Tyrrell Surname Meaning, History & Origin

Tyrrell Surname Meaning

The Tyrrell surname has Norman origins and was brought by a Norman family to England at the time of the Conquest.  One source here is the place-name Tirel from which the Norman family originated. There was also an early name reference to Thurold, a Danish personal name.

The spellings of the name have been various.  The most common today are Tyrrell and Terrell.  Tyrell remains the main spelling in England and Ireland.  However, family branches coming to America tended to spell themselves Terrell. Now US Terrells outnumber English Tyrrells.

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Tyrrell and Terrell Surname Ancestry

The progenitor of the Tyrrells appears to have been Ralf, sire of Tirel and Poix, in 10th century France. He had made his home on the Seine river just below Paris near a village named Tirel (now Triel) from which the family got its name.

According to Cuvillier-Morel-D’Acy’s 1869 book Genealogical History, the Tyrrells were a prominent seigneurial family in both Picardy and Normandy and Sir Walter Tyrrell accompanied William the Conqueror in his invasion of England in 1066.  The Tyrrell line died out in France in 1417.  But the English and Irish Tyrrell lines have continued.

England.  Sir Walter Tyrrell’s name was on the list of distinguished noblemen who had fought at the Battle of Hastings in 1066.  Afterwards he was granted large tracts of land in Hampshire (in the New Forest) and in Essex.  He died in 1068 and these lands were held by his successors.  His grandson Walter, who was implicated in the accidental slaying of William Rufus the king, fled to France in 1100.

Hampshire.  Avon Tyrrell in the New Forest was the initial base for the Tyrrells.  Some of them were early Crusaders.  It was from there that Sir Hugh Tyrrell departed with Strongbow for the conquest of Ireland in 1170.  However, by 1200 the family focus had switched to Essex.

Essex.  James Tyrrell had married the heiress Margaret Heron in the early 1300’s and the Tyrrell estate at Heron Hall near East Horndon in Essex was to remain with the family until the early 1600’s.  They were an important local and even national family at that time – their most prominent person probably being Sir John Tyrrell, Speaker of the House of Commons three times in the 1420’s.  Heron Hall has long since disappeared, but the Tyrrell Chapel near Brentwood has remained.

A branch of the family moved to Gipping in Suffolk in the 1450’s.
But this line had its problems.  William Tyrrell was executed for treason in 1462, as was his son James in 1502.  James had allegedly confessed to the murders of the Princes in the Tower under the orders of Richard III.

Buckinghamshire.  The estates of Thornton and Oakley in Buckinghamshire came into Tyrrell hands through marriage in the 1500’s:

  • the Tyrrells of Thornton were baronets from 1627 until 1748.  
  • while two Sir Timothy Tyrrells of Oakley, father and son, acted as Master of the Hounds to Charles I.  John Tyrrell then served in the Restoration navy and was made a Second Admiral by Charles II.

Berkshire.  The connection to Tyrrell ancestry in Essex – possibly through William Tyrrell of Bruyn manor in Reading in the late 1500’s – is less certain here.  The spelling can be different. Robert Terrell, a clothier, was born in Reading in 1594 and his son Richmond emigrated to Virginia in 1656. Meanwhile Tirrells four times filled the office of the mayor of Reading between 1668 and 1712.

There was a Tyrrell line in Reading that began with Timothy Tyrrell who was born there in 1693. His son Timothy moved to London and was sworn in as the 30th Remembrancer of the City of London in 1794. Frederick of the next generation became a professor of anatomy and surgery in London; William a bishop in Australia.


Ireland.
 Sir Hugh Tyrrell came to Ireland with Strongbow in 1170 and soon afterwards was awarded land grants for the greater part of the barony of Fertullagh in Westmeath, as well as the lordship of Castleknock in Dublin.  Here the Tyrrells remained for many hundreds of years as one of the Old English Catholic families in Ireland.

Indeed Tyrrells in Westmeath opposed the English intrusions by Elizabeth and Cromwell and later by William of Orange.  In 1597 Captain Richard Tyrrell defeated the English in a Westmeath skirmish which was then commemorated in the bagpipe tune of Tyrrell’s March.  Nine Tyrrells were officers in King James II’s Irish army at the Battle of the Boyne in 1690.

