Blennerhassett Family Tree
Genealogy One-Name Study

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"Show me the country, place, or spot of ground,
where 'Hassetts or their allies are not found"
John "Black Jack" Blennerhassett (1665-1738)

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by Bill Jehan
The project began in 1968, the result of curiosity about the maiden name of my dear grandmother Julia O'Connor (nee Blennerhassett) and has continued, on and off, ever since. Delving deeper and wider, the ancient family proved a genealogical goldmine, revealing fascinating individuals from many walks of life and tales of historic and cultural interest from the 13th century onwards.

Genealogies of the better known lines of the family have existed for many years, but early on it became clear that much printed and manuscript material existed in public and private archives that was not referenced by any easily available source, and many branches of the family were not documented at all. The purpose of this website is to record, with the help of others, a history of the Blennerhassett family, and those of the Hassett families who descend from Blennerhassett, compiling a world-wide pedigree, connecting all branches and recording a brief history of individuals.

While much of this is the result of my own genealogical research, it also contains information generously contributed by Blennerhassett family members and others. You are invited to add your own research on any subject relevant to this site. The growth of the World Wide Web over the past 20 years has made some additional information much more easily available, but is difficult to identify and examine it all. if you notice on-line items that you feel should be referenced by this site, please do tell me.
Living generations are not published. Extended family through female lines of descent, i.e. descendants carrying other surnames, are included whenever such information comes to hand but these are not systematically researched.
The origin of what is now essentially an Irish surname may be found in the ancient Manor of Blenerhayset and the modern village of Blenerhayset (now Blennerhasset, with single 't') in the northern English county of Cumberland (now a part of the recently created county of Cumbria), close to the border with lowland Scotland. Pronuncation of the place-name has been Blen'hayset, Blen'hassett, Blen'rassett or simply 'Rassett.  Carrying no surname and owning no property, the family will no doubt have worked the land or otherwise served their Lord of the Manor. In the twelfth century one of them adopted or was given the name of the manor as a personal surname, he and his descendants being described as "de Blenerhayset" (i.e. "of Blenerhayset"). Subsequently the family left the manor of Blenerhayset for the nearby City of Carlisle, where in the 1350s is found Alan de Blenerhayset, a merchant active in local politics who later, in 1390, sealed a deed with the arms still borne by the family, using the seal illustrated here.
Seal of Alan de Blenerhayset, Carlisle 1390
arms of John de Blenerhayset in Thomas Jenyn's Book
John de Blenerhayset, perhaps the father or uncle of Alan, left us with the earliest representation of Blenerhayset arms, illustrated in colour in Thomas Jenyn's Book of Arms - I have seen this described as of date temp. Edward III (1327-1377) but that date may be incorrect. His arms are "gules three dolphins hauriant, argent" without the usual "chevron ermine" which is first seen on Alan's seal of 1390. To carry such arms John or his immediate ancestor will have performed significant service, perhaps military, but how and when these arms were acquired is unknown. Use of the heraldic dolphin, king of fish, may indicate a connection with the sea.
Blenerhaysets prospered at Carlisle a further 200 years, regularly serving as Mayor, Sheriff or Burgess for that city or M.P. for the county of Cumberland. In 1547 the leading line of the family established themselves as gentry at Flemby Hall, Flemby (now called Flimby) on the Cumberland coast, while younger sons moved further afield to found dynasties in the English counties Norfolk & Suffolk and the Irish counties Kerry, Limerick & Fermanagh.
Sir Thomas Blennerhassett 1531, at Frenze, by Cotman
Ancestor of the East Anglia (Norfolk & Suffolk) and Northern Ireland (Co.Fermanagh) lines was Ralph de Blenerhayset of Carlisle, Cumberland, who in 1423 married Joan de Lowdham of Loudham, a 14 year old heiress and already a widow. By this marriage Ralph gained the manors of Loudham, Toddenham & Halvergate in Suffolk; Frenze in Norfolk; and Kelvedon in Essex, thus becoming Lord of the Manor for each of these places, a young man of property and some standing in East Anglia.
