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.


Many of the 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. However, the theory put forward by George Colenso Carter in the 1920s is more interesting.



Text Box: “There is a family tradition that the family is of Phoenician descent especially as traces of the name are found in the Eastern Mediterranean and Spain. The name is variously spelt in Cornish extant parish registers back to Henry VIII’s reign, where the name frequently appears as Collenso, Callenza, Callenso, etc.

The small rocky inlet in Mount’s Bay, Penzance Cornwall, on which the ancient castle of St Michael’s Mount now stands was known to the Greeks and Romans as Ictis, or the Tin Island. To its little sheltered harbour on the east side, facing the mainland, the little Phoenician ships came for tin, no doubt changing their merchandise for the tin ingots. Phoenician and Greek coins have been found in the sea nearby.

A causeway from the mainland, about one mile in length is open an hour or two every day when the tide is out, and no doubt the tin was carried by pack ponies over the causeway to the ships.

Just opposite about a mile inland is an ancient holding of the Colenso family, viz:- Colenso Manor, now out of their hands for several centuries. Until a few years ago it was held by the Buller Family, who could not prove title, as Sir Redvers Buller admitted to me during his lifetime. The whole estate has been sold to farmers during the last 50 years.

The Manor of Colenso originally extended into three parishes; Germoe, Breage & St Hilary.  It included the village of Colenso with an old Celtic Cross called the Colenso Cross. On the Manor is a very old, disused tin mine shaft.

All the above details might lead one to the conclusion that the original Colenso was a Phoenician Trader in tin and took up residence in this part of Cornwall.”





The major physical characteristic that has been carried over the last two hundred years is a long Hispanic face – in fact several accounts of family history have included stories about Spanish sailors and the Armada, but the previously mentioned records predate this.


The Colenso Manor did not exist when the Doomsday Book was compiled in 1086. The surname is not mentioned until 1522, with only two men mentioned from St Hilary and Paul.


The manor of Calenso appears to have been part of the Estate of Francis Tregian (1548-1608) of Golden, near Probus. He was banished from Elizabeth I’s court on trumped up charges and imprisoned for 21 years. Released under James I, he died at a Jesuit Hospital at St Roque in Lisbon and was buried standing up because “he stood up to Elizabeth and her heresies”. His son Francis (1574-1619) was a composer and was also imprisoned for recusancy.


The Tregian Estates were forfeited to the Crown on the 1st April 1577. They appear to have been acquired by the Rashleigh family in 1610 and then by the Buller family by 1635 as part of what they called the Shillingham Estates. The parcel also included Golden, the principle Tregian Manor. The Calensoe Manor was sold to tenants after 1917 and exists now as three farms.


An interesting titbit is that Sir Redvers Buller, who commanded the British forces at the Battle of Colenso, during the Boer War, owned the Colenso Manor in Cornwall.