Tuke, James Hack (1819–96), philanthropist, was born 13 September 1819 in York, son of Samuel Tuke (1784–1857) and his wife Priscilla (1784–1828), daughter of James Hack. Tuke was educated at the Friends’ school in York, before entering the family tea and coffee business in 1835. He became a partner in a banking firm (1852), and moved to Hitchin, Hertfordshire. The Tukes were a prominent quaker family with a strong tradition of philanthropy, and it is for his charitable work in Ireland that James is now chiefly remembered. He accompanied W. E. Forster (qv) on two tours of Ireland (winter 1846–7; autumn 1847), and became actively involved in the relief effort, recording first-hand the catastrophic ravages of the famine. He was deeply affected by the scenes he witnessed: ‘Nothing indeed,’ he reported to the Society of Friends after visiting Dunfanaghy in 1847, ‘can describe too strongly the dreadful condition of the people’ (Elwood). His graphic accounts of these expeditions – Narrative describing the 2nd, 3rd and 4th weeks of William Forster's journey in the distressed districts of Ireland (York, 1847) and A visit to Connaught in the autumn of 1847 (1847; 2nd ed. 1848) – criticised the official response to the crisis as inadequate and incompetent, and caused controversy by naming landlords who evicted their tenants. Tuke also assisted the influx of emigrants to England, and in 1847 contracted typhus from visiting the shelter established by his father for the destitute Irish in York.
Though involved in a variety of quaker philanthropic efforts, Tuke remained most closely associated with Irish causes, particularly during the 1880 famine in Connacht. At the request of Forster, now chief secretary for Ireland, he spent two months in the densely populated (‘congested’) western districts, which were most afflicted, distributing funds privately subscribed by quakers. He maintained that Irish distress flowed from economic rather than political causes, and urged land reform, promotion of local industries (particularly fishing), and the construction of light railways in the west of Ireland. He expounded his arguments in letters to The Times, articles in the journal Nineteenth Century, and his influential pamphlet Irish distress and its remedies: a visit to Donegal and Connaught (1880), which confirmed his reputation as an authority on Irish affairs. He also argued so persuasively for state-funded family emigration that Forster included a clause to this effect in the Irish land act (1881). When this government initiative failed, Tuke organised his own committee (popularly known as ‘Mr Tuke's fund’), and by 1884 had assisted some 9,500 emigrants to travel to America and Canada. Tuke, who personally selected many of the emigrants, also used his contacts in America to secure aid and employment for the Irish on their arrival overseas.
The government again appealed for his aid during the famine of 1885–6. Tuke raised over £5,000, and supervised the purchase and distribution of seed potatoes along the west coast of Ireland, publishing his observations and recommendations in Achill and west of Ireland: report of the distribution of the seed potato fund . . . (1886). Many of his letters to The Times were collected in The condition of Donegal (1889), and with the creation of the Congested Districts Board (1891), many of his proposed schemes were finally adopted. Tuke was an active member of the board, visiting Ireland every month to attend its meetings until 1894, when failing health induced his retirement. A staunch defender of the union, he actively opposed the 1886 home rule bill, subsequently supporting Arthur Balfour (qv) in his policy of constructive unionism. He was elected in 1884 as an honorary member of the Reform Club and the Athenaeum. He died 13 January 1896, and was buried in the quaker burial ground, Hitchin.
He married first (1848) Elizabeth (d. 1869), daughter of Edmund Janson of Tottenham. He married secondly (1882) Mary Georgina, daughter of Evory Kennedy, DL, of Belgard. Collections of his letters are in the Friends’ Historic Library, Dublin, and the Friends’ Historic Library in Euston St., London.