Thomas Pennant lived from 14 June 1726 to 16 December 1798. He was a Welsh naturalist and antiquary who published influential accounts of two early journeys around Scotland. The wider picture in Scotland at the time is set out in our Historical Timeline.
Thomas Pennant was the son of a Welsh landowning family from Whitford in Flintshire. He was education at Wrexham Grammar School and at Thomas Croft's school in Fulham, London. He went on to study at Queen's College, Oxford, and Oriel College, Oxford. From a young age, Pennant had been a keen naturalist. A meeting with William Borlase on a journey around Cornwall sparked an interest in geology and fossils. As a result he published several learned papers in the Philosophical Transactions of the Royal Society, and opened a profitable lead mine on the family estate, which he inherited in 1763.
In 1757, Pennant was elected a member of the Royal Swedish Society of Sciences. In 1766 he published the first part of his British Zoology. In 1767 he was elected a fellow of the Royal Society. In 1771 his History of Quadrupeds was published. His major work, the four volume Outlines of the Globe, was partly published in 1798, with two volumes appearing posthumously in 1800.
1771 was the year in which Pennant published his A Tour in Scotland in 1769, which proved highly popular and did much to reshape English perceptions of Scotland. In 1774 he published a follow-up, initially in two volumes: A Tour in Scotland and a Voyage to the Hebrides 1772. This was, and remains, a classic piece of travel writing, and a remarkable account of the state of the Highlands and Islands in the aftermath of the 1745 Jacobite uprising. Pennant's books also paved the way for others, including James Boswell and Samuel Johnson, who each later published accounts of a similar journey through the Highlands and Islands made in 1773, after Pennant's two journeys but before the publication of his second book.
Such were the success of Pennant's Tours of Scotland (which are still available today) that he followed them up with similar volumes on Wales, and about a journey from Chester to London. His 1790 Account of London was another popular success. Thomas Pennant died on the family estate in Wales in 1798. In August 2007, Nicholas Crane presented a TV documentary about Pennant's 1772 journey to Scotland as part of the Great British Journeys series.