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James Tennant

James Tennant

Diamond copy of the famous Koh-i-Noor in its current cut, which was supervised by Tennant
BornFebruary 8 1808(1808-02-08)
Upton, Nottinghamshire, England
DiedFebruary 23 1881 (aged 73)
London, England
InstitutionsKing's College London, Geological Society, RMA

James Tennant (1808–1881) was an English mineralogist, who in his career was for a time master of the Worshipful Company of Turners and mineralogist to Queen Victoria.[1]



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 removed to Derby, and he was partly educated at a school in Mansfield.[1]

In October 1824 he was apprenticed to John Mawe, dealer in minerals at 149 Strand, and after the death of the latter[1] in 1829[2] he managed the business in partnership with Mawe's widow, Sarah, who became known as "Mineralogist to Her Majesty". He purchased the balance of the business on her retirement in 1840.[3]

Industrious and eager to learn from the first, 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, 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.[1]

He was an earnest advocate of technical education, giving liberally from his own purse to help on the cause, and persuading the Turners' Company, of which he was master in 1874, to offer prizes for excellence in their craft. The results of this proceeding proved highly satisfactory. When the Koh-i-Noor was recut Tennant superintended the work, becoming mineralogist to Queen Victoria in 1840, taking over from Sarah Mawe[3] Tennant also had oversight of Miss Burdett-Coutts's collection of minerals.[1]

He was elected a fellow of the Geological Society in 1838, and president of the Geological 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.[1]


Tennant wrote the following books or pamphlets:[1]

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).

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.[1]


  1. ^ a b c d e f g h Torrens, H. S. (1898). Tennant, James (1808–1881), mineralogist and mineral and shell dealer (HTML). Dictionary of National Biography Vol. LVI. Smith, Elder & Co.. Retrieved on 2007-11-21.
  2. ^ Woodward, B.B. (1894). Mawe, John (1764–1829), mineralogist (HTML). Dictionary of National Biography Vol. XXVII. Smith, Elder & Co.. Retrieved on 2007-11-21.
  3. ^ a b James Tennant biography accessed 21 November 2007


  • This article incorporates text from the Dictionary of National Biography (1885–1900), a publication now in the public domain.
This article is licensed under the GNU Free Documentation License. It uses material from the Wikipedia article "James_Tennant". A list of authors is available in Wikipedia.
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