Joseph Colenso





Thomas Colenso
1737 - 1806

Ann Rose



John Colenso
1782 -1863

Jane Moon
1794 -1854

John 1811 - 1885

Ann 1814 - 1816

Samuel 1819 - 1883

George 1824 - 1890

Thomas 1812 - 1890

Ann 1817 - 1893

Elizabeth 1822 -

Joseph 1826 - 1889


Joseph Colenso was born in Truro, the youngest of seven surviving children and was baptised in St Mary's Wesleyan, Truro, 24th September 1826.
His father John Colenso was a bootmaker. The two eldest and two youngest sons followed into the same trade, while the third son Samuel was a mariner.
The eldest sons stayed in Cornwall while the youngest sons, George and Joseph, decided that they would seek work in major cities.
George ended up in Liverpool, and Joseph in Bristol.

Joseph must have been aware of the exciting developments being made in Bristol even before he decided to make the city his home,
particularly with the publicity surrounding the launch of the world's first iron steam ship 'SS Great Britain' in 1843.
Perhaps in the early days the rumours were that Bristol would be the 'end of the line' and no good would come of staying so far west in Cornwall.
In any event, there would have been many a discussion surrounding the development of 'steam power' and its applications,
as it was the Cornishman Richard Trevithick who had already established a working use for steam power to keep the mines from flooding,
as well as developing steam locomotives to haul trucks for the Penydarran ironworks, near Merthyr Tydfil in South Wales.



Quite often we hear the phrase 'household name' in reference to people we have never met, but know of in considerable terms. Growing up in and around Bristol, Isambard Kingdom Brunel was one such 'household name'. Evidence of his work, as well as his name, was, and of course still is, to be found all round the city. His statue on the right has him looking over the 'floating harbour' , which he had made more accessible for larger ships, and when the area in front of him was a hive of activity as cargoes were unloaded and other goods loaded., and while other ships made their way round to the Old Market Street area.

Related on this page there are feats of engineering and events that will have affected anyone living in Bristol at the specified times including Joseph Colenso from Truro and his new family born in Bristol.

Also, events that happened much later that affected my own family in similar ways.


An accident while working on the Thames Tunnel for his father was the reason that Brunel was in Bristol.

He was recuperating from a serious leg injury.

And so it was pure chance that he heard about the competition for designs of a bridge capable of crossing the Avon Gorge.

Brunel soon realised the potential for Bristol to be a centre for goods/passengers travelling to the 'New World'.

He was appointed chief engineer of the Great Western Railway which was created in 1833.

As well as the rail link from London, Brunel also started on plans for ships to be built for the company at Bristol, notably
the 'Great Western' and the 'SS Great Britain'.


Work on the Great Western Railway Station at Temple Meads started in 1835.

As a result Bristol became the most important port on the west coast of Britain

and almost synonymous with the name of Brunel.

The SS Great Britain was the world's first iron-clad, propeller screw-driven, ocean-going steamship, and was launched in Bristol 19th July 1843 by Prince Albert. Built on behalf of the Great Western Company, the ship made her maiden voyage to New York in 1845. Apparently there were only 50 passengers who dared to travel. During its active service the ship was used to carry troops to the Crimea in 1855, as well as India in 1857, and for a time was a carrier of emigrants to Australia, completing the trip in a record 53 days but averaging 60, and most importantly carrying the first touring cricket team to Australia in 1861. Her last days were as a coal ship before she was left in the Falkland Islands after storm damage. She is now to be seen in dry dock in Bristol having been rescued and brought back in 1970 for restoration work at the exact place where she was first built.


 An article in The Times 20 July 1843,
described the day of her launch in Bristol by Prince Albert .
The following sections from that article capture the excitement in the city and the mood of the crowds who turned out for the occasion.



'The long announced visit of his Royal Highness Prince Albert to Bristol, to be present at the floating out of the great iron steam-ship the Great Britain, took place yesterday. The city was completely crowded on Tuesday night, and it was with difficulty that beds could be procured at the numerous inns and hotels, so great was the anxiety of the people of Somersetshire, Glocestershire, Wiltshire, and the western counties to get a sight of his Royal Highness and to witness the ceremonies at his arrival, &c. Early trains left Bath yesterday morning with hundreds of visitors, and these with the concourse flocking into the city from other places in the neighbourhood, added to the inhabitants, formed a dense mass crowding the streets and occupying every spot on which a view could be obtained of the Royal cortège. As early as 7 o’clock in the morning the bells of the different churches were ringing merry peals, whilst at intervals discharges of small pieces of ordnance might be heard in different parts, and by 8 o’clock the streets were swarming with people, some taking their stations on temporary scaffoldings in front of the houses, some filling the windows, and many more parading on foot or on horseback, or in cabs, flies, and other vehicles, backwards and forwards, according to their notions of obtaining the best situations for the sight..........and precisely at that hour the train arrived. The crowd at this point was immense, and it required the utmost energies of the authorities and police to keep the ground.'

