The life and times of son of Bermuda Henry St. George Tucker.

My guess is that the Tuckers have produced more talented sons and daughters than any other family connected with Bermuda. They’ve been sailors, soldiers, lawyers, judges, doctors, missionaries and politicians, among other things, and have stood out in all those professions.

The Bermuda branch of the family has played a part in our history since the Virginia Company sent Captain Daniel Tucker to succeed Richard Moore as governor in 1616. The Tuckers are also thoroughly well known in Britain and in the United States—in the latter because of the prominent roles that members of the far-flung family played during that country’s early history.

Here, in the eighteenth century, it was a Tucker whose anger about Britain’s ban on imports from the rebelling American colonies made him initiate the events that led to the theft of gunpowder from a magazine in St George’s and its dispatch to General George Washington. Colonel Henry Tucker’s action had a greater effect than simply allowing the American rebels to fire a few more shots. His support for American independence fuelled Bermuda’s ambivalence about its position as a British colony during the rebellion, and it inspired the assistance Bermudian sympathisers provided the Americans during their war with King George.

On the other hand, the then-governor, George Bruere, was fiercely loyal to the Crown. His disapproval of Bermudian support for the Americans was so strong, and his relations with those he governed so fractious, that his son, who succeeded him as governor, said the stress of it caused his death. Two of Colonel Henry’s sons fought on the side of the Americans against the British and survived. Two of Governor Bruere’s sons served on the side of the Crown and were killed. A third was wounded.

That one of Colonel Henry’s sons should marry the daughter of Governor Bruere is an extraordinary love story, one to rival that of the Capulets and Montagues in Verona. But marry they did. Son Henry and his new wife, Frances, lived a long and happy life together, producing 10 children. Their firstborn (in 1771) was called Henry, doubtless in the colonel’s honour, and the second they named George, doubtless a tribute to Governor Bruere.

The Tuckers are a family that cannot seem to stop calling its sons Henry, an awkward, confusing habit. So let’s see if we can’t get it straight right from the start: Colonel Henry’s son Henry, married to Frances, is known to history as President Henry, because he was president of the Executive Council for many years. President Henry’s first son was called Henry St. George Tucker. We’ll call him India Henry, so that he stands out from the crowd.

President Henry lived in the house in St. George’s that is now the National Trust museum called Tucker House. Historian William E. S. Zuill described him in his 1946 book, Bermuda Journey, as “one of the most conscientious and trustworthy officials that Bermuda has ever had…. His integrity, his industry and his high sense of duty and responsibility rendered him a veritable rock of dependability.”

India Henry doubtless inherited some of his father’s great character. He was wildly successful during his life, playing a vital part for many years in the governance of India, of all places. His crowning professional achievement was being appointed—not just once, but twice—chairman of the board of the Honourable East India Company, which then governed large parts of the Indian subcontinent. He lived in Bermuda until he was 10 and seems to have had an idyllic childhood, spending his days riding or sailing from one end of Bermuda to the other. He was equally welcomed and trusted in the households of his grandfather Tucker at Port Royal and his grandfather Bruere in St. George’s. He loved and admired both sides of his family and was perfectly able to be a hare with one and a hound with the other.
“I was delicate as a child,” he wrote in an autobiographical sketch produced for his children toward the end of his life, “and being the first-born, I was, of course, indulged and spoilt. I became a little epicure…”

A good education was not to be had in Bermuda in those days, so he and his eight-year-old brother, George, were packed off to London to live with an aunt while they went to school there. His father intended that Henry should have a career in law. His family might have been indulgent, but they did make him a well-mannered child; when he left for England, his mother’s parting words of advice were that it would not be necessary to doff his cap to every soul he met on the streets of London. In his little memoir, he wrote: “But habit is strong; and even now, when I repair to the stables for my horse, I interchange bows with the coachman and the ostlers and all…whom I encounter in the mews.”
He found his new life difficult; more or less completely unschooled at the age of 10, he had a lot of catching up to do. But he liked languages, Greek particularly, and literature. He discovered novels at school, and the Fates being as fond of irony as they are, he particularly liked The Arabian Nights and Tales of the Genii. He was intelligent, and he worked hard, so he was far from being at the bottom of the class. However, his school career was cut short when he was nearly 15. During the Christmas holidays at the end of 1785, his aunt suddenly asked him if he would like to go to India, saying she could get him a berth as a midshipman on an East Indiaman if he wanted. It’s not a question you ask a healthy young boy with any hope of being turned down.