The Tyrrells held Castleknock near Dublin until the early 1500’s.  According to the Lady of the Castle legend, Roger Tyrrell was slain after carrying off the daughter of a Wicklow chieftain to his castle. The family did still remain influential in Dublin, with Walter Tyrrell being appointed mayor of the city in 1540.

Thomas Tyrrell acquired Grange Castle in Kildare in 1735 and it remained in Tyrrell hands until 1988. The Tyrrells also held Ballinderry House nearby (damaged during the 1798 Irish Rebellion) and were local landowners.

In more recent times the Tyrrells have been building boats in Wicklow since 1864 when John Tyrrell opened his shipbuilding yard at Arklow.  Among the notable boats built by the family was the Gypsy Moth III in which Sir Francis Chichester won the single-handed transatlantic yacht race.

Meanwhile John Tyrrell, from Ulster farming stock, was a Belfast alderman in the early 1900’s.  His son William was part of the British Lions rugby team that toured South Africa in 1910.  Trained in medicine, he went on to have a successful career in the RAF and became the honorary surgeon to King George VI in 1939.

AmericaEarly arrivals in America were Terrill and Terrell, not Tyrrell:

  • Roger Terrill from Surrey who came to Milford, Connecticut around 1638. He and his wife Abigail had five surviving sons – John, Samuel, Roger, Thomas, and Daniel – some of whom took the Terrell spelling.  One line led to Tillotson Terrell, a pioneer settler in Ridgeville, Ohio in the early 1800’s.  
  • and Richmond Terrell from Berkshire who came to New Kent county, Virginia in 1656.  The forebear of the Terrell line here was the William Terrell who married Susannah Waters in the 1680’s.  He was thought to have been either the son or nephew of Richmond.  

These precedents may have contributed to Terrell becoming the main spelling in America.   Most of the Tyrrells who came later were from Ireland.  Many of them became Terrell in America.


Georgia.  William Terrell of the Virginia line moved south to Georgia after the Revolutionary War and this was where the Terrell family really established itself.  His grandson William was a US Congressman after whom Terrell county in Georgia was named.   Three generations later came Joseph Terrell, Governor of Georgia from 1902 to 1907.

Moses Terrell of this line meanwhile had moved into Franklin county, Georgia from North Carolina in 1793 when it was still Indian territory.  His son John Terrell and family joined the Cherokees in their forced migration to Mississippi from Georgia in 1832.

Texas.  David and Henry Terrell became Quakers in Virginia in the 1730’s and were the progenitors of a large number of Quaker Terrells.   One line with John Dabney Terrell ended up in Alabama in 1814.  Christopher Terrell meanwhile departed Virginia for a Quaker community in Ohio in the early 1820’s.  His son Alexander moved to Texas in 1852. After the Civil War Alexander was an important member of the Texas House of Representatives and Terrell county in Texas was named in his honor.

George and Robert Terrell, sons of Colonel James Terrell, grew up in Tennessee in the 1830’s.  George had worked for Sam Houston there and he and Robert followed Sam to Texas in 1839.  Robert Terrell became an early settler in Kaufman county near Dallas and lived there until his death in 1881.  The town of Terrell, Texas was named after him.

Canada.  William Tyrrell had been born at Grange Castle in Kildare in 1816.  He left Ireland for Canada in 1836 and settled in Toronto where, largely self-taught he worked as a building contractor and an architect of some talent for close on fifty years.  He died in 1904 at the age of eighty eight. 

By this time his son Joseph Burr Tyrrell had made his mark as a geologist, cartographer and mining consultant.  Joseph lived to be ninety eight.

Australia. Another William Tyrrell had been born in London in 1807, the son of Timothy Tyrrell, the Remembrancer of the City of London.  He came out to Australia in 1837, having been posted there by the Church of England, and was the first Bishop of Newcastle in Hunter Valley, NSW.

Seven years later he was joined by his nephews Lovick and Edward who had recently lost their father Frederick. Lovick became a priest.  Edward was the founder of Tyrrell’s Wines in the Hunter Valley, now run by the fourth generation of descendants.

