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TUCK, WILLIAM HENRY, lawyer and judge; b. 27 Feb. 1831 in Indiantown (Saint John), son of Moses Tuck and Elizabeth Travis; m. 1 Dec. 1857 Sarah Plummer Favor (d. 1917) in Eastport, Maine, and they had four sons and two daughters; d. 8 April 1913 in Saint John.

Harry Tuck was reared in a modest Saint John neighbourhood specializing in the transshipment of goods around and timber through the Reversing Falls. Here the juvenile Tuck assisted his father in navigating great log rafts downstream. Four years of secondary schooling at Sackville’s Wesleyan Academy (1844–48) preceded entry as a student into the law chambers of fellow Methodist Lemuel Allan Wilmot* of Fredericton, the province’s attorney general. At Wilmot’s elevation to the bench, in 1851, Tuck returned to Saint John to complete his articling with William Jack. Admitted as an attorney in 1853, he was called to the bar on 11 Oct. 1855.

As was the case with other judicial appointees in post-confederation New Brunswick, Tuck’s path to the bench lay through partisan politics. Unusually, however, he never held elective office; he was a back-room manipulator exclusively. A lifelong advocate of the “liberal, democratic views” of the reformers (Smashers) of his political youth, by 1860 Tuck was already one of Samuel Leonard Tilley*’s key political organizers in Saint John. He clung to Tilley throughout the vicissitudes of the confederation struggle and, though denied a seat on the newly created county court in 1867, he was made a qc, solicitor of the provincial railway, and clerk of the crown, all on the same day that year. The last office, held until 1883, brought him fame as prosecutor of the most sensational criminal cases of the day. In 1874 the province made him recorder (city solicitor) of Saint John, a position he retained until appointed to the bench.

Tuck’s adherence to the pro-confederate faction of the provincial Liberal party meant that, like Tilley, he gave allegiance, paradoxically, to the federal Conservatives. In 1867 he became the first New Brunswick agent for Sir John A. Macdonald* as federal attorney general. By 1881 he was de facto chief organizer for the Saint John Conservatives, and it was said of him that “he creates all the officers . . . for the Government at Ottawa in this part of the country.” Sacrificial candidature in the election of 1882 sealed his claim to major reward, which came with elevation to the bench in 1885. In 1896, having professedly declined a seat on the Supreme Court of Canada from unwillingness to leave Saint John, he became the province’s first non-Anglican chief justice. He resigned in 1908, after first taunting Sir Wilfrid Laurier’s Liberals that they would have to impeach him to have his place.

As a judge, Tuck had too much of the common touch to win many admirers in an age when the Supreme Court was seen by the public as a sad epigone of the aristocratic, learned judiciary of the days before the federalization of appointments in 1867. Ever-mindful of his humble beginnings, he claimed to rejoice that “everyone calls me Harry” and that men thought it unnecessary to raise their hat to him. Perhaps it was this democratic impulse which led him to intervene to smooth the path of professional admission for Solomon Hart Green*, the first Jew in the Maritimes to become a lawyer. Not without reason did Tuck’s reputation as a political partisan follow him onto the bench; for example, in 1893 he negotiated John James Fraser*’s appointment as lieutenant governor, as he was later to boast in the press. His decision on a technicality, costing the Liberals a seat in the bitter federal election of 1887, provoked Saint John Globe editor John Valentine Ellis to impugn Tuck’s impartiality so severely that Ellis was charged with contempt. The painful saga of Ellis’s prosecution, protracted across six years, became the most dramatic symbol of the court’s perceived decline.

In more recent times Tuck’s obscurity has given way to notoriety as scholars have resurrected his views of the “legitimate” role of women. When Mabel Priscilla Penery French* applied in 1905 for a legal declaration whether women fell within the definition of a “person” who might practise law, the chief justice objected that if women could become lawyers then they might be soldiers, police, or even judges, propositions manifestly absurd. He had “no sympathy with the opinion that women should in all branches of life come in competition with men. Better let them attend to their own legitimate business.” Whether Tuck’s characteristically provocative remarks were made more pointed by the climate of opinion in his own household is a natural subject for speculation. When the Association for the Advancement of Women held its 1896 convention in Saint John, it was Sarah Tuck who billeted the celebrated American feminist Julia Ward Howe, and she held office for several years in the Local Council of Women.

D. G. Bell

NA, MG 26, A: 199498–99; MG 27, I, D15, Tuck to Tilley, 16 April 1862, 6 June 1867; RG 31, C1, 1881, Saint John. PANB, MC 288, MS4; RS32, C, 11, 11 Oct. 1855. Saint John Jewish Hist. Museum Arch., Green-Hart-Isaacs family tree, comp. Phyllis Green (1976). Daily Sun (Saint John), 19 March, 18 Dec. 1885; continued as the StJohn Daily Sun, 25 Jan. 1895; 5, 29 May 1896; 27 Jan. 1900; 1 Feb. 1904; 3 Oct. 1906. Morning Freeman (Saint John), 10 March 1860, 18 June 1867. Progress (Saint John), 13 Oct. 1888, 29 Feb. 1896. Saint John Globe, 19 Nov. 1878, 22 Feb. 1881, 19 March 1885, 15 Sept. 1896, 13 Dec. 1911, 19 May 1917. StJohn Morning Telegraph (Saint John), 18 June 1867. D. G. Bell, “Judicial crisis in post-confederation New Brunswick,” in Glimpses of’ Canadian legal history, ed. Dale Gibson and W. W. Pue ([Winnipeg], 1991), 189-203. The Currie-HuestisStriped Stockingscase: as heard at the York nisi prius sittings, August, 1885 ([Fredericton, 1885]). Vital statistics from NB. newspapers, vols.16, 26, 37, 40. L. K. Yorke, “Mabel Penery French (1881-1955): a life re-created,” Univ. of New Brunswick Law Journal (Fredericton), 42 (1993): 3–49.

General Bibliography

Cite This Article

D. G. Bell, “TUCK, WILLIAM HENRY,” in Dictionary of Canadian Biography, vol. 14, University of Toronto/Université Laval, 2003–, accessed December 22, 2014, http://www.biographi.ca/en/bio/tuck_william_henry_14E.html.

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Permalink: http://www.biographi.ca/en/bio/tuck_william_henry_14E.html
Author of Article: D. G. Bell
Title of Article: TUCK, WILLIAM HENRY
Publication Name: Dictionary of Canadian Biography, vol. 14
Publisher: University of Toronto/Université Laval
Year of publication: 1998
Year of revision: 1998
Access Date: December 22, 2014