The official version of this incident was that his aunt acted on a whim. She certainly did not consult President Henry, who understandably was very angry about the sudden disappearance of his son to the far side of the world. There could be no legal career for a young man who cut his schooling short in that way. President Henry wrote a letter of reproof to his son. Although he admitted to his own children that it “cut me to my very heart,” India Henry does not quote from it in his memoir; neither does he seem to have shown it to the man who wrote his biography.

Surely, this official version is the most unlikely of stories. Responsible aunts entrusted with the safekeeping of nephews in families like this one just do not behave like that…at least not without having some very, very good reason.

Here are two facts. Number one: as we will see later, India Henry at the age of 35 was sent to prison for six months for attempting to rape the wife of a friend and colleague in Bengal. Number two: modern theory about the psychology of crime suggests that people who flirt with deviant behaviour, but who do not adopt criminality as a way of life and part of their identity, start their flirting pretty young, between the ages of 8 and 14, normally. Put those two things together, and we can guess at a good reason why a trusted aunt would pack her nephew off to India, without bothering to ask his parents for permission. It’s not much more than the wildest of guesses, perhaps, but…
Young India Henry became a member of the crew of the William Pitt in March 1786. He did not have an easy time of it on his passage to India. During his first night aboard, his greatcoat and his cot were stolen, by Irish emigrants, he said. An overcrowded ship meant his sea chest was broken and his clothes spoiled. He had to sleep on the deck, sometimes in a hencoop. And furling sails at great altitude in freezing gales wasn’t a lot of fun. But give him credit. He got through it with a broad grin on his face.

It turned out to have been a kind of rehearsal for his early life in India.

“I had to struggle for almost 15 years against poverty and debt,” India Henry wrote for his children. “I lived for a time on about 60 rupees a month in Rannee-Moodee-Gully, in a small hovel which I had to maintain against a small colony of rats. My health occasionally failed, but a removal to this country [he was writing in England] or the comforts of marriage never entered my contemplation.”

India Henry had three gifts that helped him through those 15 years. First, he had an ability to see complex issues clearly. Second, he had an ability to write simply and well. And third, he had the great gift of a well-connected family. When he arrived in India, he was able to live for some months with the family of his mother’s brother, a Bruere, who was in the Indian civil service in Calcutta.

Leaving Calcutta, he went to live in Gyah, in the state of Bihar, north of Calcutta, with a man called Thomas Law, who was the tax collector there. Law, who was older than India Henry by a dozen years, had also come to India as a 17-year-old from his home in Cambridgeshire. Law and India Henry forged their friendship on horseback pig-sticking expeditions in the country and in long conversations about the great Indian issues of the day. Law helped him find his first job and gave him invaluable help, especially during the early part of his career. They remained close friends for as long as Law lived, until 1834.

John William Kaye was a respected British military historian of that time. He wrote several books about India and the region, including a history of India’s Sepoy War. His fifth book, published in London in 1854, three years after India Henry’s death, was The Life and Correspondence of Henry St George Tucker. He wrote that it was under Law’s roof that India Henry began to study seriously “the peculiarities of native character and native institutions, and to ponder over the intricacies of our system of government, and its effect upon the welfare of the people.”

Kaye quotes India Henry as having written that “the first year of my residence in India…I received impressions very favourable to the old Mahomedan families, whose fate excited my commiseration. I met at different times Gholaum Hussein Khan…and he appeared to me the finest specimen of a nobleman I had ever seen. I have never lost the impressions which I received of the harsh treatment which many of the old families had experienced at our hands; and I have since fought the battle of many of the chieftains whose territories we have confiscated.”

He studied Indian languages and claimed to have been so successful that he was able to translate a technical book on perspective into Persian for a painter friend when he was little more than 17. That might have been a bit of an exaggeration, but there is no question that India Henry adapted to Indian culture extraordinarily well and extraordinarily quickly.

His rise up the ladder of the Indian administration wasn’t quite as quick, but almost. In 1790, when he was 19, he was an assistant to the accountant of the Board of Trade in Calcutta, thought highly of by his head of department, writing papers on the administration of the Indian people that would have been remarkable had they been written by men twice his age. The following year, he was appointed a member of the East India Company’s covenanted civil service, an assistant in the accountant general’s office. When he was 30, he became the accountant general of virtually all of India.

