Alfred Tucker was born at Woolwich on April 1, 1849 to Edward Tucker and Julia Mary Maile. In his early days, Tucker exerted great influence on the young men and women of Langdale where he taught Sunday school. As he grew up, his religious instincts continued to find their natural expression in the service of his fellow human beings. As a youth, Alfred Tucker received an art education and in 1874, at the age of twenty-five, he exhibited at the Royal Academy. Besides being a good artist, Alfred Tucker also became famous for walking over sixty miles in twenty-four hours.
As Tucker’s parents were both landscape artists and did not earn enough income, they moved from place to place in pursuit of a living. Due to his family’s lack of financial means, Tucker did not go to Oxford as an undergraduate student until 1878. At Oxford, Canon Christopher Birdwood, the vicar of St. Aldate’s Church, influenced Tucker’s spiritual life. Birdwood held Bible classes for the undergraduates and often invited them to his house for social gatherings. Tucker regularly attended Birdwood’s Bible classes and participated in open-air services on Sunday evenings at the Martyrs’ Memorial.
When Tucker decided to become a priest his family members did not welcome the idea. His father in particular was proud of Tucker’s artistic abilities and urged him to pursue that talent instead. Contrary to his family’s wishes, in 1879 Tucker matriculated at Oxford as a non-collegiate student. While at Oxford, Tucker joined Bishop French’s “Society of Mission Associates.” In 1881 he joined Christ Church and graduated in 1882.
On October 20, 1882, Tucker married Hannah Josephine and they had one son. On December 21, 1882, he was ordained a deacon in Gloucester Cathedral and became curate of St. Andrew’s the Less, Clifton, under the Rev. E. P. Hathaway. In 1885 Tucker became curate of St. Nicholas, Durham, where he remained for five years.
After a year in Durham, Tucker began to think seriously about going to Africa as a missionary. Arthur P. Shepherd in his book, Tucker of Uganda: Artist and Apostle 1849-1914 quotes Tucker’s letter to Hathaway in which he said, “I have it in my heart to offer myself to the C.M.S. and especially if God should make the way clear for service in Africa. … Interest in missionary work I have had for many years. … The events of the last few months in the missionary world and the death of Bishop Hannington have brought it to a culminating point. … The watchword “Africa for Christ” is ringing in my ears continually.”
In 1890 Tucker wrote to the Church Missionary Society, asking if there was any position available in East Africa for which he might be suitable, as an ordinary missionary. In response to his request, Benson, the Archbishop of Canterbury nominated him to fill the vacant bishopric of Eastern Equatorial Africa. The first bishop, James Hannington, had been murdered by orders of King Mwanga of Buganda; the second, Henry Perrot Parker, had died on his way to Uganda. Eugene Stock in his book, The History of the Church Missionary Society, Its Environment, Its Men, and Its Work, Vol. 3, reports Tucker as having said: “I am humbled to the dust. I can only cry to God in what is little else than an agony of mind and soul, ‘Who and what am I that I should put my hand to this work?’”
Tucker was consecrated at Lambeth on St. Mark’s day April 25, 1890, and left for East Africa the same day. He arrived at the headquarters of the Church Missionary Society in Mombasa on May 10, 1890. On July 10, Tucker left for Uganda, and arrived at the CMS Uganda Mission headquarters at Mengo on December 27, 1890 after a journey of eight hundred miles on foot. Although Tucker found Uganda in a state of semi-war, the Christian congregation of the Church of England was strong. He later wrote in his book Eighteen Years in Uganda and East Africa that:
Early in the morning after my arrival I was aroused from my slumbers by a murmur of voices. It seemed as though a continuous stream of people was flowing passed the house. … It was a remarkable sight that met my gaze as I entered the church. … Here on my right hand was Apolo Kagwa, the Katikiro–a baptized Christian–here on my left was Zakaria Kizito, a chief of Budu. There was Sembera Mackay and Henry Wright Duta, and in front a great crowd of apparently earnest worshipers. … The whole assembly seemed to be pervaded with a spirit of earnest devotion.