The Times 20 July 1843

The 'authorities' being a detachment of the 75th Regiment which happened to be in Bristol en route to Wales and which was stationed at the drawbridge at the end of Clare Street and at the railroad terminus, also the North Somerset Yeomanry and the Gloucester Yeomanry which were on duty at the various localities through which the procession of his Royal Highness was to pass. The band of the 1st Regiment of Life Guards were positioned at the terminus of the railroad having arrived in Bristol the previous Tuesday from London. Once the tour of Bristol had started, the cortège was escorted by detachments of the Royal Chestershire and North Somerset Yeomanry Cavalry, and a troop of the 4th Light Dragoons, with a large body of police bringing up the rear. The Bristol police were assisted by the Gloucester police for the day.

Prince Albert arrived at 10 o'clock as planned, accompanied by his Royal Highness the Prince of Saxe Coburg, the Marquis of Exeter, Lords Pool, Lincoln, Wharncliffe, and Charles Wellesley, Lieut-Colonel Bouverie, and Mr. G. Anson. Appropriately, Mr. C. Russell, (MP and Chairman of the Railway Company), Mr. Saunders (the Secretary), and Mr. Smith, (the inventor of the Archimedean screw as applicable to steamships) and Mr. Brunel, acting as engineer, all travelled down on the train as well.

The terminus platform, as might be expected, was covered with crimson cloth for the occasion, where dignitaries stood for the welcome speeches and the playing of the National Anthem. The best coaches and horses were deployed for the Prince's tour of the city which is outlined below


The route through the city to the SS Great Britain

Caledonia Place

The Mall

passing by the
Victoria Rooms and
Clifton Church

College Green
up Park Street

St. Augustine’s Back

Clare Street
and over the swivel bridge

Corn Street

Sion Hill

High Street

Clifton Down

Bath Street

down the
Bridge Valley Road

Temple Street

Hotwell House
St. Vincent’s Parade

Gloucester Hotel
to Dowry Parade
right into
Caroline Place

the bridges over
the entrance locks to Cumberland Basin

the toll-gate
Cumberland Road

and finally to
Great Western
Steam Ship Company

Bridge Valley Road joining what is now the Portway


St Vincent's Parade


'The whole of this long line was crowded with spectators; the windows of the houses and the temporary scaffoldings and platforms were clustered with thousands of people, all expressing their enthusiasm and gratification at the visit of his Royal Highness. Fortunately the weather was propitious for the occasion. The bells of the churches were all pealing notes of welcome, whilst on all sides shouts of congratulation were to be heard. Across the streets were erected triumphal arches of boughs of trees and laurel, with appropriate devices. Flags were hanging from the church steeples and across from house to house, and the numerous vessels in the basin and decks were ornamented with streamers, &c. Altogether, a more animating sight was never experienced in this ancient city, nor could a more cordial and respectful welcome be tendered to any visitor than to Prince Albert, who will, it may be safely predicted, never forget the reception he experienced from the loyal inhabitants and numerous visitors. Brandon-Hill presented one of the most extraordinary spectacles ever witnessed; it was completely covered with people; certainly some thousands must have been congregated on its side. From the towing-path along the Float it appeared a mountain of living beings, whilst Clifton-woods were swarming with groups of all ages and classes, male and female, men, women, and children, all anxious to testify their joy and cheer the Prince as he came in sight.'

The Times 20 July 1843



Mentioning that Brunel had designed a larger lock to enable his ships to both leave and gain entrance to Bristol Harbour - I was not really sure of the dimensions involved
Then I saw the replica (yet full-sized )
'Matthew' alongside the SS Great Britain.
Very much like seeing a 'mini'
next to a double decker bus.



SS Great Britain

Queen Mary 2



19 July 1843

8 January 2004

First voyage


New York 1845

Fort Lauderdale






50 feet?

322 feet

1,132 feet


15 feet?

50 feet 6 inches

135 feet

Passenger decks




Passenger number








Swimming pools

Depends on the size of the waves


3 outdoor and 2 indoor

Crew Number





And so it was in Brunel's own interests that he made an exit for his ocean going steam passenger ship especially having persuaded the Great Western Company to fund the whole project - including the rail link from London.

