Emerson Tennent papers

Repository: Public Record Office of Northern Ireland

Identity Statement

TitleEmerson Tennent papers
Archive ReferenceGB 0255 PRONI/D2922
Web Link to this Entryhttps://iar.ie/archive/emerson-tennent-papers
Creation Dates1773-1916
Extent Mediumc 5,500 documents + c 75 volumes


Creator(s): Tennent, Sir James Emerson, 1804-1869, traveller, politician, author

  • Administrative History ↴

    Emerson Tennent was born James Emerson, and double-barrelled his name to Emerson Tennent in 1832 under the will of William Tennent of Belfast and Tempo, a wealthy banker whose daughter and heiress, Letitia, he had married in the previous year. He began his political career as a Whig, but was espoused by the local Conservatives in his first election for Belfast in 1832 and in 1834 went over to the Conservatives under the aegis of his political mentor, Lord Stanley. (He later claimed that the Whigs never forgave his defection and had their revenge in 1850-1851 when they made a party-political question of his controversial period of office in Ceylon.) He was MP for Belfast, 1832-1845 (and his portrait, full-length, hangs in the Reception Hall of Belfast City Hall), originator of a milestone Copyright of Designs Act (1842), Joint Secretary to the India Board, 1841-1845, Colonial Secretary in Ceylon, 1845-1849, Permanent Secretary to the Board of Trade, 1852-1867 (and usually regarded as the inventor of competitive examination for the Civil Service), author of major books on Greece, Ceylon, natural history, antiquities, etc, friend of Dickens and other literary and artistic people, and builder of Tempo Manor, Co. Fermanagh (to the designs of Sir Charles Lanyon), 1861-1869. He was knighted in 1845, and created a baronet on his retirement from the Board of Trade in 1867.
  • Archival History ↴

    The papers were deposited in/purchased by PRONI in a series of instalments and transactions. Major deposits were made in 1973 and 1979 and were amalgamated and listed by the end of the latter year. A copy of that list will be found at D2922/A/6. A small purchase was made in 1980 and then, in the course of the 1980s, there were two major withdrawals of parts of the deposited material. Finally, in 1995, the withdrawn parts of the archive were returned and all the previously deposited material, together with a major addition amounting to approximately one-third of the whole, were purchased. This meant that a major job of rearrangement and re-listing was necessary.
  • Immediate Source Acquisition ↴


Content & Structure

  • Scope & Content: Tennent, Sir James Emerson, 1804-1869, traveller, politician, author ↴

    The Emerson Tennent Papers mainly comprise the personal, political, estate and business papers of Sir James Emerson Tennent, 1st Bt (1804-69), of Belfast and of Tempo Manor, Co. Fermanagh, politician, civil servant and man of letters.
    The earliest documents in date relate to the Tempo estate, Co. Fermanagh, acquired by Emerson Tennent’s father-in-law, William Tennent, when Emerson Tennent was still a boy. They include: leases, 1773, 1875 and 1790-1861; a schedule of title deeds and leases, 1778-1846; rent rolls and written surveys of the estate, 1799 and 1813-1831; correspondence, 1813-1832, of William Tennent, concerning his purchase of the estate in 1814 and its administration, including letters from the previous owners, Constantine Maguire and Samuel Lyle, from the Tempo estate agent, the Rev. Henry Leard, and from tenants, employees, etc; legal papers, 1798-1816, relating to the purchase of the estate in 1814; account books recording household expenses, labourers’ wages, etc,. at Tempo, 1816-1821; plan and estimate for alterations to the house at Tempo, 1821, updated by Emerson Tennent, c.1860; and a copy of the will of William Tennent, 1827. The nucleus of the collection however comprises Emerson Tennent’s political, literary and personal correspondence.

  • Appraisal Destruction ↴

    Permanent Retention
  • Arrangement ↴

    The papers were deposited in/purchased by PRONI in a series of instalments and transactions and as a consequence the numbering and arrangement had to take into account previous listings. Because the material covered by the 1979 list had been indexed as well as listed, it was important to avoid altering the existing numbering system. As a consequence, the additions, where they constituted new sub-sections as opposed to additions to existing sub-sections, had to be inserted by means of suffixes (A, B, etc). The end result is an arrangement which is not quite as logical as it would have been if everything had been available for listing at the one time, and a list which, because of the suffixes, looks untidy and needs to be studied carefully to avoid errors in ordering documents.

    The collection is arranged as follows:
    D2922/A Autobiographical and obituary material on Sir James Emerson Tennent
    D2922/B Major correspondents
    D2922/C Letters and papers relating to particular aspects or phases of Emerson Tennent’s political career
    D2922/D Travel, literary and personal papers of Emerson Tennent
    D2922/E Letters and papers about Tempo Manor, Co. Fermanagh and the Tempo estate
    D2922/F Letters and papers of Emerson Tennent about general matters of business
    D2922/G Emerson Tennents Post-1860
    D2922/H William Tennent

Conditions of Access & Use

Access Conditions The collection can be consulted in the reading room in PRONI in accordance with PRONI guidelines.
Conditions Governing ReproductionItems may be copied for personal research use only. If a researcher wishes to publish any documents from this collection, a request must be submitted in writing to the Public Record Office of Northern Ireland.
Creation Dates1773-1916
Extent Mediumc 5,500 documents + c 75 volumes
Material Language ScriptEnglish
Finding Aids A full descriptive list is available to search online at: http://www.proni.gov.uk/ Archive Web Link →

Allied Materials

Copies InformationPRONI MIC526 - The Emerson Tennent papers (partial microfilm copy)

Descriptive Control Area

Archivist NotePRONI Archivist
Rules/ConventionsISAD(G): General International Standard Archival Description. 2nd ed. Ottawa: International Council on Archives, 2000. National Council on Archives: Rules for the Construction of Personal, Place and Corporate Names. Chippenham: National Council on Archives, 1997. UK Archival Thesaurus (UKAT)
Date of Descriptions41699