The Legacy of George - George Patrick Joseph Crofts and the Chinese Collections
- 1914 - 1933
I first began tracing my family history in the 1970’s, when I was at University. In those days this was a relatively difficult, time consuming and expensive task, dependent on accessing paper records from around the world.
I am in Perth, Western Australia. My father’s family (Newcombe) arrived in Australia in the 1860’s from England. My mother’s family (Crofts) migrated to Perth from England in 1911. A whole branch of the family arrived, Great Grandfather Nicholas, his wife Alice and their 10 children, including my Grandfather, Harold Robert.
My efforts in tracing my Crofts’ lineage were assisted by some family documents. One was a family tree drawn up from memory by an English cousin in 1964, the other was a passport in the name of George Patrick Joseph Crofts, the Acting Swedish Consul in Tientsin, China. Naturally, that sparked my interest!
The family tree showed George as the youngest brother of Nicholas, making him my Great Great Uncle. What was known of him? My mother said she had been told that George had gone to China as a missionary, had remained unmarried and had died somewhere in China.
George was likely to be a significant challenge and he was put to one side.
Life intervened and I put all my family history research to one side.
I returned to tracing my family history in 2012, encouraged by the opportunities presented by the Internet.
I joined some online family history communities and made some significant advances. One of the most significant came from contact by a Terry Rendall in the UK who noted that I had a George Patrick Joseph Crofts in my family tree. Information provided by Terry, along with additional, now informed, Internet searching, led me to George’s amazing life.
Much is still not known but the bare bones are enough to fascinate.
George was born in Bermondsey in London on 22 November 1871. By 1902 he was a fur trader in Tientsin, China and married to the American, Margaret Hardie Wilson. They were to have no children.
George travelled regularly between China and North America. He had an interest in Chinese antiquities.
In November 1918 George met the then Director of the Royal Ontario Museum, Dr Currelly. What transpired was retold in a speech in April 1978 entitled “The Museum – Past, Present and Future” by the then Director of the Museum, Dr James E Cruise. In part, Dr Cruise noted, after George showed him some photographs of artefacts:
“Currelly said: “Perhaps you would rather not talk prices, since we have no money, but if you would have no objection to telling me, I would very much like to know the price of these two objects,” and he held up the photographs.
Crofts replied, ”I have a strong feeling you would be worth helping here in Toronto, and I should very much like to help you. You could have those for…”
And he mentioned fewer hundreds than Currelly had expected thousands.”
A relationship was born and between 1918 and 1924 George provided a steady flow of Chinese artefacts that now form the George Crofts Collection at the Royal Ontario Museum.
George received an honorary doctorate from the University of Toronto in 1922 for his contributions to the Museum.
George had no children by his wife Margaret. However, George did father a child by the wife of his business partner, Edgar Rendall. What the very beautiful Mrs Edith Alcamia Rendall saw in the then 52 year old George is not clear, a rogue’s charm perhaps?
Edgar and Edith returned to England and Elizabeth Alcamia (Crofts) Rendall was born on 10 March 1924. Elizabeth went on to become a nun and a significant figure in the UK nuclear disarmament movement. Only in her 80’s did she finally discover the truth about her parentage. Elizabeth died on 25 November 2011.
George’s will, a fascinating document in itself, shows he made significant provision for his daughter’s future, while trying to protect her from the shadow of illegitimacy.
It appears that George’s business was crippled by strike action. George returned to England in January 1924 and he died there on 5 April 1925. His estranged wife, Margaret, died in San Francisco in 1935. There was no divorce. At some point in his life, George had converted to Catholicism.
In January 1926, the Bulletin of the Royal Ontario Museum published an obituary for George. It commented:
“The wonderful collection of Chinese art that Dr Crofts made for the Royal Ontario Museum is probably on of the great things that has happened to the Province of Ontario.”
So, George Patrick Joseph Crofts wasn’t a missionary who died in obscurity in China. His contribution to the Royal Ontario Museum stands as a testament to his life. My late mother would have been surprised!
I had no involvement in George’s life. There is much about him that I do not know. I suspect he was quite a rogue. He certainly lived an eventful and unusual life. I like that.
Finding out a little about George has given me a sense of connection to the Royal Ontario Museum. I hope to get there one day to see the legacy of George.