In 1430 Ralph travelled from England to France as one of the retinue of Humphrey, Earl of Stafford, one year before the boy king Henry VI of England was crowned King of France, a Plantagenet attempt to permanently unite the two crowns following Henry V's famous victory at Agincourt fifteen years earlier. His tomb of 1475 in the church of St.Andrew at Frenze boasts a fine monumental portrait brass, an effigy of "Ralph Blenerhayset Esquire" wearing armour typical of the early 15th century, the oldest surviving image of a Blennerhassett.
Several generations of Ralph's descendants loyally served the family of the Duke of Norfolk, premier Lord of England and head of the leading English Roman Catholic family to resist the reformation. Notable among these was Ralph's grandson Sir Thomas Blennerhassett, Knight, of Frenze Hall who was Minister (Seneschal, Steward, Principal Household Officer) to both 2nd & 3rd Dukes.  Named as co-executor with the Duchess of Norfolk for the Will of the 3rd Duke, he in the event declined to act as such, no doubt for pragmatic political reasons in what were dangerous times.
Sir Thomas died in 1531, interred inside the church of St.Andrew, Frenze.  His fine monumental portrait brass, unusually depicting him clad in a tabard or surcoat of arms, was stolen from the church; four individual brass shields of arms were were taken at the same time and only the inscription brass survives. Fortunately antiquarian John Sell Cotman made and published a detailed drawing of both portrait and shields, so we know how it looked (his drawing illustrated here). In recent years the missing portrait brass has been replaced at Frenze by a modern replica (unfortunately not based on Cotman's drawing but on another, less accurate, image). Another image of the brass (this correctly based on Cotman's drawing) may be seen at the beautiful church of St.Peter Nowton in Suffolk, on a small painted and stained glass window panel of 1820.
Sir Thomas' son, John Blennerhassett of Barsham in Suffolk, was Minister (Treasurer and Legal Adviser) to the 3rd & 4th Dukes of Norfolk, attending the recusant 4th Duke during his imprisonment at the Tower of London awaiting execution for treason. John's elder brother, the Rev. Thomas Blennerhassett, chaplain to the 3rd Duke, commenced an unconventional clerical career by being installed as Commendator (a clerical office similar to that of Rector) for the parish of Hardingham in Norfolk at the tender age of 11 years, authorised by a Bull of dispensation from Pope Leo X...

Of these once flourishing branches only the Kerry and Limerick families survive today, the others extinct in the male line, thus all living Blennerhassetts are of Irish descent.  Their common ancestor is Robert Blennerhassett of Flimby, Cumberland, who settled in Co.Kerry, Ireland soon after his father Thomas was, on 14th August 1590 (32 Elizabeth I), granted land as a planter or undertaker in the Plantation of Munster. The plantation had been established under Elizabeth I on the vast Munster estates forfeited by the rebel 15th Earl of Desmond, Gerald FitzGerald, whom she had proclaimed traitor and outlawed in 1579 and who was murdered (at Glenageenty, Ballymacelligott) in 1581.
This grant of lands to Thomas Blennerhassett was made by Sir Edward Denny, of Dennyvale & Tralee, one of the original Munster planters who in 1587 had been granted 6,000 acres including the town and the Earl's chief castle of Tralee. It was from this earlier Denny grant of lands that Thomas Blennerhassett was granted Ballyseedy, Ballycarty, Ballymacelligott and adjoining lands to the west of Tralee, that grant conditional on Thomas and his heirs rendering one red rose annually at the festival of Saint John the Baptist and paying a rent of six pounds sterling (£6) per annually. Ballycarty & Ballyseedy each contained an ancient Geraldine fort that could be made habitable and could be defended. Robert settled initially at Ballycarty (site of the present Ballycarty House), later at Ballyseedy (ruins survive at the west end of Ballyseedy Wood, now a public park for Tralee), and from that time the Blennerhassetts have remained a prominent, well respected family in both Kerry and in Limerick.
