Between 1882 and 1884 the English philanthropist and Quaker, James Hack Tuke, assisted 4,930 people to emigrate from Connemara: 3,214 from Clifden Poor Law Union and 1,716 from Oughterard. In February 1880, Tuke had been sent by the Society of Friends to the west of Ireland to report on the famine crisis and during his tour became convinced that the farms were uneconomical and unable to support families because of over population. Tuke concluded that the removal of the surplus population was the panacea to the perennial problem of famine and poverty, and in an article in The Nineteenth Century in February 1881 advocated that families be assisted to emigrate from the congested districts along the western seaboard. In the summer of 1880 he visited Canada and the American mid-west and became convinced that settlers should be sent to these areas rather than the eastern industrial cities because job prospects were better and wages higher. As a result of this article a meeting was convened in the London home of the Duke of Bedford on 31 March 1882 which established the Tuke Committee and resulted in £8,000 being subscribed for the promotion of family emigration from the west of Ireland. Tuke arrived in Clifden on 4 April as the local board of guardians had decided to borrow £2,000 for emigration purposes and the Tuke Committee was prepared to co-operate with it. It resulted in the start of the assisted emigration project which continued over the next three years.
Tuke’s dedication and commitment can be seen in that he decided to continue with the project after the Clifden Board of Guardians withdrew their loan application shortly after his arrival in the town, largely due to opposition from local shopkeepers who argued the exodus of such a large number of people would have an adverse impact on their businesses. Throughout the period that the assisted emigration schemes were in operation Tuke worked closely with local doctors, relieving officers and clergymen in interviewing and selecting suitable applicants for emigration. Certain guidelines were put in place: only families were to be assisted, at least one family member had to be able to speak English and each group had to have a certain number of wage earners in proportion to dependents. From the outset Tuke realised the magnitude of the task and within a week of his arrival in Clifden over 1,000 people had applied to be assisted, many of them families who had been evicted from their farms over the previous two years and were now dependent on the meagre relief provided by the Poor Law for survival. More people wanted to leave than Tuke had the resources available \and while 1,276 left from Galway on three ships, SS Austrian, SS Lake Napigan and SS Lake Winnipeg between 28 April and 19 May 1882 for Quebec and Boston, many were left disappointed. The decision by the Clifden guardians to withdraw their loan application meant the Tuke Committee had to commit all of its limited funds to the 1882 exodus. What is remarkable is that nearly 1,300 people were interviewed, selected, provide with suitable clothing, brought by coach to Galway and put on ships for North America over a seven week period.
The success of the emigration scheme in 1882 convinced Tuke of the necessity for emigration, but he also realised it was beyond the ability of a private committee to fund it. The Tuke Committee petitioned the Gladstone government to provide financial support and £100,000 was made available under the Tramways and Public Companies Act for emigration from forty-two poor law unions along the western seaboard. The Tuke Committee was asked to administer the scheme in Clifden, Oughterard, Belmullet and Newport. The government provided £5 for each emigrant with Tuke making up any additional expenditure.
Tuke commenced the work in Clifden on 20 February 1883 and immediately set to work interviewing and selecting suitable candidates to be sent to North America. Structures were already in place from the previous year and Major W.P. Gaskell, a friend of Tuke, administered the scheme in Oughterard. Applicants were interviewed in Clifden, Carna, Renvyle, Cleggan, Leenane, Ashleigh, Letterfrack and other locations and the first group left on the SS Phoenician on 23 March 1883. Tuke and his wife, Georgina, worked from early morning to late at night travelling to the destinations to interview and select the emigrants and then undertook the necessary paperwork. When he arrived in Carna on 27 February, 3-400 people came to the hotel to be interviewed. 6,420 people applied to the committee to be assisted and 1,589 were sent from the Clifden union and 1,224 from Oughterard. Once again the demand for places was greater than the number of positions available and those sent in 1882 were now writing back to friends and relations urging them to come to North America. One emigrant wrote from Linsay, Ontario, ‘Thank God we left the poverty and I wish ye did the same’. The committee again petitioned the government for funding in July 1883 and a £50,000 was allocated, but the take up was not as great in 1884 because of improved economic conditions in Connemara, strong opposition from interest groups such as local shopkeepers, the Irish Parliamentary Party, the Catholic bishops and the decision by the Canadian government to discontinue its involvement with the schemes. Only 347 were assisted from Clifden and 789 from Oughterard.
The Tuke emigrants from Connemara were sent 218 destinations in Canada and the United States, but mainly settled in Minnesota, Ohio, Maine, Pennsylvania, Massachettus, Ontario and Manitoba. While there was an initial reluctance to travel to Canada as there had been little previous emigration to the country, over 800 settled there as the Canadian authorities were prepared to provide assistance to those sent to its jurisdiction. Emigrants were also sent to Minnesota because the local Catholic clergy were prepared to provide for them.
The Tuke emigration project was a radical approach to the prevailing problem of poverty and famine in Connemara and resulted in the removal of 11 per cent of its population to North America over a three year period. It offered families the opportunity of a better life and also initiated a chain migration from Connemara as a further 500 people from the Clifden area had their passage paid by those assisted under the Tuke scheme over the following six years. The emigrants also sent remittances back to Connemara: an estimated £10,000 between 1884 and 1890. The Tuke emigrant scheme transformed the lives of those who left and those who remained, and this could not have happened without the commitment and determination of James Hack Tuke.
Gerard Moran, Fleeing from famine in Connemara James Hack Tuke and his assisted emigration scheme in the 1880s (Forthcoming, Four Courts Press, Dublin; October 2018).
Gerard Moran, ‘James Hack Tuke and his assisted emigration schemes from the West of Ireland in the 1880s’ in History Ireland (March-April, 2013).