He was highly respected, a member of the inner circles of two governors-general, and had a substantial intellectual influence on the direction and policies of Indian governance. There was hardly an important issue during that period in which he was not involved. As the nineteenth century began, he manoeuvred the Indian economy from a state of financial depression to a state of surplus. But there was a cost: the strain on him must have been enormous.

He wrote to his sister Ann early in 1804: “I am…about to resign my office and to accept the situation of senior member of a house of business here—Cockerell, Trail, Palmer and Co. The change is not altogether agreeable to me, but I determined upon it principally with a view to enable my friend, Mr Palmer, to return to England—a measure which the state of his health rendered absolutely necessary, and which he could not accomplish by any other means. I gain nothing in point of income; and the only advantage which the arrangement holds out to me is, the prospect of being admitted a partner into the House at home (Paxton, Cockerell and Co.) In this case, I shall probably be enabled to retire to England three or four years hence—never more to return to this detested country.”

Detested country. Even though he didn’t say so, that phrase reveals the truth that his rapid climb to success had been a difficult, exhausting business. One suspects that the climate of India, which had ruined the health of so many Englishmen, was having an effect on him as well. Kaye wrote that he wanted nothing more, at that stage in his life, than to be able to return to the bosom of his family: “…his heart had never ceased to yearn for the pleasure of listening to their dear voices again.”

India Henry wrote to his sister Ann that he wanted very much to return to Bermuda, especially to see his father. It was a journey he would never undertake. Instead, India Henry’s life tipped upside down. The move to Cockerell, Trail, Palmer and Co. very nearly ruined him.

A short time after joining the new company, India Henry became besotted with Dorothea, the young wife of George Simpson, a junior partner. He tried to seduce her, and when his advances were rejected, he sexually molested her, prompting his arrest and subsequent trial for rape. It was a most extraordinary thing for a man like Henry St. George Tucker to do, and it rapidly became a scandal all over India and, have no doubt of it, the rest of the Empire.
His attempt to seduce the young Dorothea had two parts. First, alone with her after a dinner one night, he began a conversation said at his trial to be “so improper, that Mrs Simpson rose up with indignation” and asked him to stop. He apologised. She sat down. He tried again and she fled. Mrs. Simpson told her husband, who had it out with India Henry. He was as contrite and apologetic as he could be—got onto his knees, apparently, to apologise to Mrs. Simpson. The Simpsons agreed to forget the whole business.

However, some months later, India Henry seems to have manufactured a reason to see Dorothea alone, this time in her house. It rained while they were together. The prosecutor said, “Whilst her back was to the door, and she was employed in closing the venetians, she finds herself rudely laid hold of by the hand; she is forcibly pulled to the bed, and to her astonishment, she finds the door shut and Mr Tucker with his breeches unbuttoned and hanging to the ground.” The assault failed, the court was told, because the bed stood high off the ground, and Mr. Tucker was not a strong man.

It isn’t easy, 200 years after the fact, to grasp all the pressure that must have built up around such an incident in the English expatriate community in India in the first part of the nineteenth century. Underlying everything would be speculation about whether the English would allow an important man like Henry Tucker to be tried and tried fairly for such an offence. Would such an Englishman be brought to book if he assaulted an Indian woman in a similar fashion?
Then there was the code of conduct of the day. This is just one short paragraph among many in a similar vein from the opening statement of the prosecutor at the trial: “But, gentlemen, virtue and innocence like [Mrs Simpson’s] need have no fears. Guarded and encircled by the radiant blaze of truth and honour, herself an object of interest and compassion, I am persuaded there is not in this assembly, one heart so callous as not to bleed for the necessity that compels her appearance, no heart so dastardly as not to burn with zeal to stand forth her protector, none so devoid of every moral feeling as not to be roused with indignation against the ruffian who assailed her.”

The trial was conducted as if those words had the force of law. Robust cross-examination of female witnesses could not possibly take place in that kind of climate. Only men served on juries. Women were thought to be flowers much too delicate for the ugly business of judging the behaviour of common wrongdoers. God knows what mayhem might have broken out in that court if the words “Madam, I put it to you that you are lying through your teeth” had been uttered.

It is evident from the record of the trial that there were circumstances about which Mrs. Simpson should have been cross-examined vigorously. Her house, for example, was small and full of servants at the time. It does seem an unlikely place for a man to choose for a rape. Mrs. Simpson remembered the details of the incident very well but couldn’t remember whether she screamed or not. Not one of the servants was called to testify. Indeed, Mrs. Simpson was the only witness for the prosecution. India Henry refused to say a word and asked his defence counsel to say as little as possible.