In May 1891 Tucker was back in England to report on the situation in Uganda. At this time the British East Africa Company was disappointed at the government’s failure to provide a railway and was leaving Uganda. However, Tucker’s influence in obtaining special gifts from friends of the Church Missionary Society’s mission in Uganda enabled the company to continue for one more year. In 1892, the British government sent a special commissioner, Sir Gerald Herbert Portal, to report on how to best deal with Uganda. Based on his report, Uganda was eventually proclaimed a British protectorate in 1894. Largely through Tucker’s exertions, Uganda remained under British influence.
In 1897 the diocese of Eastern Equatorial Africa was divided in two and Tucker chose to be the bishop of Uganda. The Church Missionary Society’s Uganda mission had started the Christian congregation of the Church of England. Tucker determined to organize the burgeoning congregation into an African Anglican Church independent of the Church of England and yet an integral part of the Anglican Communion. His argument was that growth of spiritual experience, noted among the Christians in Uganda, must be encouraged by growth in responsibility. Mary Stuart in her book, Land of Promise: A Story of the Church in Uganda, quotes Tucker as saying, “It will be our wisdom to develop the church council and to make its members realize that theirs is the responsibility, the work of organizing the church, and of evangelizing their fellow countrymen. Let us consult them in everything and make their meetings times of real conference, one with the other, on the pressing questions of the day.”
By 1891 the number of those attending Sunday services came to about a thousand people. Tucker, who had been impressed by the inquiring spirit of the Africans and the way in which those who could read took it upon themselves to teach those who wanted to learn, quickly acted on their potential as teachers and catechists. On January 31, 1891, Tucker commissioned the first six catechists. These men were the first to spread Christianity outside King Mwanga’s capital. In 1893 he ordained the first six African deacons, some of whom he ordained priests in 1896. By taking these two initiatives, Tucker allowed the Anglican Church in Uganda to develop its own leadership much more quickly than was usual in other CMS missions in the nineteenth century. Ugandans have always regarded Tucker’s idea of African ministry as an important contribution to both early and present African missionary zeal in the country.
His second step was to draw up the constitution of the African Anglican Church because he strongly believed that Ugandan Christians and missionaries should have equal status in the African Anglican Church in Uganda. In October 1898, Tucker presented his draft constitution–which included the principles of integration and representation–to the CMS missionaries who only accepted it 1907, nine years later, when they finally agreed to hold a representative synod every year.
In April 1909 a representative synod met to adopt a constitution for the African Anglican Church in Uganda. The two guiding principles in Tucker’s constitution were concentration and decentralization. The constitution created at the center a strong governing body, which would carry the weight, as only a truly representative body can. Thanks to Tucker’s constitution, Africans began to learn in a unique way the principles of democracy, self-government, and self-support. Before retiring from service in Uganda in 1911, Tucker saw the constitution, which he had struggled for so long to introduce in Uganda, in full and successful working order.
Tucker’s other achievement was in the area of formal education. In 1897, Tucker decided to reorganize education in his diocese and gave C. W. Hattersley the responsibility of building a system of primary schools throughout his diocese. At first, Tucker’s efforts were focused on making the converts literate so that they could read religious books. By 1901, he recognized that education should have a two-fold purpose. First, because Tucker believed that good citizenship depended on good character, he felt education should build character in students to make them good citizens of their country. Secondly, education should prepare Africans to function in the world at large. He felt Africans would be best prepared for the world with a high school education. He hoped that graduates of these schools would go out to take up places of responsibility in the administrative, commercial, and industrial life of Uganda. Thanks to his efforts, a network of schools developed throughout Uganda which became a basis for future development. Tucker’s school system made provisions for Africans to move from the lowest social status to the highest, if they demonstrated competency.
Tucker also played a great role in the introduction of scientific medicine in Uganda. He quickly realized that Ugandans were in very poor health because traditional medicine could not deal effectively with the kind of diseases plaguing them. So, like education, medical work also became an integral part of his missionary strategy. On this topic, Tucker wrote, “One felt that, altogether apart from its value as an evangelistic agency, medical missionary work was needed to kindle the spark of Christ-like pity and compassion, and to bring home to the hearts and consciences of these Baganda who were beginning to run the Christian course, the duty and privilege of ministering to the sick and suffering.”