Their distant kinsman, an Elizabethan soldier, writer and poet from Norfolk also named Thomas Blennerhassett, was stationed at Guernsey Castle (Castle Cornet) in St Peter Port, Guernsey, Channel Islands.  He also served in Co.Fermanagh, Ireland c1600 and a few years later this Thomas, with his brother Sir Edward Blennerhassett, Knight, settled bythe beautiful Loch Erne in Fermanagh, having in 1610 been granted land in the Plantation of Ulster, on confiscated Maguire property in the western part of the Barony of Lurg. Their property stretched from Belleek to the river Bannagh and there they built Castle Hassett (now named Crevenish Castle) at Hassettstown (now named Ederney), also Hassett's Fort (now named Castle Caldwell) and the new towns Belleek, Ederney & Kesh.  Belleek is known for its fine and delicate pottery.
They were the gentry, farmers, craftsmen, miners, engineers, medics, nurses, lawyers, teachers, clergy, soldiers, seafarers, police, writers, poets, painters, musicians, cottiers, farm labourers, servants, paupers...  Four were knighted, one created Baronet of Blennerville in Co.Kerry. They were representatives and politicians, appointed or elected Councillor, Bailiff, Sheriff, Mayor or Member of Parliament in both England and Ireland.
They were royalist and republican; Jacobite and Williamite; anglican, puritan, non-conformist & roman catholic; landlord and tenant; master and servant; rich and poor; genteel and scandalous...
They sat on Grand Juries, served as magistrates, as judges... and appeared before them. They were imprisoned. They fought duels. In Ireland they campaigned for Home Rule, and against Home Rule. Henry Blennerhassett M.D. and others of his family were active supporters of "The Liberator" Daniel O'Connell, Henry signing the "Protestant Petition in favour of Catholic Emancipation" and presiding over a number of public meetings where the people of Tralee proclaimed support & sympathy for O'Connell. 
pistols at dawn
In 1795 Harman Blennerhassett of Killorglin, Co.Kerry and his young bride fled scandal to create a Virginia island paradise in the Ohio River, only to be drawn into the grand designs of ex U.S. vice-president Aaron Burr and arrested, charged with high treason against the United States. In the late 18th and early 19th centuries a fortunate few were among the fashionable taking houses for the season at Georgian Bath, while in a side street another manufactured stays for ladies' undergarments. 

In 16th century Cumberland they patrolled the western marches of England watching for invading Scots. In mid 17th century Ireland some were Jacobites supporting Charles I and Charles II, opposing Cromwell; in the late 17th century John "Black Jack" Blennerhassett was a Williamite, supporting William III "of Orange" and the "Glorious Revolution".  They served in the Royal Navy during the Napoleonic Wars and the American Revolution.  Blennerhassetts were present at Trafalgar, Waterloo, the Indian Mutiny, the Crimea, the Anglo-Boer War in South Africa, on the Western Front, at Gallipoli, in North Africa, in Bomber Command.

During the American War of Independence a young Royal Navy Lieutenant, James Blennerhassett, was serving on HMS "Serapis" (44 guns) during her infamous duel with American privateer Bonhomme Richard, whose commander John Paul Jones was later to write " action before was ever, in all respects, so bloody, so severe and so lasting...".
The Crimean War saw Capt. Thomas Hamilton V.C., grandson of Susan Blennerhassett of Killorglin, Co.Kerry, awarded the Victoria Cross, Britain's highest honour for gallantry in the face of the enemy, for his actions while serving with the 68th Regiment (later Durham Light Infantry) at Sebastapol in 1855. The citation ends "He was conspicuous on this occasion for his gallantry and daring conduct.”
During the American Civil War brothers from Missouri fought on opposite sides. John Blennerhassett at New York attempted to raise his own Union regiment to join the the Irish Brigade (an infantry brigade predominantly of Irish Americans, the first regiment in the brigade being the 69th New York Infantry, known as the "Fighting 69th" or "Fighting Irish"). 
