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Biography and Psychology IV: Daniel Hack Tuke (1827 - 1895)

Daniel Hack Tuke was a major figure at Bethlem in the late nineteenth century, and well-known within the field of psychiatry. Today he is often over-looked, perhaps due to his self-acknowledged role as a compiler of information, rather than an innovator: his contemporaries saw him as "a sort of scientific sponge": "the cool-eyed observer of nature, and not the far-seeing prophet.”1 One of his major works in this vein was his enormous two-volume compendium A Dictionary of Psychological Medicine, which included articles by many of the leading psychiatrists, psychologists and neurologists of the day, including Jean-Marie Charcot, Hippolyte Bernheim andVictor Horsley.

Tuke was the great-grandson of Samuel Tuke, the Quaker founder of the York Retreat, famous for his role in encouraging the humanitarian treatment of the mentally ill. The Tukes recommended "moral treatment" - the use of education and occupation in asylums, rather than whips, chains and the dramatic bleedings and purgings recommended by some eighteenth century doctors. Bethlem, as previous posts have acknowledged, was heavily influenced by these ideas throughout the second half of the nineteenth century.

Tuke first became involved with Bethlem in the 1870s, and was a trustee until his death, regularly attending meetings and walking the wards - his name can often be found mentioned in anecdotes in the patient casebooks. He was a close colleague of George Savage, superintendent from 1878 - 88: the two were joint editors of the Journal of Mental Science (now The British Journal of Psychiatry) for some sixteen years, and Savage wrote more articles for Tuke's Dictionary than any author other than Tuke himself. Tuke shared Savage's commitment to the importance of personal relationships between psychiatrists and asylum patients, as reflected in an obituary in Under the Dome written by Bethlem patient Henry Francis Harding. Harding's obituary is a stark contrast to the medical obituaries found in the Journal of Mental Science, The Lancet and the British Medical Journal, concentrating on his family life and relationships rather than his medical achievements (although the latter articles do refer much to Tuke's apparently "sentimental" nature).2

He wrote:

The early death of his eldest son, who was a brilliant student of University College Hospital, was a painful blow to Dr. Tuke, but no doubt he found some amount of solace under this loss in the successful career as a painter of his other son, Mr. H.S. Tuke. [Henry Scott Tuke] The latter has been a foremost member of the Newlyn School, and like most of his brother artists of that school of painters, has lived a good deal on his boat on the coast of Cornwall, and, we remember, that about three seasons since, Dr. Tuke, upon his first visit to the Hospital, after his autumn holiday, said to the present writer that he had much enjoyed it, having in good part spent it with his son upon the latter’s studio-boat.3

Henry Scott Tuke, best known for his Impressionistic paintings of male nudes, was a highly successful artist in the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries, more recently becoming a cult figure in gay cultural circles. Although he was involved in what were then often termed "Uranian" circles, judging by the anecdote above Henry enjoyed a close relationship with his father. Looking at the personal and familial life of nineteenth century psychiatrists, then, can sometimes indicate that the definite and moralistic statements of contemporary published works (Tuke's Dictionary, for example, includes a piece by Conolly Norman about homosexuality entitled "Sexual Perversion") were not necessarily adhered to throughout their daily lives - or even, necessarily, in asylum practice.