To hasten the advent of scientific medicine in Uganda, Tucker invited Dr. Albert Cook and nursing sister Katherine Timpson to the country. They arrived in early February of 1897 in Mengo where they were both assigned to work. On February 22, 1897, medical work began, with King Mwanga as one of the first patients. With Tucker’s strong encouragement, Dr. Cook began to treat Africans with modern medicine which was soon made available all over Uganda. Soon people throughout East Africa knew about this institution in Tucker’s diocese of Uganda that could relieve suffering. As a result, this modern medical and surgical knowledge had such an impact on the old traditional methods of treatment that Africans no longer interpreted disease in terms of witchcraft.
In addition to the spiritual, educational and medical services Tucker made business ventures an integral part of the mission of the church in Uganda. This was a revolutionary idea during Tucker’s time as other CMS missionaries never considered this a part of the church’s mission. Everywhere Tucker visited, he encouraged Ugandans to grow trees and make bricks and tiles. His crusade to create business ventures came at a time when the Protectorate Government in 1904 decided to control the natural forests. In response to Tucker’s campaign, all the mission stations planted eucalyptus trees. To this day eucalyptus trees and other trees typically grow around mission stations and along the roads leading up to these mission stations. At that time, eucalyptus trees were new in Uganda but their economic importance soon became obvious because the wood, as a building material, is resistant to decay. The bricks, tiles, and blocks that were made and used by many mission stations and the African population replaced traditional building materials of mud, wattle, reeds, and grass.
Tucker was also concerned that Africans have adequate sources of revenue. He therefore encouraged them to grow cash crops such as coffee and cotton, previously introduced in Uganda by the Protectorate Government. Every convert was urged to grow many coffee trees, a big field of cotton, and banana and eucalyptus trees. New food crops were also introduced in different areas of the diocese. Tucker urged Christian chiefs to play an important role in the economic development of their people and many took his advice seriously. During Tucker’s time, because Uganda was mainly rural, mission stations modeled new standards of living to the surrounding areas. The stations consisted of several buildings made of more durable materials and in new styles, in contrast to those built in the traditional way. By urging the Africans to participate actively in business ventures, notably growing crops and making bricks, Tucker inculcated in the Africans a spirit of hard work still evident in the Ugandan Christian population today.
In March of 1911, after retiring from the diocese of Uganda, Tucker was appointed canon of Durham Cathedral where he was fully occupied doing supply work in the country and at Durham. The Durham Cathedral Chapter elected him their proctor in the Northern Convocation. In 1914 he was appointed one of the Church of England representatives at the National United Conference on “Faith and Order” formed early in 1900 by the archbishops of Canterbury and York together with the leaders of the Free Churches in England.
On June 15, 1914, just outside the Jerusalem Chamber in London, as he was entering to attend the first meeting of the United Conference on “Faith and Order,” Tucker was attacked by a sudden illness and died within an hour.
At the memorial service in St. Bride’s Church on June 19, 1914, the Archbishop of Canterbury characterized Tucker as a man of vision, the true seer who could make his God-given vision live in the hearts and actions of men and women with whom he came into contact.
Byaruhanga, Christopher. “Bishop Alfred Robert Tucker of Uganda: A Defender of Colonialism or Democracy?” in Uganda Journal 49 (December 2003): 1-7.
Shepherd, Arthur P. Tucker of Uganda: Artist and Apostle 1849-1914. London: Student Christian Movement, 1929.
Stock, Eugene. The History of the Church Missionary Society, Its Environment, Its Men, and Its Work. Vols. 1-3. London: Church Missionary Society, 1899.
Stuart, Mary. Land of Promise: A Story of the Church in Uganda. London: The Highway Press, 1958.
Tucker, A. R. Eighteen Years in Uganda and East Africa. Vols. I-II. London: Edward Arnold, 1908.
This article, received in 2005, was researched and written by Rev. Dr. Christopher Byaruhanga, 2005-2006 Project Luke fellow and Associate Professor of Historical Theology at Uganda Christian University, a DACB Participating Institution. He is also the liaison coordinator at UCU.