1870 - Robert was born on April 18th 1870 and named Robert Croker although throughout his life he used his mothers maiden name – Noonan.
His father is named as Samuel Croker from Waterford, (aged 80 at the time of Roberts birth) Samuel Croker was a former Officer in the constabulary and later resident magistrate at Ennis, Co Clare. He had been retired since 1843.Robert’s mother is Mary Noonan, possibly from Athlone, age unknown.
Robert was one of 5 (possibly 7) children said to have been born to Samuel Croker and Mary Noonan. (Samuel had also previously fathered 6 children with his wife, ‘Jane Ussher Quinn’ between 1828 and 1844)
Robert’s birth certificate documents his mother as “Mary Croker formerly Noonan” despite the fact that she was unmarried.The birth certificate registers the address of both parents as 37 Wexford Street, Dublin.
On the 26th April 1870 Robert was baptised at St. Kevin's church, Dublin. The parents were named as Samuel Croker and Mary Noon (sic). The priest was Jacobus Baxter who noted “Pater a Catholicus” meaning Samuel was not a Catholic. Mary again gave her address as 37 Wexford Street.
1872 - In January 1872 Mary Noonan's address is documented as 25 Georges Place, off Dorset Street, Dublin
1873 - 11th August 1873 Mary’s address is recorded as 38 Bessborough Avenue, North Strand, Dublin. This is recorded on a legal document which shows that Samuel Croker granted Mary Noonan a property, 145 Great Britain Street, Dublin (The same document gives Samuels address at that time as 1 Winslow Terrace, Rathgar, Dublin.) Samuel also granted Mary an annuity of £100. (within a week of being granted the property in Great Britain Street, Mary had sold 38 Bessborough Avenue).
1874 - Another document, dated 2nd June 1874 records Samuel as “at present living in London” although no specific address is given.
1875 - 6th January 1875 Samuel Croker died. His address at the time was 91 East India (Dock) Road, London. The cause of death was given as ‘dibility, old age.’ His age was given as 86.
The informant (who was present at time of death) was M.J.Noonan granddaughter (sic) who lived at the same address (This was almost certainly Mary Jane, the 1st child he had with Mary ).
1st March 1875 (2 months after Samuel's death) Mary sold the house in Great Britain Street. She was not in Dublin to conclude the sale. In fact her address is given as 91 East India Dock Road, London (Had she moved to London with Samuel in 1874 ?)
If Mary and Mary Jane were living with Samuel in London, then it seems probable that the other children, including Robert, were with them. On 29th March 1875, in the Registration District of Poplar, London, Robert's mother, Mary Noonan married Sebastian Zumbuhl. They were living then at 37 Fitzroy Street, London.Mary was to have a further two children with Sebastian Zumbuhl, Sebastian Joseph, born 1876 and Leo, 1878.
1881 - In the census of 1881 Robert along with his mother, stepfather and his two younger half brothers is recorded living at 27 Elmore Street, Finsbury, London.
1883 - We know that the family were still living at 27 Elmore Street early in 1883.
1884 - By 1884, the family had moved to Liverpool and are recorded living at 17 Caird Street, Everton.
1885 - Records show that the family are still living at 17 Caird Street in 1885.
1890 - In May 1890 Robert was charged with the theft of a quantity of silver from the house of a shipping agent in Courtney Road, Great Crosby. The house where his sister Ellie was employed.
On 10th June 1890 he was sentenced to 6 months in Walton Gaol. Newspaper reports of the trial describe him as a ‘signwriter’ of Queens Road, Everton.
1891 - Either late in 1890 or early in 1891 Robert emigrated to South Africa.
On 15th October 1891 Robert got married at Holy Trinity Church in Cape Town, to Elizabeth Hartel. Robert’s address at the time was 78 Strand Street, Cape Town. His profession is recorded as painter-decorator.
The 1891 census records show that his Mother and Stepfather were living at 18 Chapel Place, Everton. Two of Robert’s sisters, Ellie and Adelaide, are recorded as ‘in service’ at Harlech Road, Great Crosby.
1892 - On 17th September 1892 Robert and Elizabeth had a Daughter, Kathleen. At this time the couple lived at Rosebank, in the suburb of Mowbray, Cape Town.
1894 - At some time in 1894 Robert moved to Johannesburg. He had apparently separated from his wife after discovering that she was having affairs.
1896 -In August 1896 Robert’s wife gave birth to a child after becoming pregnant to another man. In November 1896 Robert began divorce proceedings.
1897 - In February 1897 Robert divorced Elizabeth on the grounds of adultery. Elizabeth did not defend the case and did not attend the hearing. Robert was granted sole custody of their 4 year old Daughter, Kathleen.
Despite being a single parent in a foreign country, Robert appears to have prospered and was working as a foreman at the firm of Herbert Evans and Co.
Robert was living at Pritchard Street, Johannesburg. Kathleen was a boarder at a convent school. In 1897 Robert was Secretary of the Transvaal Federated Building Trades Council.
1898 - In 1898 Robert became a member of the Executive Committee of the ‘Transvaal 1798 Commemoration Committee’. (His membership card has survived and is in the Trade Union Congress Library Collection at London Metropolitan University).
