James Tennant (mineralogist)
Diamond copy of the famous Koh-i-Noor in its current
cut, which was supervised by Tennant
8 February 1808|
Upton, Nottinghamshire, England
|Died||23 February 1881
|Institutions||King's College London, Geological Society, RMA|
Tennant was born on 8 February 1808 at Upton, near Southwell, Nottinghamshire, being the third child in a family of twelve. His father, John Tennant, was an officer in the excise; his mother, Eleanor Kitchen, came from a family of yeomen resident at Upton for more than two centuries. His parents afterwards moved to Derby, and he was partly educated at a school in Mansfield.
In October 1824 he was apprenticed to John Mawe, a dealer in minerals at 149 Strand, and after the death of the latter in 1829 he managed the business in partnership with Mawe's widow, Sarah Mawe, who became known as "Mineralogist to Her Majesty". He purchased the balance of the business on her retirement in 1840.
Industrious and eager to learn, he attended classes at a mechanics' institute and the lectures of Michael Faraday at the Royal Institution. This gained him a friend, and he was also much helped by one of his master's customers. In 1838, on Faraday's recommendation, Tennant was appointed teacher of geological mineralogy at King's College London, the title being afterwards changed to professor. In 1853 the professorship of geology was added, but he resigned that post in 1869, retaining the other till his death. He was also from 1850 to 1867 lecturer on geology and mineralogy at the Royal Military Academy, Woolwich. He had an excellent practical knowledge of minerals, and, when diamonds were first found in South Africa, maintained the genuineness of the discovery, which at first was doubted.
He was an earnest advocate of technical education, giving his own money liberally to help, and persuading the Turners' Company, of which he was master in 1874, to offer prizes for excellence in their craft. When the Koh-i-Noor was recut Tennant superintended the work, becoming mineralogist to Queen Victoria in 1840, taking over from Sarah Mawe Tennant also had oversight of Miss Burdett-Coutts's collection of minerals.
He was elected a fellow of the Geological Society in 1838, and president of the Geologists' Association (1862–3). He died, unmarried, on 23 February 1881. A portrait, painted by Rogers, was in the collection of Lady Burdett-Coutts. A copy was placed in the Strand vestry in commemoration of services to the church schools and parish.
Tennant wrote the following books or pamphlets:
- 1. List of British Fossils, 1847.
- 2. Gems and Precious Stones, 1852.
- 3. Catalogue of British Fossils in the Author's Collection, 1858.
- 4. Description of the Imperial State Crown, 1858.
- 5. Descriptive Catalogue of Gems, &c., bequeathed to the South Kensington Museum by the Rev. Chauncy Hare Townshend, (1870).
- 6. Descriptive Catalogue of Diamonds in Europe, 1870.
He also, in conjunction with David Thomas Ansted and Walter Mitchell, contributed Geology, Mineralogy, and Crystallography to Orr's Circle of Sciences in 1855. He also produced two or three scientific papers, one on the Koh-i-Noor.