Many served in the Great War. Giles Blennerhassett was an "ace" with the Royal Flying Corps. William Lewis Blennerhassett O.B.E. was in Military Intelligence with MI1(C) and SIS, undercover in France, after the war serving in Finland, in Northern Russia, and as British delegate to the League of Nations. Arthur Blennerhassett of Ballyseedy scoured the USA, Australia & New Zealand for army remounts, while his wife Nesta and their daughters Hilda & Vera nursed the wounded, first at the battlefields of France and later on hospital ships in the Mediterranean. For this service Nesta was awarded an M.B.E. and all three, unusually for civilians, received the B.E.F. 1914-15 star (Mons Star). The elder daughter Vera was awarded an O.B.E. for her work in providing comforts for soldiers and prisoners of war.
The Mighty Hood
During WWII Alec Blennerhassett Haden-Morris R.N. was killed when battle cruiser H.M.S. "Hood" (The Mighty Hood) exploded and sank during her duel with German battleship Bismark, suffering the loss of her entire crew save three. In 1940 Lieut. Sir Marmaduke Blennerhassett R.N.R., serving on HMS "Greyhound" assisting evacuation of beleaguered British and French troops from Dunkerque, died on the day of the birth of his only child, the present Baronet.
Richard "Dick" Blennerhassett R.A.F. on several occasions piloted the Prime Minister, Sir Winston Churchill. While taking Churchill to the Casablanca conference they encountered a Messerschmitt squadron, escaping by cloud hopping, for which service Churchill personally arranged that a medal be struck, especially for him.
Blennerville Windmill
In Ireland, Blennerhassetts laboured long and hard farming the fertile land of North Kerry, some owning
their farms, others leasing until the 1885 and 1903 land acts enabled and encouraged Irish tenant farmers to purchase from their landlord the land they worked.  Rowland Blennerhassett (later created Sir Rowland Blennerhassett, first Baronet of Blennerville) established Blennerville as the port for Tralee by constructing Blennerville Quay and in 1800 building Blennerville Windmill for the production of flour. Tragedy quickly followed when his wife Millicent, inspecting the newly completed mill, looked out of an upper doorway and was killed by a passing sail.
Lucy Blennerhassett with her husband John Sapsford were administrators for and personal assistants to philantropist Baroness Angela Burdett-Coutts of London, heir to the Coutts banking fortune, who in the mid-nineteenth century devoted herself selflessly to providing housing for the poor of London's east-end and giving large scale help to the south-west of Ireland, where during the famine she fed and clothed whole districts, lent money to restore the fishing industry and assisted large scale emigration.
Some mined lead in Cornwall, while others sought their fortune in the gold rushes of California and Australia. During the 19th century they sailed from Liverpool, Queenstown or Blennerville to become pioneer settlers and farmers in Australia, Canada, New Zealand, South Africa and the United States of America. James Blennerhassett steamed to a new life farming in Australia on board Brunel's S.S. "Great Britain", the first large ship constructed of iron and using a screw propeller. William Ledman Blennerhassett was locomotive engineer with the infant Canadian Pacific Railway when, in 1885, he drove the first steam engine to cross the final bridge built to complete the C.P.R. and thus unite Canada east to west by rail - a locomotive was later named for him "William Blennerhassett". William H. Blennerhassett, licensed to sell an early document copying system "The Electric Pen" devised by prolific inventor Thomas Alva Edison, was in his leisure time pitcher for the first Baseball club at Port Huron, Michigan.
Dr Richard Blennerhassett's Surgical Saw 1852
Richard Blennerhassett M.D., one of a Blennerhassett medical dynasty from Ballymacprior in Co.Kerry, was for many years a respected ship's doctor, on board sailing ships carrying hopeful emigrants intent on escaping the effects of famine in the West of Ireland for a new life in North America. Four of these years were spent aboard the barque "Jeanie Johnston" regularly sailing from Blennerville Quay to Quebec, occasionally to New York or Baltimore, returning from these voyages laden with Canadian timber. During Richard's service not a single passenger or crew member was lost to disease or injury, perhaps a unique record for shipping of the period, and on his leaving the ship at the end of 1852 the crew presented him with a fine surgical saw in steel, brass and ivory as a sign of their appreciation and affection. He died of Cholera in 1854 on board the ship "Ben Nevis" while moored at Queenstown (since renamed Cóbh, pronounced Cove) in Cork harbour prior to sailing for Galveston, Texas.  He is buried in the Old Church graveyard at Cóbh but sadly no headstone survives. The ship "Jeannie Johnston" was in recent years recreated at Blennerville as full-size working replica, fitted out at Fenit and may be seen moored at Dublin.
