Dictionary of Welsh Biography


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PENNANT , THOMAS ( 1726 - 1798 ), naturalist, antiquary, traveller ;

b. 14 June 1726 at Flints. , the son of David Pennant and Arabella ( née Mytton ) . His father only entered into possession of Downing in 1724 , on the death of Thomas Pennant , the last survivor of a younger branch of the family, who bequeathed it to him. The original home of the Pennants was Bychton in the same parish ( Whitford ). The first to settle in Downing was John Pennant the great-great-grandfather of the above-mentioned Thomas , who in 1626 m. the heiress and enlarged or rebuilt the house. Downing was burnt down in 1922 , and remains in ruins.

Most of the information that is known of Thomas Pennant is derived from his Literary Life published in 1793 . He tells us that he first acquired a taste for ornithology , and indeed natural history generally, at the age of 12 when a book by Francis Willoughby on birds was presented to him by his relative, John Salusbury , of Bachygraig , Tremeirchion , the father of Mrs. Piozzi . He received his early education in a school in Wrexham (see Tours , i, 379). After further tuition in London he entered, at the age of 18, Queen's College , Oxford . Though he resided there for some years he left without taking his degree. While still at the University he paid a visit (in 1746 or 1747 ) to Cornwall where he met the noted Dr. W. Borlase , rector of Ludgvan , who instilled into him a strong liking for geology . In subsequent years he travelled widely, visiting Ireland , the Isle of Man , the Continent ( Europe ), Scotland , the Hebrides , and various parts of England and Wales . The accounts which he wrote of his journeys in Scotland , to London , and especially in North Wales , are among his best literary works. The first volume of his Tours in Wales was published in 1778 , the second in 1781 (the first part under the title A Journey in Snowdonia ). An edition in three volumes, edited by ( Sir ) John Rhys , was published in 1883 . Pennant 's account of his journey on the Continent did not see the light of day till 1948 . The manuscript owned by the N.L.W. was published by Bernard Quaritch, Ltd. , London , for the Ray Society ( Tour of the Continent ). His principal work on zoology ( British Zoology ) appeared between 1761 and 1777 , in four volumes (new ed. 1812 ). He also wrote on the zoology of India and the Arctic region. His most ambitious literary undertaking was Outlines of the Globe in twenty-two volumes (manuscript). Only four of these have been published, two by himself, and two by his son, David Pennant . As for the rest, they remained in the custody of the inheritors of the Downing property, the Feilding family, till 1938 , when they were sold with many other books and manuscripts which belonged to Thomas Pennant and his son, by Christie , instructed by the executors of the late viscount Feilding , lord Denbigh , for £300, the purchasers being Maggs Brothers , booksellers , London . The twenty-two volumes of the Outlines are now in the National Maritime Museum , Greenwich .

Two years before his death, Pennant completed a volume on his native parish and that of Holywell where some of the family lived ( Whiteford and Holywell , 1796 ).

During his lifetime Pennant received many honours and marks of distinction, foreign as well as British . The one he most appreciated was his election in 1757 as a member of the Royal Society of Upsala . Before that, in 1754 , he had been elected a Fellow of the Society of Antiquaries , which he resigned in 1760 . Honours came to him from Norway , Sweden , and America , and in 1767 he was made F.R.S. , while in 1771 he received the honorary degree of LL.D from Oxford University . Scotland conferred on him several honours, including the freedom of Edinburgh .

Among Pennant 's foreign correspondents were several distinguished persons, such as Linnaeus , Le Comte de Buffon , Dr. Pallas ( The Hague ), and Gronovius ( Leyden ). The English naturalist , Gilbert White , the author of The Natural History and Antiquities of Selborne , also had correspondence with him. Of Welshmen with whom he had association and to whom he was indebted were the following: the Morris brothers of Anglesey ( Richard , William , and Lewis ), Hugh Davies , the author of Welsh Botanology , John Lloyd ( 1733 - 1793 ) , rector of Caerwys , who accompanied him on all his Welsh travels (‘ To his great skill in the language and antiquities of our country I am myself much indebted ’), Moses Griffith , a native of Bryncroes , Llyn , his faithful servant and self-taught draughtsman who travelled with him almost everywhere and illustrated his works.

Pennant was twice married. His first wife was Elizabeth , daughter of James Falconer , of Chester , by whom he had two children, David , his heir, and Arabella . His second wife was Ann , daughter of Sir Thomas Mostyn , who bore him a daughter, Sarah , and a son, Thomas .

The health of Pennant began to fail in 1793 . He d. 16 Dec. 1798 , at the age of 72, and was buried ‘near the altar’ in Whitford church, where there is a monument to him by Westmacott ( junior ) .

Sources:

  • The literary life of the late Thomas Pennant, Esq. By himself , London, 1793 , 1793 ;
  • The history of the parishes of Whiteford and Holywell , London, 1796 , 1796 ;
  • Outlines of the Globe , London, 1798-1800 , iii, 1800 , ‘Advertisement’;
  • A Tour (Tours) in [North] WalesPennant, Thomas , 1773. 1778, etc. See also Rhys's 3-volume edition, 1883 , 1883 (biography by W. Trevor Parkins );
  • Williams , Enwogion Cymru. A Biographical Dictionary of Eminent Welshmen , 1852 ;
  • Oxford Dictionary of National Biography ;
  • Yr Haul , 1948 and 1949 ;
  • J. E. Griffith , Pedigrees of Anglesey and Carnarvonshire Families , 1914 , 214-5;
  • Thomas Pennant Exhibition on N.L.W. website, that contains an oil portrait of him.

Author:

Canon Ellis Davies, M.A., F.S.A., (1872-1962), Caerwys

Published date: 1959