Dictionary of National Biography, 1885-1900/Tuckey, James Kingston

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TUCKEY, JAMES KINGSTON (1776–1816), commander in the navy and explorer, youngest son of Thomas Tuckey of Greenhill, near Mallow, co. Cork, by Elizabeth, daughter of the Rev. James Kingston of Donoughmore,[1] was born in August 1776. His parents died in his infancy, and he was brought up by his maternal grandmother. After a voyage to the West Indies in a merchant ship, he was in 1793, by the influence of his kinsman, Captain Francis John Hartwell, afterwards commissioner of the navy, placed on board the Suffolk, going out to the East Indies with the broad pennant of Commodore Peter Rainier [q. v.], and in her he was present at the reduction of Trincomalee in August 1795, and of Amboyna, where he was wounded in the left arm by a fragment of a shell. He was afterwards put in command of a prize brig, and ordered to cruise off the island, to prevent a threatened insurrection of the natives. By the bursting of a gun his right arm was broken. He had no surgeon, and set it himself. It had to be broken again by the surgeon of the Suffolk, with the result that he never quite recovered its use. In January 1798 he assisted in suppressing a serious mutiny on board the Suffolk, and Rainier, in approving his conduct, gave him an acting order as lieutenant, and appointed him to the Fox frigate. Being at Madras in February 1799, when the Sibylle was sailing to look out for the French frigate Forte [see Cooke, Edward, 1770?-1799], Tuckey, with a party of seamen from the Fox, volunteered for service in her, and took part in capturing the Forte a few days later. He was confirmed in the rank of lieutenant on 6 Oct. 1800. He rejoined the Fox in the Red Sea, and, after returning to Bombay, was again in the Red Sea in the end of 1800. He suffered much from the heat, and laid the foundations of 'a hepatic derangement,' from which he suffered all the rest of his life. He was invalided to India, and was sent home with despatches.

In 1802 he was appointed first lieutenant of the Calcutta, going out to New South Wales to establish a colony at Port Phillip. Tuckey remained in the Calcutta the whole time, and made a complete survey of the harbour of Port Phillip and a careful examination of the adjacent coast and country. On his return to England in the autumn of 1804 he published 'The Account of a Voyage to establish a Colony at Port Phillip in Bass's Strait … in the years 1802, 1803-4' (1805, 8vo). The dedication to Sir Francis Hartwell is dated 'Portsmouth, 29 October 1804.' The Calcutta was then sent out to St. Helena to convoy the homeward-bound East Indiaman. On the way home she was met by the Rochefort squadron and was captured. Her captain, Woodriff, was exchanged some eighteen months later; but for Tuckey no exchange was permitted, and he was detained a prisoner in France, mostly at Verdun, till the peace of 1814. During this time he wrote a comprehensive work, 'Maritime Geography and Statistics,' which was published on his return to England (1815, 4 vols. 8vo). He was promoted to the rank of commander on 27 Aug. 1814. After the peace of 1815 the government determined to send out an expedition to endeavour to solve the problem of the Congo. Many officers thrown out of employment by the peace applied for the command, which was conferred on Tuckey, mainly, it would seem, in recognition of his geographical studies as shown in the 'Maritime Geography.' It was indeed objected that his health was delicate, but he urged that it would improve in a warm climate, and so it was settled that he should go. There is no doubt that his two published works showed Tuckey as a scientific geographer; his service record showed him to be a good officer, and it was probably thought that some compensation was due to him for his long imprisonment; but the idea of choosing this particular reward or compensation for a man affected with chronic disease of the liver, and that without any medical inspection, seems preposterous.

He sailed early in 1816 in a specially built vessel, named the Congo, and accompanied by the Dorothy storeship. The Dorothy remained in the lower river, while the Congo pushed up as far as the cataracts. Tuckey then undertook a journey by land, to see what was above the cataracts, but his health completely broke down, and he was obliged to return. Utterly worn out, he got back to the Congo on 17 Sept.; on the following day he was sent down to the Dorothy, and on board her he died on 4 Oct., 'of exhaustion rather than of disease.' But the report of the surgeon was 'that since leaving England he never enjoyed good health, the hepatic functions being generally in a deranged state.' His journal, exactly as he wrote it, was published, by permission of the admiralty, under the title of 'Narrative of an Expedition to explore the River Zaire, usually called the Congo, in South Africa, in 1816, under the direction of Captain J. K. Tuckey, R.N.' (1818, 4to). While at Verdun in 1806 Tuckey married Margaret Stuart, a fellow-prisoner, daughter of the captain of an Indiaman, by whom he left issue.

[His works as mentioned, especially the introduction to the Narrative of the Congo Expedition, p. xlvii, where the anonymous editor has given a detailed memoir.]

J. K. L.

  1. Irish marriage records indicate that this marriage is between Thomas Tuckey and Elizabeth Hingston[1] (Wikisource contributor note)