TUCKER, RICHARD ALEXANDER, lawyer, judge, and office-holder; b. 1784 in Bermuda, the son of Henry Tucker, president of the Council of Bermuda, and Frances Bruere, daughter of that island’s governor; m. his cousin, Mary Todd Bruere, and they had two sons and two daughters; d. 11 Dec. 1868 at Clapton, Middlesex, England.
After schooling in Bermuda, Richard Alexander Tucker enrolled on 20 Oct. 1802 at Jesus College, Cambridge, and, beginning 16 July 1802, studied law at the Inner Temple. Upon receiving his ma in 1818 he joined the imperial service and was for a period deputy paymaster-general of British forces in British North America.
On 1 Oct. 1822 Tucker was appointed chief justice of Newfoundland and served as the sole judge in the colony until 1825, when imperial legislation established the Supreme Court of Newfoundland, adding two assistant judges. On 2 Jan. 1826 the new court opened with John William Molloy and Augustus Wallet DesBarres as assistants. Thereafter Tucker presided as chief justice of the court, as president of the Council, and as administrator of the colony in the governor’s absence; he filled this latter role from October 1827 to August 1828 and during the winter of 1831–32.
Tucker bitterly and publicly opposed the granting of representative government to Newfoundland in 1832 and after its inauguration attempted, through his position in the Council, to destroy it by denying the assembly the power to raise revenues. The colony’s first revenue bill of January 1833 sought to impose a tax upon wine and spirits. After the bill had passed the assembly, Tucker opposed it in the Council on the grounds that a colony had not the legal power to tax an item that was already taxed by the imperial government, and that even if such a power existed the assembly had no moral right to impose taxes upon people who could not afford to pay them. In short, it was Tucker’s position that the Newfoundland people should admit that the new form of government “had been foolishly requested and unfortunately granted” and that they should throw themselves upon the mercy of the imperial government for support and sustenance.
Tucker was able to persuade the attorney general, James Simms, to vote with him and thus prevented passage of the bill through the four-member Council where a three-fourths majority was necessary. This obstructive action incensed Governor Thomas John Cochrane*, but even when James Stephen, legal adviser to the Colonial Office, overruled the chief justice, Tucker remained adamant in his stand. As an expedient, he suggested that he go on leave and allow the bill to be passed in his absence; he threatened, however, that if a test case subsequently came before him on the bench he would declare the law to be ultra vires. This solution was clearly unacceptable to Cochrane. Declaring his “unalterable purpose never to return to my office of Chief Justice . . . if it shall appear to His Majesty’s Government that the grounds upon which I opposed the bill did not abundantly justify me in doing so,” Tucker sailed for England in March 1833. Nor did he return to Newfoundland, for the British colonial secretary accepted his resignation.
After a brief residence in New York City, Tucker moved with his family to Kingston, Upper Canada, where in 1838 Lieutenant Governor Sir George Arthur* learned that he was living in obscurity and poverty. When approached about an appointment in the colony Tucker was still “resolved never to solicit office or accept it unless not only my conduct while in office [in Newfoundland] but also my propriety in leaving it” were recognized. Tucker had refused several lucrative legal offices in India offered him through the influence of his eldest brother who was in the East India Company. Arthur learned from Lord Glenelg in July 1838 that the “difficulty” of “some scruple of punctilious honor” was now removed as far as Tucker was concerned and the British government was favourable to an appointment for Tucker.
From 1 Oct. 1838 until the creation of the united province in February 1841 Tucker was provincial secretary of Upper Canada. In that office he supervised the recording, filing, and copying of many of the formal documents of government and reported provincial statistics. His experience of administration in Newfoundland contributed to the reorganization and enlarging of the provincial secretary’s responsibilities. He also served as registrar of Upper Canada with duties complementing those of provincial secretary; he was appointed a member of the Heir and Devisee Commission, a commissioner of the peace in the Western, Brock, and Johnstown districts, and in 1839 a commissioner to inquire into the state of government departments. He was appointed registrar of the Province of Canada in 1841 and continued in that office till his retirement in January 1851, when he probably returned to England.
Though he held office, Tucker from 1838 took little part in official and political society. He felt that Lord Sydenham [Thomson*] had “left an almost impracticable system of Government to his successor.” A devoted member of the Church of England, he maintained his Tory criticisms of responsible government and of French Canadian and Reform participation in the government of the union.
National Library of Scotland (Edinburgh), mss 2568–608 (Cochrane papers) (copies at PANL). PAC, RG 68, 1, General index, 1651–1841; 1841–67. PANL, GN 1/2, 1832–41. PAO, Macaulay (John) papers, R. A. Tucker to J. Macaulay, 28 March 1846, 15 Feb. 1847. PRO, CO 194/85–86. Arthur papers (Sanderson). Nfld., House of Assembly, Journal, 1833; Legislative Council, Journals, 1833. Newfoundlander, 1832–33. Public Ledger, 1832–33. Royal Gazette (St John’s), 1832–33. Alumni Cantabrigienses . . . , comp. John and J. A. Venn (2 pts. in 10 v., Cambridge, 1922–54), pt.ii, VI, 240. Armstrong, Handbook of Upper Canadian chronology. H. C. Wilkinson, Bermuda from sail to steam; the history of the island from 1784 to 1901 (2v., London, 1973), I, 178–79; II, 444, 518–20.