Rose Annie Blennerhassett, Lucy Sleeman and Beryl Welby were three couragous and enterprising nursing sisters who in 1891 left Portugese Beria on the East African Coast to travel inland, 70 miles up the Pungwe River river in a small boat followed by 190 miles on foot, to Penhalonga (near Umtali) in Mashonaland where they established the first hospital in Rhodesia (now named Zimbabwe). They are believed to be the first European women enter central Africa from the east coast. Lucy Sleeman later married Granville Vines, an engineer who had installed the first electric lighting at the diamond-mining town of Kimberley, Cape Colony. During the siege of Kimberley (Anglo-Boer War) he operated the town's searchlight, sending signals with the light beam, this being the inhabitant's only means of communication with the outside world. 
Rose Blennerhassett (left) and Lucy Sleeman 1893
John Blennerhassett of Castle Conway was author of an early genealogy of his family in Ireland, commenced while held prisoner at Galway in 1689-1690 during the 'Williamite' wars, completed shortly before he died c1738. Two of his original manuscripts survive, the later and more extensive, known as "Black Jack's Book", having been fully transcribed twice, by notable Kerry historians Arthur Blennerhassett Rowan in 1855 and Mary Agnes Hickson c1865.
Edward Francis Browne, whose grandmother Frances Browne was granddaughter of "The Great Colonel John" Blennerhassett of Ballyseedy, inherited a quantity of original documents relating to the family. From these and other sources he compiled a beautiful leather-bound manuscript pedigree, completed 1911 and presented to Arthur Blennerhassett of Ballyseedy.
An outline family tree was published in earlier editions of "Burke's Landed Gentry" but disappeared from that work after 1912. Reinstated in 1976 for "Burke's Irish Family Records", the Blennerhassett entry was wonderfully enlarged and rewritten by genealogist Brian Fitzelle.  Despite this advance, many branches remained incomplete, undocumented or hidden, much history yet to be discovered.
Information has been drawn from published work, public records and manuscripts in private archives. Many individuals have made important contributions and continue to do so, kindly sharing their own research material, for which assistance and support I am grateful - this site would not be possible without such help. I have not listed names, you know who you are, but do intend to add a page for contributors. Among you is one so outstanding she has be publicly acknowledged - Beatty Blennerhassett of Victoria, for many years organizer of family reunions, enthusiastic collector and guardian of a treasure-trove of papers relating to Blennerhassett and other families in Australia, New Zealand & elsewhere, is known and appreciated by everyone with an interest in this family. Thank you Beatty, and thank you to all who have contributed.
I recommend the genealogy website of Mark Humphrys who, in researching and developing his personal family history on an extraordinary scale, has created an important record of his ancestral Blennerhassett connections and made life more interesting by offering "The Blennerhassett Challenge" which may be followed on his Blog.
Earlier paper versions were titled "The Blennerhassett Pedigree". Printed on request in small quantities (in 1994, 1998, 2000 & 2001), they had limited distribution and the method of publication proved too expensive to maintain. These are obsolete, superseded by this website.
That there is an interest among members of the family, other Blennerhassett descendants and local historians is shown by the size of the mailbox. Many people have requested that information on earlier generations be made more widely available, this website being a response to these requests.  Personal data about living people is not placed on the site except by request of the individual concerned. If you wish to see your own particular branch of a family tree in more detail, please get in touch.
To permit larger quantities of family tree data to be viewed as single documents, each branch has been created as a spreadsheet, displayed as a searchable PDF document. As this does not require use of a specialised genealogy program or database, no GEDCOM format output is available.
Pages not yet functional are marked UC (Under Construction), others are incomplete.
Thank you for your patience.

Bill Jehan
14 November 2008
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