A panel of three judges heard the case, headed by then-Chief Justice of Bengal Sir Henry Russell. Sir William Burroughs, one of the panel’s other members, summed the case up for the Crown. He remarked upon those unanswered questions about Mrs. Simpson’s evidence. He quite obviously did not believe that India Henry intended to rape the woman, only that he assaulted her, which was the second, lesser charge against him.

Nonetheless, India Henry was convicted. In the circumstances, he probably stood no chance at all of not being convicted. What male juror would have wanted to be thought the kind of callous, dastardly man so devoid of moral feeling that he would give the beast Tucker so much as an inch of slack? But the six months Tucker spent in jail and the fine he had to pay had little immediate effect on his career. English expatriate society in India, certainly, seemed to believe that despite the court’s verdict, India Henry Tucker was completely innocent.

That is perhaps a generous attitude, but it is not correct. India Henry might not have intended to rape Dorothea when he pulled his trousers down, but he knew perfectly well that he was committing an assault. On his behalf, his counsel defended him by saying only that no matter how mistaken he might have been in thinking his advances would be welcomed by Dorothea, rape never entered his mind.

Had the jury believed him and found him not guilty of attempted rape, it would have made a difference only to the record. Sir William Burroughs said, in his address to the jury, that he would have received about the same sentence on the lesser charge as was given for attempted rape.

India Henry was released from prison early in June 1807. A day or two later, he was appointed a member of the commission for superintending the settlement of ceded and conquered districts, and he resumed his career. But it sputtered a bit before long. A little of the heart seemed to go out of him.

Part of the reason was surely his father’s death in Bermuda in 1808. The timing couldn’t have been worse. President Henry must have learned about the trial, if not from his son himself, then on the grapevine. Did India Henry have time to ask his father’s forgiveness? A few months later, in early 1809, two of his brothers, Lt. Col. George (who went to England with him to be educated) and Captain Nathanial, both officers in the British Army, were lost at sea in a shipwreck. In a letter to Ann a short time later, India Henry wrote, “To my poor unfortunate mother, I have not been able to write a line. What can I say to her? For some misfortune, no consolation can be offered.”

In 1815, he returned to England, where he was able to see his mother, who had moved there to be closer to her larger family. After a short time in London, he went to live in Edinburgh. There he met a young woman called Jane Boswell (a relative of James Boswell, who wrote The Life of Dr Samuel Johnson) and married her. He took her to India and began to resume his life there. Her health was affected by the climate, however, and they returned, settling finally at Portman Square in London.

India Henry and his wife had 11 children, one of whom died in infancy.

His third daughter, Charlotte Maria, was a well-known writer of children’s stories. She wrote that her father was “charming; full of wit, full of fun, full of gay spirits and laughter; full also of the tenderest affection for his wife and children, an affection which was abundantly returned. He was an intensely loving and lovable man…. While he talked little of his own feelings, he did much for the good of others; and his life was one long stretch of usefulness.”

His life in London was taken up with the management of the East India Company. He also found time to publish two plays and a book of poetry, The Sphinx. There were, it has to be said, no flies on Henry St. George Tucker, the writer. Had he written more, he might well have made a contribution to literature.

One of his plays was The Tragedy of Camoens. The name is undoubtedly taken from Luis Vaz de Camoens, considered the Portuguese language’s greatest poet. He was an adventurer who was with Vasco da Gama in 1498 when he discovered India. It is as tragic a tragedy as ever was written. Theodora, daughter of the viceroy of Goa, thinking her love for Camoens spurned, falsely reports to the Inquisition that he has insulted the Holy Father. He is whisked off to prison. Too late, she learns he loves her after all. It’s too much for her. She goes mad, murders his best friend, makes intense expressions of regret—“Pray for my soul! ’Twas madness gave the wound!”—then commits suicide. (If Dorothea was in his mind, that certainly was a robust allegorical revenge.) In the end, Camoens is saved just as the Inquisition is marching him off to the rack. Among the bodies, he finds Theodora’s father, pushed to the very edge of death by grief. Taking his arm, Camoens delivers the last lines of the play:

And in the effort to support and soothe
A wretched father’s grief, I’ll hope to find
The strength and fortitude to bear my own.