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Smallwood's pen pal

(May 18, 2000, Gazette)

By Bert Riggs

George Henry Tucker was born in Ship Cove, Port de Grave, on Sept. 2, 1882, the son of George Tucker and Rebecca Morgan. He received some education at Ship Cove before his parents moved to Crabbes (St. David’s), near St. George’s Bay, where his father operated a farm. In 1901 he moved to Vancouver, where one of his sisters lived, and stayed there until 1908 when he returned to Newfoundland.

Tucker had received very little formal education. After his return to Newfoundland in 1908 he spent one summer in coastal Labrador before gaining employment with the electrical division of the Reid Newfoundland Company as an installer. It was a time when the installation of electricity in commercial and private dwellings was on the upswing and work in this field was quite plentiful. The Reid company divested many of its holdings during 1923-1924; Newfoundland Light and Power was incorporated in 1924 and purchased the electrical power assets of the Reid company (mainly the St. John’s Light and Power Company). Tucker became an employee of the new company and in 1925 was promoted to superintendent of the wiring department. He remained with Newfoundland Light and Power until his death, and at one point was president of the Newfoundland Light and Power Company Employees’ Association. Tucker was also a member of the Llewellyn Club, a Church of England organization dedicated to the “mental and spiritual edification of men.”

How George Tucker met Joseph R. Smallwood remains a mystery. It is most probable they met through their involvement in the labour movement. Tucker was one of the founders of the Newfoundland Industrial Workers’ Association, formed during 1917 in St. John’s, and later served as its vice-president. At one time Smallwood served as editor of the NIWA’s newspaper, the Industrial Worker. Family members recall Smallwood being a constant visitor at the Tucker family home at 20 Gear Street in the early 1920s. It was a gathering place for discussions on the political future of Newfoundland during that particularly trying decade. As well, family members believe that Tucker and Smallwood may have been involved in the formation of a co-operative. Tucker did serve on the organizing committee of the for the NIWA Consumer’s Co-operative Society when it was established in 1918, and later served as its secretary. As Smallwood was involved in the NIWA, he may have been a member of the co-operative society, as well.

After Smallwood returned to Newfoundland in the latter half of the 1920s, he was not such a regular visitor at the Tuckers. This could be due in part to the fact that Smallwood lived for part of that time in Grand Falls and Corner Brook, and spent some time in England. As his letters to Tucker demonstrate, however, during 1924 (and one can assume for some time leading up to that year), George Tucker was “My Dear Comrade”, a sounding board and confidante for Smallwood’s ideas and plans for himself and for the political and economic future of Newfoundland. And, according to Smallwood’s letters, George Tucker was to play a major role in Smallwood’s plans for Newfoundland. Smallwood did remain in contact with Tucker well into the 1930s, inviting him to write an article on the history of the NIWA for inclusion in volume one of The Book of Newfoundland.

George Tucker married Eliza Jane (Jenny) Gosse, a school teacher from Spaniard’s Bay, on July 3, 1909. They had nine children: Walter, a captain in the Indian Army and later mayor of Grand Falls; Ruby; Ronald; George; Douglas; Eileen; Bertha; and two who died in childhood. George Tucker died on Boxing Day, Dec. 26, 1942 from complications brought about by a stroke suffered two days earlier.

The archives is the repository of 19 letters written to George H. Tucker during 1925. They were written by Joseph R. Smallwood who was living in New York City, working for the newspaper, the New York Leader. Smallwood was campaigning for Eugene Debs, the Socialist Party candidate for president of the United States.

These letters provide a rare first-hand account, in Smallwood’s own words, of his political philosophy during this period of his life. There is much discussion of Smallwood’s desire to return to Newfoundland to establish a socialist movement patterned after the British Labour Party, and of the Newfoundlanders Smallwood feels would be sympathetic to such a cause.

There is a 20th letter, dated Feb. 10, 1925, from Grand Falls, Newfoundland, where Smallwood had gone to organize a branch of the International Brotherhood of Pulp, Sulphite and Paper Mill Workers. There is also a single page typescript containing the manifesto of the Newfoundland Labour Party, most likely written by Smallwood and enclosed in one of the letters to Tucker.

These letters were in the possession of George Tucker until his death, when they became the property of his son, Douglas Tucker. After Douglas Tucker’s death they passed to his daughter, Lisa Tucker Boulton, who donated them to Memorial University of Newfoundland in December 1996.

***********

In my column of May 4, 2000, concerning novelist Erle Spencer, I neglected to make mention of my indebtedness to Dr. Ronald Rompkey who has done considerable biographical research and scholarly analysis of Spencer’s work.

Bert Riggs is the archivist for the Centre for Newfoundland Studies Archives, located on level one of the Queen Elizabeth II Library.