David Tennant (politician)

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Sir David Tennant
David Tennant - Speaker of the Cape Parliament - Cape Colony.jpg
2nd Speaker of the Cape House of Assembly
In office
Monarch Victoria
Prime Minister John Charles Molteno
Gordon Sprigg
Thomas Charles Scanlen
Thomas Upington
Cecil Rhodes
Preceded by Christoffel Brand
Succeeded by Henry Juta
Personal details
Born 10 January 1829
Cape Town, Cape Colony
Died 29 March 1905
London, United Kingdom
Occupation Politician
Profession Attorney

Sir David Tennant KCMG (10 January 1829 – 29 March 1905) was a Cape politician, statesman and the second Speaker of the Legislative Assembly of the Cape Colony. He was in fact the longest serving parliamentary Speaker in South African history, holding the position for nearly 22 years.[1]

Early life and career[edit]

David Tennant was born in Cape Town on 10 January 1829. He was the son of Hercules Tennant and Aletta Jacoba Brand. His grandfather was Alexander Tennant, one of the first British settlers at the Cape. Unusually diligent and hard-working, he read law and became an attorney of the Supreme Court at the age of 20.

Critical cartoon, with Tennant shown as one of the mice being offered the Speakership cheese by "Molteno's resolution".

In 1866 he was elected to the Cape Parliament to represent the electoral division of Piketberg and soon distinguished himself for his efficient and honest management of parliamentary procedure. When his uncle, the Speaker of Parliament Christoffel Brand retired in 1874, Prime Minister John Molteno proposed Tennant as an ideal candidate, and he was then promptly (and unanimously) elected as the new Speaker of the Cape Assembly.

Service as Speaker of Parliament (1874–1895)[edit]

Caricature of David Tennant as Speaker. Cape Lantern publication.

The Cape Colony had only recently been brought under responsible government, and parliamentary procedure was seen as being in need of reform and streamlining to accommodate an expanding territory, a rapidly growing economy, and an increased political independence from Britain.

With his characteristic industriousness, Tennant worked with the Molteno ministry to re-draw the rules of parliamentary operations to speed up the proceedings and remove potential for inefficiency and abuse. All of this he undertook with great success, and so well-suited was he seen to be for the job of Speaker that he was gratefully re-elected five times – making him the longest serving parliamentary Speaker in South African history.

However, Tennant also presided over parliament during an exceptionally stormy period, from Carnarvon's failed Confederation scheme and its resultant wars, to the eve of the Second Boer War. Nonetheless, his characteristically gentle but firm impartiality meant that when he retired in 1901 (after having been Speaker for a total of nearly 22 years), he was greatly and widely praised by all of the various opposing factions in the Assembly.

Parliamentary author Ralph Kilpin, in his book "The Old Cape House", describes Tennant as having been a hard-working and imperturbable man, with a gentle and unaffected dignity.[2]

Personal life[edit]

Tennant married Josina Hendrina du Toit in 1849 and had five children by her. After her death in 1877, he was married for a second time, to Amye Venour Bellairs. He died soon after his retirement, in London on 29 March 1905. He is buried in Brompton Cemetery. [3]

See also[edit]


Further reading[edit]

  • Kilpin, R.: The Old Cape House, being pages from the history of a legislative assembly. Cape Town: T.M. Miller, 1918.
  • Royal Commonwealth Society: Proceedings Vol.29. London: Royal Colonial Institute, 1898.
  • Molteno, P.A.: The life and times of Sir John Charles Molteno, K. C. M. G., First Premier of Cape Colony, Comprising a History of Representative Institutions and Responsible Government at the Cape. London: Smith, Elder & Co. 1900.
Political offices
Preceded by
Representative of Piketberg
Succeeded by
Preceded by
Christoffel Brand
Speaker of the House of Assembly of the Cape Colony
Succeeded by
Henry Juta