Mr Tuke’s Fund

Week III

 James Hack Tuke, caused controversy by naming landlords who continued to evict tenants.

James Hack Tuke, caused controversy by naming landlords who continued to evict tenants.

One of the reasons for the success of Mr Tuke’s Fund, which sponsored emigrants to America and Canada in the 1880s, was that as far as possible Tuke personally interviewed those wishing to go. He insisted that only families with at least one member capable of hard, physical work could participate. Proper clothes and money were provided to start their new life, and arrangements made in advance where they would stay and find work.

By 1884 Mr Tuke’s Fund allowed some 9,500 people from Connemara to set out on their journey to a new life on long cars from Clifden, picking up others at Letterfrack, and Recess, and heading into Galway. Tuke had hired ships from the Allan and Beaver lines from Glasgow, which brought the families, in relative comfort, to America. In the months that followed there were regular reports that the Tuke emigrants were in good health, and were finding employment.

Tuke himself had previously visited the mid-west of the United States, and the western and northern provinces of Canada. He had seen enough of how the Irish were ghettoised and neglected in the sprawling eastern cities, he knew it was a worthless task to send anyone there. Instead he saw how the railways were opening up the vast interiors of America; where there were new towns and opportunities aplenty, and a confident and expanding economy. He had spoken to political leaders, and whereas Irish emigrants were not popular he must have reassured them that these were healthy people willing to work.

The Irish were more welcome in Canada which was rural and under populated, especially in the western regions and the newly acquired province of Manitoba. Railways had opened remote lands which led to the discovery of nickel-copper ore. Prospects for employment and land acquisition were good. Government agents were appointed in Quebec and Toronto to assist the Tuke emigrants.

Substance level

James Hack Tuke was born in the north of England into a prominent Quaker family, with a strong tradition of philanthropy. He first visited Ireland with his friend W E Forster (who later became chief secretary for Ireland ), during the Great Famine of the 1840s, and he was appalled at what he saw. He began a series of letters to The Times, which would continue for most of his life, on the conditions in Ireland. He criticised the official response to the crisis as inadequate and incompetent. He caused controversy by naming landlords who continued to evict their tenants.

The wretchedness that he witnessed during those years stayed with him long after he left. He hoped that radical agriculture restructuring could solve Irish poverty, but as the 19th century dragged on the poor continued to live at subsistence level, and the new generation of landlords proved as ruthless as their predecessors. Moreover periodic crop failures and food shortages persisted.

The local Poor Law Unions were totally inadequate to meet the demand for help at their gates. Mitchell Henry MP spoke of 1,500 applicants swarming into the Clifden Union on December 21 when it had only £12 to share out. A Dr Carney in Carna described people digging the soil from sunrise to sunset trying to find some left over potatoes.

Sense of humanity

The Lord Mayor of Dublin set up the Mansion House Relief Committee, and subscriptions came in from all over the empire, including the miners in Nelson, New Zealand, who left the gold digging for a day, and walked 40 miles to contribute £5 to help their fellow Irishmen.

Winston Churchill’s grandmother, the Duchess of Marlborough, also set up a fund which was intended to help distressed farmers, but some of it went towards emigration schemes operated by the Catholic Church, including the ‘Connemaras’ and their attempted settlement at Graceville, Minnesota, which I described last week.

People were leaving the country in their hundreds of thousands. For most the cost of a ticket to America was prohibitive, but workhouses were emptied, and landlords cleared their lands with a paid passage to America. Because no further assistance was given on arrival, the slums of New York and Chicago filled with poor Irish emigrants, unable, for decades, to move out into the suburbs.

Tuke hoped that by selecting the families himself, and by arranging employment on arrival, and by giving sufficient money to each family to get started, his scheme would work and, to his great credit and his sense of humanity, it generally did.*

‘Workhouse paupers’

Assisted emigration, or the ‘Free Emigration’ as it was called here, did not last much beyond 1884. Dr Christine Kinealy tells us that America was tired of the Irish Catholic ‘pauper invasion’ and the anti-Irish prejudice continued. Charles Stewart Parnell’s successful tour in America in 1880, appealed to Americans by agreeing with them that Home Rule was the answer to Ireland’s difficulties, not emigration.

Reports of emigrants ‘living off charity’ appeared in Canada, which were repeated in the British press. The Catholic hierarchy now came out firmly against it as a panacea for Irish poverty; even the shopkeepers and the local nationalists thought such schemes had had their day.

But Tuke defended his fund, writing to The Times in December 1883 he included letters from satisfied emigrants. He pointed out that many of them had returned their passage money, so others could be helped. Regardless of public denials, however, the accusation that the emigrants were ‘workhouse paupers’ stuck.

Until his death in 1896 Tuke kept up an active interest in the west of Ireland. He was elected to the Congested District Board (the only English member ), and travelled over from his home in Hertfordshire, every month for meetings. This continued until 1894 when failing health induced his retirement.

In a tribute the board noted ‘his lifelong devotion to the cause of the Irish poor.’ Dr Kinealy adds that this brief tribute did little justice to a champion of the people of Connacht. ‘While many middle-class visitors referred to the Irish poor as lazy, dirty, and ungovernable, Tuke recognised their generosity, loyalty to family and desire to work if given the opportunity. These qualities, he believed, would sustain the emigrant overseas. The success of many of the emigrants themselves and their descendants is a testimony to the vision of one remarkable man.’

NOTES * Mr Tuke’s Fund, which came to well over £100,000. was made up from contributions from the Quaker community, and others in Britain, and by Government subsidy inserted into the 1881 Land Act by his friend WE Forster.

I am indebted to the for its excellent booklet on Mr Tuke’s Fund, and its contributors including Catherine Jennings, Dr Gerard Moran, and Dr Christine Kinealy, director Ireland’s Great Hunger Institute, Quinnipiac University, USA.

Geraldine Mills writes:

I have been reading with great interest about the ‘Connemaras’ in your Galway Diary and have a particular interest in the Tuke scheme. My maternal great grandparents and six children (one of them my grandmother ) emigrated to Warren, Rhode Island in 1883 as part of the Tuke Fund.

On 22 June 1883, my great-grandparents, Philip and Mary Heveron, and their six children, one of them my grandmother, left Elly Bay in North Mayo on the SS Waldensian arriving into Boston Harbour on 4 July.

They were one of three families ticketed to Warren, Rhode Island where my great-grandfather, Philip Heveron, reported to the Superintendent of Warren Manufacturing Company. They were given one of the mill-houses on the corner of North Water Street and Bowen which they shared with the Monaghan family.

The children went to the school nearby, the older ones may have worked in the mill; another child was born and baptised in St Mary’s Church.

However, they couldn’t settle and now with seven children and within 18 months they found their way back to Ireland.

Listen to Tom Kenny and Ronnie O'Gorman elaborating on topics they have covered in this week's paper and much more in this week's Old Galway Diary Podcast.


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