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Tuke, James Hacklocked

  • Miller Christy
  • , revised by Peter Gray

James Hack Tuke (1819–1896)

by Charles Napier Kennedy, 1877

Tuke, James Hack (1819–1896), philanthropist, was born in York on 13 September 1819. He was the seventh child of Samuel Tuke (1784–1857) and his wife, Priscilla, née Hack (1784–1827). The Tukes were a leading Quaker family in York, much involved in local charitable activity. Daniel Hack Tuke, mental specialist, was James's younger brother.

James was educated at the Friends' school in York, and in 1835 entered his father's wholesale tea and coffee business in the city. On 3 August 1848 he married his father's ward, Elizabeth (d. 1869), the daughter of Edward and Elizabeth Janson of Tottenham. The youngest of their five children was Dame Margaret Janson Tuke. In 1852 Tuke became a partner in the banking firm of Sharples & Co. of Hitchin, Hertfordshire, which from that time became his home. During his early years in York he devoted constant thought to educational subjects, as well as to the management of the Friends' asylum known as The Retreat, which his great-grandfather had been largely instrumental in establishing. In the autumn of 1845 Tuke accompanied William Forster (1784–1854) and Joseph Crosfield on a tour of the United States and Canada. During this journey he visited all the asylums for the insane that came within his reach, and noted his observations on them for the benefit of his father and others interested in The Retreat. He also, in 1846 and 1853, read papers to the Friends' Educational Society on the free schools and educational institutions of the United States. It was on this American tour that he first developed an interest in the emigration question.

Throughout his life Tuke devoted whatever leisure he had from business to public projects and charitable concerns. He worked on nearly all the important committees of Friends' associations, assisted in founding others, was treasurer for eighteen years of the Friends' Foreign Mission Association, and chairman for eight years of the Friends' Central Education Board. He was involved in the National Freedman's Aid Union of Great Britain, which assisted freed slaves in the aftermath of the American Civil War, and in 1869 collaborated with Emily Davies in establishing at Hitchin the first British University College for Women (later to become Girton College, Cambridge).

Tuke was one of the first to enter Paris after its evacuation by the Germans in March 1871. As a commissioner of the Friends' War Victims Fund he undertook to distribute £20,000 subscribed by English Quakers for the relief of those whose property around the city had been destroyed during the siege. Their work was nearly completed when the revolution of the commune broke out. Tuke was strongly hostile towards the insurgents, and published an account of his experiences as A Visit to Paris in the Spring of 1871 (1871). In 1879 he published A Sketch of the Life of John Fothergill, MD, FRS, the founder of Ackworth School. His first wife having died in 1869, Tuke married Georgina Mary, daughter of Evory Kennedy, on 9 November 1882. An Anglican in religion, Georgina became an active participant in Tuke's charitable activities.

It is by his philanthropic work in Ireland that Tuke is best remembered. His interest in Ireland was first aroused during the great famine of 1845–50. In December 1846 Tuke joined William Forster and the Irish Quaker Marcus Goodbody on their tour of the distressed counties of north-western Ireland. Tuke's narrative of the visit, exposing the scale of the catastrophe and the inadequacy of the government's response, and recounting the group's efforts to establish soup kitchens in the localities, was published in January 1847 and was widely distributed by Quaker relief bodies in Ireland and England. He returned to Ireland for a second tour in September 1847. His observations, published as A Visit to Connaught in the Autumn of 1847 (1847), warned of the impending collapse of the poor-law system in the west, advocated the provision of public works on waste-land reclamation, fishery development, and railway construction, and urged the passage of an encumbered estates act to free the land for investment. His criticism of individual landlords by name caused some controversy in parliament and the press. Despite the threat of a horsewhipping, he returned to Erris in February 1848 to substantiate his exposure of J. Walshe's clearances. However, the Dublin Central Relief Committee expressed embarrassment over Tuke's account of evictions on Sir R. O'Donnell's Achill Island estate (they were at the time co-operating with O'Donnell in promoting flax cultivation in Mayo), and Tuke was persuaded to amend these references in a second edition of his book. In 1848 Tuke suffered from a dangerous attack of cholera, contracted when visiting the hospital sheds provided by his father for the starving Irish who had sought refuge in York.

The impression produced upon Tuke's mind by the scenes he had witnessed in Ireland in 1847 was never effaced. He remained active in Irish charity work in the 1850s, and became increasingly convinced that emigration held out the best hope for the Irish west. Early in 1880, when the threatened acute distress in the west of Ireland was absorbing public attention, Tuke, urged by his old friend W. E. Forster (chief secretary, 1880–82), spent two months in the distressed or ‘congested’ districts, distributing in relief £1200 privately subscribed by Quakers. His observations were recorded in letters printed for circulation among his friends, in letters to The Times, in an article in the Nineteenth Century (August 1880), and more fully in his pamphlet Irish Distress and its Remedies (1880). The pamphlet was immediately recognized by the members of all political parties as an authoritative statement of the economic position, and ran rapidly through six editions. Holding that Irish distress was due to economic and not to political causes, he advocated state-aided land purchase, the gradual establishment of peasant proprietorship, the construction of light railways in remote districts, and the fostering by government of fishing and other local industries. For the smallest and poorest tenants, whom no legislation could immediately benefit, he urged 'family emigration'. He proposed a scheme of government-aided emigration to Manitoba, and toured Canada and the USA, afterwards publishing his observations (Nineteenth Century, Feb 1881). As a result, Forster inserted a clause in the Irish Land Act, 1881, to facilitate state-aided family emigration by means of loans, although this proved unworkable.

