The surname Kessey (an adaptation of "Cassey") was adopted by the family of Thomas Cassey in the 1840s and 1850s. He had arrived in Australia as a convict in 1818. The records of his trial, transportation and convict experiences all refer to him as Thomas Casey. It was common, at that time in Australia's history, for ex-convicts to hide their origins as much as possible, even from their own descendants. It is possible that this was the reason why Thomas Cassey adopted the surname Kessey for his family. But it is more likely that the surname didn't change at all; just the spelling changed to reflect the pronunciation of the name more accurately. It is notable that the spelling change dates from the 1840s and 1850s when Thomas’s literate children became adults. Some of the older members of the Kessey clan would, in their cups, pronounce the surname more as Kassey – right up until the late twentieth century.
There was no clear-cut date for the move to the Kessey spelling; it was adopted in dribs and drabs. Kessey first appeared in 1840 for the baptism of Thomas Cassey’s son James. Two years later Thomas's daughter Mary-Ann was baptised as Keasy. Subsequent baptisms in 1849 and 1851 were recorded as Casey, but Thomas placed an advertisement in the Sydney Morning Herald in February 1851 that was signed as Kessey. His cattle brand in 1851 was TK. A baptism in 1853 was Casey but marriages in 1856 and 1858 were Kessey. Practically all records after that consistently used Kessey. So, it had taken 16 years for the Kessey spelling to be consistently applied.
“Cassey” is a surname that has existed in England for centuries; it has nothing to do with the Irish surname Casey. The Oxford Book of Family Names in Britain and Ireland speculates that Cassey may be a Norman name derived from the town of Quessy, 128 km North-East of Paris. Early examples of the name in England are recorded in Norfolk (1379, 1571). There were more than 200 people with this surname on each English census during the late nineteenth century.
Thomas Kessey was born Thomas Cassey and was transported to Australia as a convict (spelt Casey) in 1818. He had been convicted at the Old Bailey of stealing two sheep. The court transcript indicates that he was living on his father's farm but does not give his father's name.
He was transported to Australia on the convict ship General Stewart under captain Robert Granger, arriving at Sydney on the last day of 1818. Also aboard was another of my ancestors: Isaac Kemp.
Robert Granger was an incompetent and cruel captain. The voyage of the General Stewart was a nightmare for all on board, particularly the convicts. Many convicts died and many more were hospitalised in Sydney after the ship arrived on New Year's Eve after five and a half months of misery.
Thomas was described on the ship's indent as just 5 feet tall, round face, fair to ruddy complexion, hazel eyes and brown hair. He was 24 years old.
Two years later he was working as a storekeeper at the NSW Commissariat. He was later promoted to Overseer of Town Carts, for which service he was allocated one convict helper. His performance and behaviour must have continued to be very good because he was granted a Conditional Pardon within just three years of his arrival in Sydney.
In 1826 he started a carrying business in partnership with an ex-convict, William Boyle. They carried goods between Sydney and Bathurst, a very difficult journey over the recently-conquered Blue Mountains. He met his future wife, Judith Grady, during this time and they were married at Kelso, near Bathurst, on 22 December 1832.
After serving his time, Thomas settled in the Bathurst district of NSW near Rockley and raised a large family of four sons and eight daughters.
Our Kessey ancestors include the following people. Click on any name to access a computer-generated page of information about that person and a list of the information sources.
Click on the name of any of the notable ancestors listed below to read a short biography that I have written about them.
The following Kessey family stories are published on this website.
The following Kessey research reports are published on this website.
The Kessey clan is descended from Michael Cassey and his wife, Mary