This is Brunel's Lock.

Two exclusive features at the time were :-

  • It was the only lock with gates made of iron.
  • The gates had air pockets to provide a degree of buoyancy.

 I find it interesting that on the various masts the colours of the United States, of Russia, of France and of Belgium were to be seen .
Why only those in particular I shall have to investigate further,
but I am assuming the United States is included as this is where the ship would sail first.

The Royal standard of England was hoisted to wave 'bravely' at her maintop as Prince Albert stepped on to the deck.

Two fares were charged for members of the public who wanted to get a closer look of the ship. A payment in advance of five shillings allowed a view of one side of the ship, while a payment in advance of one guinea (21 shillings) allowed admittance at another entrance, in order to have a view of the other side of the ship, as well as the privilege of going on board, and to be a guest at the banquet provided for his Royal Highness after the tour of the vessel.

And so while the crowds that we have read about were out in heavy showers of rain and getting soaked, about 520 sat down to the tables for a banquet which lasted about two hours - about the same length of time as the showers strangely enough. There were the usual toasts to be proposed and acknowledged starting with the health of "the Queen", the health of the "Queen Dowager" and then the health of "Prince Albert" who responded with the following words:-

“Mr. Chairman, my Lords, Ladies, and Gentlemen, I thank you for the honour you have done me in drinking my health, and I assure you it affords me great pleasure that I have come here to-day, and I shall always bear a lively remembrance of the cordiality with which you have received me. Allow me now to propose the health of ‘The Mayor, and prosperity to the city and trade of Bristol.’”

There followed a variety of other toasts before finally at a little after 3pm the Prince took his place on the platform for the ceremony and to watch as the Great Britain was towed out and
'swam gallantly into the place appointed for her, and presented one of the noblest sights to be imagined'.
Particularly as the sun was shining so brilliantly on the proceedings.

Prince Albert was then conveyed back to the station where he departed for Paddington at 4pm.





It was fair to say that with the expected increase in both size and frequency of river traffic this was no longer a good way of crossing the River Avon . Whether it be planks laid between boats at low tide - or attempting to row across at a higher tide. A bridge would be the only solution and one high enough to allow the ships clear passage underneath..
To compare the difference between low tide and high tide just click the picture on the left.

This is the section of the river just before Bristol Harbour. The entrance to the lock can be seen, and the reason for its existence all too clear. It meant that water could be kept at a constant level within the harbour areas for the loading and unloading of ships, and also to avoid damage being done to the hulls of the vessels as they would surely run aground otherwise. The difficulty of navigating the stretch of river between here and the River Severn was well known and feared by many a ship's captain! Particularly when ships became bigger and loads heavier as indicated above.

A competition was launched

for the best design for a bridge

to cross the Avon Gorge .




By the way!

The result went in favour of Brunel ....

(much to the annoyance of Thomas Telford
who had tried to rig the outcome in his own favour!)


It was the longest suspension bridge in the world at 702ft and suspended at about 240ft above the river!

1. Work began on the foundations building up from the gorge itself.

2. However, once the towers either side were completed work had to stop through lack of funds and this is how it stayed for several years.

3. Work finally resumes.

Rather them than me!
The men working in the middle of the 'hung structure'
must have had a good head for heights.
I daren't wonder how they got on or off.  


November 1864
4. Finally, the Clifton Suspension Bridge was formally opened .
This was 5 years after the death of Brunel
and also with engineering modifications to the original design .
However it still stands (or is that suspends?) as a testament to a man with vision but with so little time to share it.

The guide rail and ramp down to the ferry crossing point that the bridge replaced are overgrown
but still visible as seen in the left-side foreground of the photograph


 Joseph Colenso started his family at about the same time as work resumed on the bridge.
It was completed as his 7th child was born! 

Joseph married Louisa Pymm, the daughter of George and Mary Ann Pymm. in Bedminster 4th October 1850.
He worked all his life providing footwear for the citizens of Bristol and so supported the well-being of his growing family.
They lived first at 12 Eugene Street, moving then to 6 Bicks Buildings and then back to Eugene Street but at number 27.
When daughter Louisa Jane got married she lived close by at number 25 and son John James at number 4.
When Joseph's eldest brother John appeared from Cornwall, he lodged at number 13.
Eugene Street was therefore quite a Colenso 'stronghold' for a few years.
(While the street remains today, the houses are long gone with a piece of Colenso history.)

