Dictionary of National Biography, 1912 supplement/Tennant, David

TENNANT, Sir DAVID (1829–1905), speaker of the House of Assembly of the Cape of Good Hope, born at Cape Town on 10 Jan. 1829, was the eldest son of Hercules Tennant, sometime civil commissioner and resident magistrate of Uitenhage and author of 'Tennant's Notary's Manual for the Cape of Good Hope,' by his first wife Aletta Jacoba, daughter of Johannes Hendricus Brand, member of the court of justice at the Cape, and sister of Sir Christoffel Brand, first speaker of the Cape House of Assembly. His grandfather, Alexander Tennant, who belonged to an Ayrshire family, landed on his way to India at the Cape, where he eventually decided to settle. After being educated at a private school in Cape Town young Tennant was admitted on 12 April 1849 attorney at law of the supreme court, and practised also as a notary public and conveyancer and in the vice-admiralty court of the colony, with much success. For many years he was registrar of the diocese of Cape Town and legal adviser to the bishop; during his tenure of office there took place the prolonged litigation concerning Bishop Colenso.

In May 1866 he was returned to the House of Assembly of the Cape of Good Hope as member for the electoral division of Piquetberg, which he continued to represent until his retirement in 1896. On 18 June 1874 he was unanimously elected speaker of the House of Assembly in succession to his uncle. Sir Christoffel Brand, and was re-elected unopposed in 1879, 1884, 1889, and 1894, holding the position for nearly twenty-two years. During this long period his rulings were seldom questioned and his personal influence in the house was very great. At the close of the session of 1893, when he was accorded a special vote of thanks for his services in the chair, the prime minister, Cecil Rhodes bore witness to 'the firmness and impartiality with which he had maintained the dignity and rights of the house' (Debates of the House of Assembly, 1893, p. 368). He retired on a pension on 26 Feb. 1896, when he again received the thanks of the house for his services in the chair.

Tennant was closely identified with the educational life of the colony, and for some years was a member of the council of the university of the Cape and chairman of the South African College Council. He was justice of the peace for Cape Town, Wynberg, and Simon's Town, and served on several government commissions. He was knighted by patent on 4 Oct. 1877, and was created K.C.M.G. on 25 May 1892. On his retirement from the speakership he acted for five years as agent-general for the colony in London. But his previous career had given him small opportunity of acquiring the requisite business aptitude for the position. He resigned on 31 Dec. 1901. He died on 29 March 1905 at 39 Hyde Park Gardens, London, and was buried in Brompton cemetery.

In 1856 he published a second and revised edition of his father's 'Notary's Manual for the Cape of Good Hope.'

Tennant was twice married: (1) on 3 May 1849 to Josina Hendrina Amoldina, daughter of Jacobus François du Toit of Stellenbosch, a descendant of one of the French refugee families who settled at the Cape after the Revocation of the Edict of Nantes in 1685 (she died on 19 April 1877, leaving two sons and one daughter); (2) on 8 Oct. 1885, in London, to Amye Venour, elder daughter of Lieutenant-general Sir William Bellairs, K.C.M.G., C.B., of Strawberry Hill, Twickenham, by whom he had no issue.

A portrait of Tennant in oils, three-quarter length, by W. Gretor, a Danish artist, is in the possession of his widow.

[The Times, 31 March and 3 April 1905; Cape Argus, 30 March 1905; Cape Times, 31 March 1905; Burke's Peerage, 1905; Cape Argus Annual, 1896; Colonial Office Records; information supplied by relatives.]

C. A.