk.

Freeman’s Journal (1895) 14 September

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:

The death is announced of Mr. Robert Henchy, for over forty years senior officer in the Department of the Collector-General of Rates, Fleet street. Upon his retirement some time previous to the merging of the office of the Collector-General in that of the Comptroller of Rates under the Dublin Corporation Act of 1893, Mr. Henchy was the recipient of a handsome testimonial, in which the Collector-General and his fellow-officers joined in the expression of their respect and esteem for the manner in which he had performed his duties during his long connection with the Department. After his retirement he removed to London, where he resided until his death, which took place on the 8th April, at Richmond, after a short illness, at the age of 85.

Irish Times (1908) 11 April, p. 7

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.

John Simpson

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

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