Robert Phillipe Noonan (Croker) (1870 - 1911)

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Nicknames: "Robert Tressell; Robert Croker (Birth Name); Robert Noonan (Mother's maiden name)"
Birthdate:
Birthplace: Dublin, Ireland
Death: Died in Liverpool, England
Cause of death: 'phthisis pulmonalis' (i.e. pulmonary tuberculosis)
Managed by: June Barnes
Last Updated:
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Immediate Family

About Robert Phillipe Noonan (Croker)

Robert Tressell

Born in Dublin, Ireland, the illegitimate son of Samuel Croker, a senior member of the Royal Irish Constabulary. 

Baptized and raised a Roman Catholic.

His father, who wasn't Catholic, had his own family, but attempted to provide for Robert until his death in 1875.

Tressell had, in the words of his daughter, Kathleen, "a very good education" and could speak a variety of languages. However, when he was sixteen, he showed signs of a radical political consciousness, and left his family, declaring he "would not live on the family income derived largely from absentee landlordism". Around this time he changed his surname from Croker to "Noonan", his mother's maiden name.[1]

Tressell - a re-spelling of trestle, as in trestle-table - was the name he used only as an author, to conceal his identity.

"Tressell as a teenager fell out with his mother, and refused to be educated at Trinity College, Dublin, because this would have been paid for by the family’s rental income, which he considered immoral. He emigrated to South Africa in the late 1880s, starting life afresh as a decorator and signwriter in Cape Town, the capital of Britain’s Cape Colony. He married 18-year old Elizabeth Hartel in 1891 and his only child, Kathleen, was born a year later. But in 1894 Tressell found Elizabeth was having affairs, so he moved alone to Boer-controlled Johannesburg, in the Transvaal. Tressell divorced Elizabeth in 1897, taking custody of Kathleen, whom he was to look after on his own for the rest of his life".

One of Tressell’s sisters, Mary, ran a school for the blind in central St Leonards, and she had written to him, inviting him to come to ‘dear, sunny Hastings’. As Tressell was suffering from bad chest pains, later proving to be tuberculosis, Hastings was a healthy place to go. [2]

Thirty one year old Tressell and Kathleen, then aged nine, plus Adelaide and Arthur, probably arrived in Hastings in late 1901. They first stayed briefly with sister Mary in her flat at 38 Western Road, and then the four moved to 1 Plynlimmon Road on the West Hill, which today has a plaque on it. Late in 1902 they all moved to the top flat at 115 Milward Road, just below Plynlimmon Road, which also has a plaque.

Tressell and Kathleen moved on their own from there around 1906, staying temporarily in at least two places in St Leonards, before taking the top flat above a cycle shop at 241 London Road, near Tower Road, in late 1907 or early 1908. It was in the front room of this flat that Tressell wrote most, if not all, of the book. This is commemorated by a plaque next to the front door.

Number 241 was to be Tressell’s last home with Kathleen. He finished the book in the spring of 1910 but no publisher would accept it, so in August that year he went to Liverpool, planning to emigrate to Canada. His chest pains worsened, however, and he was admitted to Liverpool Royal Infirmary, where he died of tuberculosis on 3 February 1911, aged 40.

After Tressell’s death Kathleen kept the 250,000 word hand-written manuscript in a box. One day in 1913 she showed it to a friendly journalist, who eventually found a publisher, Grant Richards, willing to handle it. He bought the manuscript from Kathleen, paying £25 for it and for copyright. Richards then cut the number of words down to 150,000 and published The Ragged Trousered Philanthropists for the first time on 23 April 1914.

This first edition cost six shillings, beyond the means of the average working person. Then in 1918 Richards published a 90,000 word second edition, priced at just one shilling. This made the book affordable and it soon became very popular.

Hastings workman Fred Ball first read the novel in 1936. He began collecting information on Tressell and on the local setting of the story. In 1946 Ball and a small group of friends managed to buy the manuscript, with the aim of publishing it in full. Ball’s first Tressell biography, Tressell of Mugsborough, was published in 1951 by Lawrence and Wishart, who eventually published the manuscript unedited in 1955. This played a key role in stimulating and maintaining interest in the The Ragged Trousered Philanthropists over the following decades.

In addition, Ball continued collecting information on Tressell and Edwardian Hastings. His second biography, One of the Damned, was published in 1973, with a second edition in 1979, giving a detailed account of Tressell, his background and the significance of the novel. [2]

[1] http://www.unionhistory.info/ragged/tressell.php

[2] http://www.hastingschronicle.net/tressell.html

http://www.1066.net/tressell/

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Robert Tressell's Timeline

1870
April 17, 1870
Dublin, Ireland
1891
1891
Age 20
South Africa
1892
September 17, 1892
Age 22
1895
1895
Age 24
South Africa
1911
February 3, 1911
Age 40
Liverpool, England