Clifden historian, Kathleen Villiers-Tuthill highlighted the work of James Hack Tuke, an English banker and philanthropist, whose charitable work in Ireland in the 1880s is now almost entirely forgotten.
During the brief period between 1882 and 1884, Tuke assisted over 9,500 people from the West of Ireland to emigrate to America and Canada, saving them from misery and hunger and setting many families on a more promising path for future generations.
James Hack Tuke's Emigration Scheme
by Kathleen Villiers Tuthill
Born in York in 1819, Tuke was among those members of the Society of Friends, the Quakers, who visited Ireland during the Great Famine and reported back to their community on the wretched conditions they found there. Their poignant reports, which were later published, did much to highlight the plight of the starving Irish and helped to raise funds, for food and clothing for remote communities on the western seaboard.
Over the years Tuke keep up an interest in the West of Ireland and in 1880, again at the request of the Quaker Community, he returned to investigate the conditions of the people at a time when crop failure and agricultural depression had reduced many to near famine conditions.
Following a six-week tour of the western counties, Tuke observed that the preoccupation of the government and the people was entirely given over to suppressing agrarian crime and land agitation, with little or know consideration given to providing solutions to poverty or improving the circumstances of the people. In 1881, he published an article promoting assisted emigration to Canada and America for poor families in the west. The following year he set up ‘The Tuke Fund’ with money raised from private and government sources. The fund was in operation from 1882 to 1884 and assisted the emigration of about 9,500 people from Galway and Mayo to Canada and the United States of America.
The benefits from the scheme were expected to be twofold; assisting those anxious to emigrate would release land that would, in turn, create more economical holdings for those who remained at home. Entire families were encouraged to go, young, old and even the in-laws. The stipulations were that one member of the family had to be able to speak English and there must be sufficient breadwinners among them to support the family group.
www.oughterardheritage. Photographs taken by Major Ruttledge-Fair For James Hack Tuke
The committee persuaded two shipping companies to call at Galway port so as to avoid the expense of transporting passengers to Queenstown or Liverpool. In 1882 the Allan Line and the Beaver Line sent ships to Galway and 1,276 passengers left in April and May of that year. Further emigrants were sent out in 1883 and 1884.
A great deal of work went in to selecting suitable families, collecting them from their scattered homes and having them at the quayside in Galway in time for embarkation. Each emigrant was provided with new clothing and careful arrangements were made for their reception on the other side. Those arriving in Canada were met and taken charge of by agents of the Canadian Government, while supporters of the scheme met those arriving in Boston and Philadelphia. Great care was taken that the emigrants should be in a position to obtain work, for, as stated in the reports of the Committee, although ‘mostly destitute, the adult emigrants were able-bodied, capable and willing to work.’ Others were provided with rail tickets and sent by rail to join family or friends further a field.
The scheme was at first lauded by all, and satisfactory accounts were sent back on the successful integration of the emigrants. However, as economic conditions began to improve in Ireland, the Tuke scheme attracted opposition from both Irish politicians and the Catholic Church, and it was brought to a close in 1884.
The work undertaken by Tuke in instigating and managing the scheme was instrumental in saving thousands of people in the west from poverty and wretchedness.
Recording his death in the Minute Books of the Clifden Union in January 1896, the Clifden Guardians referred to him as ‘a really true philanthropist’, a man who had ‘conferred so great a benefit on so many hundreds of our people at a time when widespread depression existed’.
If you’d like to hear more about Mr. Tuke’s Fund, a conference dealing with Connemara Emigration in the 1880s will be held in the Clifden Station House from next Friday, the 31st of October until the 1st of November.
Tuke Conference Booking Form