Robert Croker was an Irish writer. Born in Dublin on 17th April 1870, he was the illegitimate son of Samuel Croker, an Irish policeman and magistrate. His mother was Mary Noonan. It was his mother’s surname that later in life Robert would use although his chosen pseudonym was Tressell, Robert Tressell. It was under this name that Robert authored the book ‘The Ragged Trousered Philanthropist,’ a seminal work in the class struggle.
Growing up as the bastard offspring of a man you would have thought had money but didn’t gave Robert a certain perspective on life – he didn’t like being poor. At the age of sixteen he left home to seek his own way in life with the notion of making a fortune.
By 1888 Robert was living in Cape Town having emigrated to Africa where he worked as a decorator. It was during this time that he met Elizabeth Hartel who he married in 1891 and with whom he had a daughter, Kathleen. Shortly after this Robert found his wife had a lover, Thomas Lindenbaum. Biding his time Robert didn’t divorce Elizabeth until 1897. He them obtained custody of his daughter and together they moved to Johannesburg were Robert committed to the trade union movement eventually becoming Secretary of the Transvaal Federated Building Trades Council. He also became heavily involved in the Labour Party.
Forever seeking a better life for himself and Kathleen, Robert moved, in 1901, to England. He took up residence in St. Leonards, Sussex where he worked as an interior decorator.
All though coming from a relatively poor background, Robert Croker, now Noonan, was well educated and able to speak several languages. He was also passionate about aviation; so much so that he wrote the visionary ‘The Evolution of the Airship’ in which he warned that either Great Britain or Germany would one day use these air borne ships to bomb towns and cities. His prophetic words were summarily dismissed as being nonsense.
Being an interior decorator gives the impression in these modern times of someone who slaps paint on walls – a painter come decorator – but Noonan was far more than that and was not only highly respected in his chosen career but also well paid. However being a principled man and passionate about the rights and wrongs of the class system, he rowed with his boss and was sacked.
Unemployed and at a time of yet another recession, Robert Noonan appeared washed up. It was during this period, often when suffering from depression, that he wrote the 1600 pages of ‘The Ragged Trousered Philanthropist.’ Not one single publisher would buy it as it was far too left wing for their tastes.
Suffering from tuberculosis and with no future in sight, Noonan threw his novel onto the fire. Fortunately, his daughter Kathleen rescued it from the flames and with grim stoicism and determination found a publisher who, with uncompromising economic efficiency bought the manuscript for £25 but refused to pay any royalties. The book sold well, if not becoming a best seller, and is widely thought to have helped the English Labour Party, many years later, win their first General Election.
Noonan never lived to appreciate how influential his book went on to become. He died at age 40 in 1911 following his move to Canada from pneumonia. He was buried in an unmarked grave in Walton, Liverpool having been nursed at The Royal Liverpool Infirmary Workhouse.
The grave remained unmarked and unknown until 1970 and even to this day there are few who have even heard of this remarkable man.
“I designed to show the conditions resulting from poverty and unemployment: to expose the futility of the measures taken to deal with them and to indicate what I believe to be the only real remedy, namely - Socialism. I intended to explain what Socialists understand by the word 'Poverty': to define the Socialist theory of the causes of poverty, and to explain how Socialists propose to abolish poverty.”
“Another answer is that the book is not a treatise or essay, but a novel. My main object was to write a readable story full of human interest and based on the happenings of everyday life, the subject of Socialism being treated incidentally.”
Robert Noonan – 1870 to 1911.
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