Dictionary of National Biography, 1912 supplement/Tennant, Charles

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1562786Dictionary of National Biography, 1912 supplement, Volume 3 — Tennant, Charles1912Alexander Hastie Millar

TENNANT, Sir CHARLES, first baronet (1823–1906), merchant and art patron, born in Glasgow on 4 Nov. 1823, was elder of the two sons of John Tennant of St. Rollox, Glasgow. The family settled as tenant-farmers near A3nr in the fifteenth century, and descends in unbroken line from John Tennant of Blairston Mill, Maybole, who was born in 1635 (see Rogers's Book of Robert Burns, ii. 265). A later John Tennant (1725-1810) was appointed factor of the Ochiltree estate, belonging to the Countess of Glencaim, in 1769, when he settled at Glenconner in the parish of Ochiltree. He was the intimate friend of the father of Robert Bums, and was one of the first to recognise the poet's genius. In his 'Epistle to James Tennant,' second son of this John, the poet refers in detail to all the members of that family. Charles (1768-1838), fourth son of John (referred to by Bums as ' Wabster Charlie'), was the grandfather of Sir Charles, and was the founder of the chemical works at St. RoUox. His elder son, John Tennant (1796-1878), Sir Charles's father, succeeded to these works and developed the business extensively.

Charles Tennant was educated at the High School, Glasgow, and was trained commercially at St. Rollox works, after a brief experience at Liverpool. In 1846 he was admitted as a partner in the concern, and was soon known as an exceptionally enterprising and farseeing man of business. In 1900 the St. Rollox chemical works were combined with many similar works throughout the kingdom to form the United Alkali Co., of which Sir Charles became chairman. At the same time he resigned his control of St. Rollox to his two sons. From the outset Tennant also interested himself in other of his father's ventures, which included the Tharsis Sulphur and Copper Co. and the Steel Company of Scotland. He succeeded in transforming the Tharsis Co. into the British Metal Extracting Co. Subsequently he became chairman of the Union Bank of Scotland, and engaged hi many further mercantile ventures of great importance. He was concerned in several of the most extensive gold-mining companies in India; he was director of the Assam Oil Co. and of the Assam Railways and Trading Co.; and he acquired interests in the Chicago Great Western Railway Co., Nobel's Explosives Co., and the British South Africa Explosives Co. His keen business instinct, which enabled him to accumulate vast wealth, helped to rescue some of these companies from impending disaster and to set them on the road to prosperity.

In 1854 Tennant purchased the mansion and estate of The Glen, in Traquair parish, Peeblesshire. Here he found ample scope for his taste for landscape-gardening, and he lived to witness the fruition of his arboricultural plans. He also developed artistic tastes, and gradually acquired a collection of notable pictures. He bought Millais's portrait of Gladstone (presented to the National Portrait Gallery in 1898); a group of portraits by Sir Joshua Reynolds, including 'Lady Crosbie,' 'Collina' (Lady Gertrude Fitzpatrick), 'Sylvia' (Lady Anne Fitzpatrick), and 'The Fortune-teller' (portraits of Lord Henry and Lady Charlotte Spencer-Churchill); and he owned master-pieces of portraiture by Gainsborough and Romney. In 1894 Sir Charles was made a trustee of the National Gallery. His private collection, which descended to his eldest son, now known as the Tennant gallery, is housed at 34 Queen Anne's Gate, London, S.W., and is open to the public on Wednesdays and Saturdays. Tennant was till near the close of his life a liberal in politics. He was elected for Glasgow at a bye-election in 1879, and at the general election in 1880 won Peebles and Selkirk from the conservative member, Sir Graham Graham Montgomery, by 32 votes. He retained the seat till 1886, when he was defeated by the liberal-unionist, Mr. Walter Thorbum, by 50 votes. In 1890 he unsuccessfully contested the Partick division of Lanarkshire against Mr. Parker Smith, and made no further attempt to enter the House of Commons, in which he played no prominent part. In July 1885, on Gladstone's recommendation, he was created a baronet. By 1904 his economic views had undergone a change, and he became in that year a member of Mr. Chamberlain's tariff reform commission. He died at Broad Oaks, Byfleet, Surrey, on 4 June 1906, and was buried in Traquair churchyard.

Tennant married twice : firstly, on 1 Aug. 1849, Emma (d. 1895), daughter of Richard Winsloe of Moimt Nebo, Taunton, Somerset, by whom he had six sons and six daughters; his eldest surviving son, Edward Priaulx Tennant (6. 31 May 1859), succeeded to the baronetcy in 1906, and was raised to the peerage in 1911 as Baron Glenconner; the youngest son, Harold John Tennant, was elected M.P. for Berwickshire in 1895, and served in muior posts in the liberal administrations of Sir Henry Campbell-Bannerman and Mr. Asquith; Emma Alice Margaret, the youngest daughter, became in 1894 second wife of Mr. Asqviith, prime minister from 1909. Sir Charles married secondly, in Nov. 1898, Marguerite, youngest daughter of Colonel Charles W. Miles of Burton Hill, Mahnesbury, by whom he had four daughters.

A portrait in oils, painted by W. W. Ouless in 1900, and a bust by McAllum in 1870 are in the possession of Lord Glenconner at The Glen, Traquair.

[Scotsman, Glasgow Herald, and Dundee Advertiser, 5 June 1906; Blair's Sketches of Glasgow Necropolis, 1857; A Hundred Glasgow Men, 1886; Who's Who, 1905; Catalogue of Pictures in Tennant Gallery; private information.]

A. H. M.