Sir James Emerson Tennent

Tennent, Sir James Emerson, Bart., son of William Emerson, was born in Belfast, 7th April 1794,7 and was educated at Trinity College, Dublin, where he took the degree of LL.D. He afterwards travelled on the Continent and took part in the war for the liberation of Greece, where he made the acquaintance of Lord Byron. In 1831 he was called to the English Bar, and in June of the same year married the heiress of a wealthy Belfast banker, whose name and arms he assumed. He entered Parliament as member for Belfast in 1832, and with some intermissions retained a seat until 1845, when he accepted the position of Colonial Secretary of Ceylon. He was knighted on his acceptance of this office, which he occupied until 1850. After his return he held several posts under Government, such as Secretary to the Poor-law Board and Secretary to the Board of Trade. In 1852 he re-entered Parliament as member for Lisburn. In 1867 he was created a baronet.

The Annual Register says: "In politics Sir James was a Conservative of the English rather than the Irish type. In early life, indeed, he had been a Liberal of a somewhat advanced character, and he first entered Parliament as a reformer. He was, however, one of those who went over to the Tories about the same time with Lord Stanley, and during several sessions his votes were given on the Tory side; but in his advanced years he adhered to the policy of Sir Robert Peel, and it was from Lord Palmerston's government that he accepted his baronetcy." It is as an author that Sir James is best remembered.

The History of Modern Greece (1833), according to one critic, "presents a mass of valuable information;" while, according to another, "it is thoroughly weak both in conception and execution, unpleasing in style, feeble in narrative, and full of portentous blunders." Incomparably the most important of his works is his Account of Ceylon, a finely illustrated book, published in 1859. It has gone through several editions, and was declared by the Edinburgh Review to be "the most copious, interesting, and complete monograph which exists in our language on any of the possessions of the British crown." His Story of the Guns, published in 1864, one of the lighter productions of his pen, advocated the merits of the Whitworth gun, in opposition to that invented by Sir William Armstrong. These are, however, only a few of his numerous publications. He died in London, 6th March 1869, aged 74.


7. Annual Register. London, 1756-1877.

16. Authors, Dictionary of British and American: S. Austin Allibone. 3 vols. Philadelphia, 1859-'71.

40. Biographical Division of English Cyclopaedia, with Supplement: Charles Knight, 7 vols. London, 1856-'72.

116. Dublin University Magazine (39). Dublin, 1833-'77.