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2,405 study surnames with us
and a further 6,120 variant names.

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About the study

This study began from a handwritten family tree, much copied and spread from South Africa to Canada. I think it was written by either Richard Alexis Colenso or his sister Phyllis. My father wrote to a cousin in South Africa, after by being referred by a cousin he met in Penzance. I started to computerise it in 1996, also using information compiled on the Australian family by Winsley Wighton.

Since then, with the help of many contributors over the world and the release of many indices and records, the database includes over 6000 descendants of Reynold Kelensoe from St Hilary.

Variant names

The principle variant of Colenso is Callenso and continued in Devon and Kent until recently. This is also a current variant Calenso in Canada.

Name origin

Many histories of the Colenso family record that the surname is derived from the Cornish words ke lyn su (dark hedged pool) or possibly callen-su (dark layer of iron-ochre on a rock face). there is also the possibility that the name was taken from the Manor of Colenso in the parish of St Hilary.

Traditionally the main branch of the Colenso family is believed to be native of the town of Penzance in the parish of Madron. In fact the first child christened in this parish is Thomas the base-born son of Jane Calensowe on 1st September 1614.

The only previous records in Madron related to the family are the burials of John Callynsowe (6th January 1586) and Jane Calensowe (10th June 1607). There is another burial of a Jane Colensowe on the 21st September 1624. This is most likely the mother of Thomas mentioned previously.

Record-keeping started in Madron in 1577, but the christenings appeared to be lost from this date until 1592. However marriages and burials have been retained since 1577. The first family marriage in Madron appears to be Thomas Culensoe and Katheren Trewhella on the 17th September in 1638. The groom could be Thomas born in 1614 or Thomas, the son of James and Margaret Topp, born in Uny Lelant in 1611. Probably the latter as one of sons was named James and a daughter Margaret.

Other parishes have retained older records and provide evidence that an Alan Collensaw (various spellings) had children in St Erth and Ludgvan between 1568 and 1581. Alan may have been the father of Jane, mentioned previously. John Calensowe had children in Mawgan in Meneage between 1568 and 1579.

In the Cornwall Muster Roll of 1569, three men are mentioned John Calensow of Mr Vyvyan’s men in Mawgan in Meneage, Alan Kelansawe of St Erth and Harry Kelensawe of Uny Lelant.

Prior to this Muster Roll Jenkin Kelensow of Uny Lelant is mentioned in the 1545 Subsidy, Reynold Kelensoe of St Hilary is mentioned in the Military Survey of 1522. A Thomas Kellensow of Paul is mentioned in the 1522 Military Survey and the Tinners Muster Roll of 1535.

Historical occurrences of the name

The most famous member of the Colenso family was John William Colenso, the first Bishop of Natal. He wrote a book in 1862 that questioned the literal truth of biblical history. He was a mathematician and used his training to critically analyse the first five books of the bible. The Archbishop of Cape Town tried to sack him, the first Lambeth Conference was called to support this and the British Courts denied the Church the authority to do so. The Bishop and his family also supported the Zulus.

The town of Colenso in Natal was named after him. The Battle of Colenso occurred outside this town and from 1899 many babies were given the second name of Colenso, to commemorate those lost at this Battle.

The Bishop's father was John Williams Colenso, and was an unsucessful mine owner with an interest in geology. He wrote a paper in 1828 describing the geological layers in his mine, theorising about changes in climate.

William Colenso, a nephew of John Williams Colenso, was the first printer in New Zealand. he explored may areas of the north island hinterland and finally settled in Hawkes Bay, pioneering the settlement of napier. During his explorations he collected many of the botanical samples sent to Kew Gardens in London. He was a prolific writer on Maori folk-lore and published an account of the signing of the Treaty of Waitangi which questions the understanding by the Maori Chiefs of what they were signing.

Name frequency

In 1901 there were 182 people named Colenso in England, 6 in Wales and in 1900 52 in the USA. Even if the numbers were supplemented with those whose names were mispelled the name is not frequent. I have around 2000 people born with the name Colenso (or variant) since the 1500s.

Distribution of the name

The Colenso family dispersed from Cornwall to Devon, Wales, Liverpool, Bristol, Wolverhampton and London. William Colenso went to New Zealand in 1834, his brother Edwin arrived in Australia in 1848. The Bishop of Natal settled outside Pietermaritzburg in 1854. The first settler in the USA was Elizabeth Colenso with her husband James Woolcock in 1848. There are members of the family all over the Commonwealth and former colonies, but very few left in Cornwall.
There are two Maori families that claim descent from William Colenso (NZ). Those from Awarua are descended from Paki Eramiha Neho and use an abbreviation of Koroneho (Colenso). Another family from Hokianga are descended from Koroneho Tehakiroe and some use the surname Pehi.