Twice during 1881, and in February 1882, Tuke visited Ireland, again publishing his views (Contemporary Review, April 1882), with the result that at a meeting held at the house of the duke of Bedford on 31 March an influential committee was formed to administer ‘Mr Tuke's Fund’, and £9000 was subscribed to carry out a comprehensive scheme of family emigration. By 4 April 1882 Tuke was again in Ireland, and within a few weeks 1200 emigrants had been sent to America at a cost of nearly £9000. On his return to England he described the vehement desire of the Irish for further assistance (Nineteenth Century, July 1882). His committee then prevailed on the government to insert a clause in the Arrears of Rent (Ireland) Act granting £100,000 to further assist family emigration from Ireland. Part of this sum was spent by government, and the rest was entrusted to Tuke's committee for use in Mayo and Galway. In 1883 the number of emigrants was 5380. Owing to the continued demand for emigration, the Tuke committee next obtained a further grant under the Tramways (Ireland) Act of 1883, by means of which 2800 persons emigrated in 1884, making about 9500 in all. The labour involved in this work was enormous, and it was largely carried out during severe winter weather, in districts which lacked railway communications. Tuke personally superintended most of the work, which included the selection of suitable families, arrangements for their clothing, their conveyance to the port of embarkation (often a distance of 50 miles by road or boat), as well as their reception on landing in the United States or Canada, and their conveyance to their final destinations. The total expenditure of the Tuke Fund amounted to £70,000, nearly one-third of which was raised by private subscription. Tuke responded to clerical and nationalist criticism of this work in two articles in the Nineteenth Century (February 1885 and March 1889).

In the winter of 1885–6 distress again became acute in some of the western districts because of another failure of the potato crop. The government made a relief grant, but appealed to Tuke to avert famine by supplying seed potatoes. Tuke raised by private subscription a sum of £5000, with which seed potatoes were purchased and distributed under his personal supervision on Achill Island and the Mayo coast. In Achill and the West of Ireland (1886) and The Condition of Donegal (1889)—a collection of letters to The Times written during the distress of 1889—Tuke again pointed out the measures he deemed necessary for the permanent improvement of the congested districts. His recommendations bore fruit in 1889, when the government passed a bill for promoting the construction of light railways, and again when the 1891 Irish Land Act established the congested districts board, with an income of £40,000 a year, for the development of these districts. Tuke was closely associated with the planning of both these measures, which realized nearly all that he had advocated. Until 1894, when his health failed, he was an active member of the board, and he visited Ireland every month to attend its meetings.

Like his close friend W. E. Forster, Tuke was appalled by the violence of the land war (1879–82), and was convinced that the Irish were incapable of self-government. He vigorously opposed Gladstone's 1886 Home Rule Bill, fearing it would open the door to 'Socialism' in Ireland and deliver policing into the hands of the 'Dictator Parnell'. He presided at joint meetings of Irish and British Quakers called to protest against home rule in 1886 and 1893, and was fully supportive of the 'constructive unionist' policy pursued by Arthur Balfour from 1887. In 1884 the committees of both the Athenaeum and Reform clubs elected Tuke an honorary member. It was largely through his efforts that the emigrants' information office was established in 1886 as a department of the Colonial Office. He was invited to stand as an MP for York several times but, like his father before him, declined to do so since it would, from a traditional Quaker perspective, have appeared too worldly to be involved in parliamentary politics.

Of slight, erect figure and of medium height, Tuke possessed an unusual grace and courtesy of manner and an almost magnetic influence over others. The unique position which he held may be inferred from the fact that, for the last sixteen years of his life, his advice on nearly all Irish questions was sought by the chief secretaries of both political parties. He died on 13 January 1896, and was buried four days later at the Quaker burial-ground, Hitchin.


  • E. Fry, James Hack Tuke: a memoir (1899)
  • H. E. Hatton, The largest amount of good: Quaker relief in Ireland 1654–1921 (1993)
  • H. F. Gregg, ‘English and Irish Quakers and Irish home rule’, A Quaker miscellany for Edward H. Milligan, ed. D. Blamires, J. Greenwood, and A. Kerr (1985)


  • Borth. Inst., papers
  • RS Friends, Lond., letters
  • BL, corresp. with Arthur James Balfour, Add. MS 49817, passim
  • Wellcome L., letters to John Hodgkin


  • C. N. Kennedy, portrait, 1877, NPG [see illus.]
  • photograph, repro. in Fry, James Hack Tuke

Wealth at Death

£92,067 11s. 2d.: probate, 8 May 1896, CGPLA Eng. & Wales

F. Boase, , 6 vols. (privately printed, Truro, 1892–1921); repr. (1965)