1899 - In May 1899 Robert represented the Trades Council at a public meeting which set up an ‘International Independent Labour Party’ and he was elected onto its committee.
In the autumn of 1899 Herbert Evans and Co. closed down. In October, Robert moved back to Cape Town. Kathleen joined him there. They were also joined (from Chile) by his recently widowed sister, Adelaide Rolleston and her young son, Arthur. (Robert apparently paid for their passage) The four of them lived together in Rondebosch, a middle class suburb of Cape Town.
1901 - Robert and Adelaide returned to England with Kathleen and Arthur. They sailed on the SS Galician from Cape town and disembarked at London in July 1901. The passenger list shows both children listed as Rolleston, and Robert is listed as Roonnan. His occupation is given as ‘painter’ and all 4 are listed as born in Ireland. (There can be little doubt however that this is indeed Robert, Adelaide, Kathleen & Arthur.)
1902 - At some time between July 1901 and May 1902, they moved to Hastings They stayed initially with another of Robert's sisters Mary Jane, at 38 Western Road, St.Leonards.
Employment wise, Robert could not have arrived in Hastings at a worse time, the building trade was at it’s lowest ebb and unemployment was at it’s highest for 20 years.
Robert, Adelaide, Kathleen and Arthur moved to 1 Pynlymmon Road, Hastings. Robert found work with Bruce and Co. looking after the ironmongers shop in York Buildings and doing signwriting.
By late 1902 they had again moved to 115 Milward Road, Hastings.
Also in late 1902 or possibly early 1903 Robert left Bruce and Co. and started work for Burton and Co, an undertakers and general painting and decorating business.
1905 - In early 1905 it is known that Robert was painting St.Andrews Church chancel in Hastings.At Easter, he was given a photograph and £5 by the vicar as a souvenir of his “most artistic renovation”.
An article in the local Observer shows that Robert was ‘summoned for obstructing PC Curtis in the execution of his duty’ on 6th November as he ‘cautioned a lad who was lighting a squib in Havelock Road’ (Robert had seen a man violently grab hold of a boy, and stamp on a firework. He intervened, but it turned out that the man was an off duty policeman) He was found guilty of obstructing the police and was fined 10s plus £1.9s costs.
It is also around this time that Robert produced his only piece of writing (other than The RTP) that has survived. He wrote a short essay, ‘The evolution of the airship’ He also built a scale model of an airship (later destroyed).
1906 - Robert left Bruce and Co in 1906 and went to work for Adams and Jarrett, General Builders and Decorators. In September 1906 Robert met with other activists at The Cricketers pub to discuss the formation of a Hastings branch of the ‘Social Democratic Federation’ The branch was officially launched on 12th October 1906. Also in 1906 it is thought that Robert, Adelaide, Kathleen and Arthur moved house again, to unknown addresses in Warrior Square and St.Johns Road.
1907 - In late 1907 (or possibly early 1908) Robert and Kathleen moved again (this time without Adelaide and Arthur) to a flat at 241 London Road, St.Leonards (It is thought that it was in this flat that Robert wrote most, if not all of The Ragged Trousered Philanthropists).
1909 - By late 1908, early 1909 Robert suffered bouts of coughing which became steadily worse. Friends and workmates were seeing a marked decline in his health. It is likely that The final Manuscript of The RTP was written during this period as he became less able to do physical work.
1910 - It is said that during 1910 Robert submitted his Manuscript of The RTP to three publishers, who all returned it, unwanted. In August 1910 Robert and Kathleen (By now having few possessions and living in poverty) left 241 London Road. Kathleen was moved in to live with, and work for, her Aunt (Mary Jane) at her school for the blind 48-49 Kenilworth Road, St Leonards.
Robert left Hastings for Liverpool. He took lodgings at 37 Erskine Street (This property was on the corner of Chapel Place, where his Mother and Stepfather had lived from about 1890 until the times of their deaths).
Roberts health was declining and it is very unlikely that he would have found work.
On 26th November, he was admitted to Royal Liverpool Infirmary in Brownlow Street. He was to remain there until his death.
911 - At only 40 years of age Robert died in the infirmary on 3rd February 1911. The death certificate described him as a ‘signwriter’ (journeyman) and records the cause of death as ‘phthisis pulmonalis’ and ‘cardiac failure’. On 10th February 1911 Under a Relieving Officer's order, his body was laid into ‘PLOT- T11’ A public grave in the Parochial Cemetery Walton, which belonged to the overseers of the poor.
The grave is just outside the walls of Walton prison in part of what is now Rice Lane City Farm.12 other ‘paupers’ are also buried in the grave.
The cemetery was not located until 1968. The grave was not identified until 1970 and remained unmarked until 1977 when local Trade Unionists and Socialists arranged for a granite stone to be installed. The stone is marked with his name and the names of all those who are interred with him.
Roberts mother (d.1886), his Stepfather, (d.1884) and his sister Ellie, (d1946) are amongst family members who are also buried in Liverpool.
The above information has been gathered from various published works, plus recent research from Brenda Douglas.
A full record of known information about Robert Tressell and 'The Ragged Trousered Philanthropists' and an extensive bibliography painstakingly collected and catalogued by Dave Harker can be found at www.unionhistory.info/AWB%202008-1.doc