CROKE, NICHOLAS, builder and architect; b. c. 1800 probably in New Ross, County Wexford (Republic of Ireland); m. 8 Aug. 1821 Mary Flynn in St John’s, and they had three sons and one daughter; d. there 8 Dec. 1850.
Nicholas Croke probably came to St John’s as a carpenter (the trade his eldest son later followed) fairly soon before his marriage. Like fellow Wexfordman Patrick Kough*, he must have attained some standing in the building trade for by 1836 he was styling himself “architect.” However, only a few of his works are known, among them the now demolished Orphan Asylum school, built in 1827 and later enlarged by James Purcell*. As a member of the Benevolent Irish Society, which sponsored the school, Croke had submitted a set of plans and, on the basis of these, had been asked to join the building committee. When the contractor was unable to complete the work, Croke agreed to take it on. A fairly simple, hip-roofed example of vernacular Georgian-style architecture, the school was described by the Reverend Michael Francis Howley* in the 1880s as “one of the neatest buildings in the city, and was much admired by the typical ‘Out-harbour-man,’ on his annual visit to the capital.” It may be that this admiration was occasioned only by the Purcell additions, including an observatory and portico, which gave the building some sense of style. That plainness was a characteristic of Croke’s work is suggested by the comment in Robert John Parsons *’s Newfoundland Patriot that his New Commercial Building (1842) in St John’s had an “unhandsome exterior.” Croke was also responsible for a number of government works. During the period 1836–38 he was contractor for the court-houses built in Brigus and other outports.
In politics Croke took a position which was quite independent of that held by the majority of the Roman Catholic population, though possibly very dependent on the realities of his trade. The Catholic bishop, Michael Anthony Fleming, was a strong supporter of reform politics and its adherents, the largest number of whom, including Patrick Morris and John Kent*, were also Irish Catholics. The few who did not follow this tradition, among them Patrick Kough and Michael McLean Little, a merchant, did so sometimes at a risk to their businesses. Croke publicly supported Kough and Little, and in 1834 he opposed William Carson’s municipal corporation bill. His alignment with the conservative faction [see Henry David Winton*] can be seen, in part, as self-serving. The conservatives were mostly Protestant merchants who controlled many private building contracts and had strong ties to Government House and the Council, thereby influencing which builders received public contracts.
One curious aspect of Croke’s life is that he does not appear to have owned any property in Newfoundland – a somewhat unusual situation for a man of his standing at the time.
Basilica of St John the Baptist (Roman Catholic) (St John’s), St John’s parish, reg. of baptisms, 1821–36: 308; reg. of marriages, 1793–1836: 21 (copies at PANL). MHA, Croke name file. PRO, CO 194/96 (mfm. at PANL). Supreme Court of Nfld. (St John’s), Registry, administration of Nicholas Croke estate, 1851; probate book, 3: f.223. Nfld., House of Assembly, Journal, 1837: 119; 1838: 88. Newfoundlander, 6 Oct. 1842. Newfoundland Patriot, 17 Aug. 1842. Public Ledger, 4 April 1834. Royal Gazette and Newfoundland Advertiser, 10 Dec. 1850. Centenary volume, Benevolent Irish Society of St. John’s, Newfoundland, 1806–1906 (Cork, [Republic of Ire., 1906?]), 42, 45, 68, 144. Gunn, Political hist. of Nfld. M. F. Howley, Ecclesiastical history of Newfoundland (Boston, 1888; repr. Belleville, Ont., 1979). R. R. Rostecki, The early court houses of Newfoundland (Can., Parks Canada, National Hist. Parks and Sites Branch, Manuscript report, no.312, Ottawa, 1977).