Joseph Colenso

Louisa Pymm

1826 - 1889

1828 - 1912



Louisa Jane 1853 - 1921

John James 1858 - 1937

Edward Sidney 1864 - 1937

Joseph George 1854 - 1932

Mary Ann 1861 - 1922

Frederick Samuel 1866 - 1953

Albert Thomas

William Henry 1856 - 1914

Charles Edward 1862 - 1884

Clara Annie 1869 -

1883 - 1969


Even if they were unable to go to the official opening, (as Edward Sidney was making his first appearance at about the same time), I just know that a 'day out' will have been organised for a picnic and a view of the bridge, and maybe even a walk across! A trip to be repeated as each new addition appeared. For those of you wondering about young Albert Thomas - he was adopted by Joseph and Louisa.

As the family grew up in all the excitement of ships visiting far off lands (and returning to do it all again) it is not surprising that the children wanted to experience all that for themselves. Louisa Jane and her husband ended up in Canada. William Henry, Mary Ann, Charles Edward, Edward Sidney and Frederick Samuel all went to Australia. Charles died there in 1884, Mary Ann and Edward stayed on while the other two returned to England in 1886. Mary Ann returned later about 1900.


Bristol was definitely not going to be the end of the line!
Work having resumed on the Suspension Bridge, Brunel was able to look towards extending the Railway to Penzance.
And there in Penzance, like Joseph in Bristol, a certain Edward Colenso had just started having the first of his 9 children
namely Richard James Colenso, for whom the arrival of the Great Western Railway would provide life long work.
It would also inspire a man called John Rodda to be an engineer for the GWR .
He was husband to Mary Colenso, a first cousin of Richard James Colenso.

1 Clicking on the 'Stag and Hounds' below
will take you to continue the lives of
William Henry and his brothers from above.



2. Keep scrolling for an account of a similar story but within my lifetime and experience.

You will also find links at the end of the page.


3 Clicking on Temple Meads Station below will take you to the next page to continue the line to Penzance.



Here we are 100 years later - same theme - just a few miles away.

Visiting Welsh friends and relatives required crossing the River Severn by ferry.
Again times available for making the crossing were limited for four reasons:-

1. This is the same river into which the Avon flows. Therefore there is still the 30ft minimum difference between high and low tide.

2. Many silt deposits and contra currents and bores had created 'sand banks' and channels making navigation a knowledgeable enterprise, but also adding to the limited number of times it could be crossed. (The extent of this as a problem became all too clear when the Severn Bridge was built and crossing at even the lowest tide was possible. The sand banks and channels were visible for all to see. I now knew why the navigation bridge on the boat was so high up - so the Captain could see the channels more easily - and fully admire their skill at running the service at all).

3.There were usually two boats in operation at one time, a third was added for very busy times and maybe on exceptional occasions all four, but of course they all needed maintaining and would break down like any other mechanical machine. One of those boats was called Severn Princess which has been rescued and restored.

4. There was no booking system or guarantee that the boats would run at all (weather and choppy water were a factor here). The approach road on the Aust side for about a mile was only one car wide with a couple of places slightly wider for passing vehicles. There was therefore a point of no return so to speak. There were a few times when exasperation filled the car as we sat waiting in the queue of unmoving vehicles watching the time tick away and seeing the boat unloading and loading from further down the sloping jetty as the tide was going out., and then a short trek by foot to ask the odds of being able to cross or whether to have to make the journey the long way round going up towards Gloucester.

Driving on and off the ferry at Aust was a nightmare, (ok it was for me sitting in the back of the car). My father has always had a company car which tended to be a larger vehicle to cope with the expected yearly mileage related with his line of work. In terms of the ferry, it meant being one of the first on to park on the far side, allowing all manner of other vehicles to follow, or being last.
I remember this one occasion we arrived especially early - yet we were not the first. The tide was at its highest which meant the boat was well up the jetty, and we had to wait to be last on. The ramp, which was lowered to allow cars to drive on, was about 6 inches above the jetty, which itself was a little more than a car width. So from a standing start, my father had to turn the car 90 degrees left with sufficient speed to go onto the ramp, and also to go up the ramp which was about 1 in 5, and then to brake quickly for fear of going into the back of the other vehicles already on the boat. The ramp could not be pulled up properly because our boot was sticking out (just to give some idea of how much room there really wasn't for this manoeuver).
Cars were parked on the ferry like sardines. This was made possible through the use of a revolving circle. The first cars on would drive onto the circle (the diameter of which was a little short of the width of the boat) and then four men would turn the circle pulling on ropes so as to leave the car facing the right way for parking in the designated place, and so that the wheels would be off the circle so that the next car can be turned. I have to say that was my favourite bit of the journey if it happened - I was disappointed if we only went a short way round!