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Tyrrell and Terrell Surname Miscellany

Tyrrells and Terrells Today

Numbers (000’s) Tyrrell Terrell
UK    7    1
Ireland    2
America    3   12
Elsewhere    2
Total   14   13

Walter Tyrrell Who Shot William Rufus.  Walter Tyrrell was infamous for his reported involvement in the death of the king, William Rufus, in 1100.

The King had organized a hunting trip in the New Forest.  He was presented with six arrows on the eve of the hunt.  He took four for himself and handed the other two to Tyrrell. In their search for prey, according to chroniclers, Tyrrell let loose a wild shot at a passing stag.  However, instead of striking the stag as intended, the arrow pierced William in the chest, puncturing his lungs.  Stricken with panic, Walter leapt upon his horse and fled to France.

A version of this tale is given by William of Malmesbury in his Chronicle of the Kings of the English, written some thirty years later, in which Tyrrell is referred to as Walter Thurold:

“The day before the king died he dreamt that he went to hell and the Devil said to him “I can’t wait for tomorrow because we can finally meet in person!”. He suddenly awoke. He commanded a light to be brought and forbade his attendants to leave him. The next day he went into the forest… He was attended by a few persons.

Walter Thurold remained with him, while the others were on the chase. The sun was now declining when the king, drawing his bow and letting fly an arrow, slightly wounded a stag which passed before him. The stag was still running.  The king followed it a long time with his eyes, holding up his hand to keep off the power of the sun’s rays. At this instant Walter decided to kill another stag. Oh, gracious God! the arrow pierced the king’s breast.

On receiving the wound the king uttered not a word, but broke off the shaft of the arrow where it had projected from his body.  This accelerated his death.  Walter immediately ran up, but as he found him senseless.  He leapt upon his horse and escaped with the utmost speed.  Indeed there were none to pursue him. Some helped his flight, others felt sorry for him.”

Abbot Suger, another chronicler, was Thurold’s friend and sheltered him in his French exile. He said later:

“It was laid to the charge of a certain noble, Walter Thurold, that he had shot the king with an arrow.  But I have often heard him, when he had nothing to fear nor to hope, solemnly swear that on the day in question he was not in the part of the forest where the king was hunting, nor ever saw him in the forest at all.” 

Tyrrell Chapel in Essex.  Tyrrell Chapel, erected about the time of Henry V, is located about a mile away from what had been the Tyrrell country seat at East Horndon in Essex.

In the chancel floor there is an interesting slab, dated 1422, with the following inscription: “To Sir Thomas Tyrrell, son and heir of Sir John Tyrrell and Alice his wife.”

There are also monuments in the north and south chapels to other members of the family buried in the vaults beneath.  These include Sir John Tyrrell who died in 1675 and his wife Martha who died in 1670.  The chancel is enriched with a number of handsomely carved bosses.

Against the south transept there is an altar tomb, said to be a memorial of the burial here of the heart of Queen Anne Boleyn who was beheaded in 1536.

Tyrrell’s March.  In 1597 during the O’Neill wars, the English
marched south from Mullingar with a thousand men to crush a small Irish army of four hundred under Captain Tyrrell, chief of Fertullagh in Westmeath. Tyrrell intercepted them at Tyrrell’s Pass in the south of Westmeath, then a long narrow firm passage with bogs and brushwood on both sides.

He placed half of his little army in ambush at the Mullingar end of the pass; then he retreated and drew the English on through the pass until they were caught between the two detachments. The English army was annihilated.

Tyrrell’s March, a song commemorating the feat to be accompanied by bagpipes, was composed later in the year.

The first stanza ran as follows:

  • “By the flow’ry banks of Brosna the burning sunset fell
  • In many a beam and golden gleam on hill and mead and dell;
  • And from thy shores, bright Ennell, to the far-off mountain crest,
  • Over plain and leafy wild wood there was peace and quiet rest.
  • Brave Tyrrell sat that summer eve amid the woody hills,
  • With Captain Owney at his side, by Brosna’s shining rills
  • Brave Tyrrell of the flying camps and Owney Oge the strong,
  • And round them lay their followers the forest glade along;
  • Four hundred men of proof they were, those warriors free and bold;
  • In many a group they sat around the green skirts of the wold.”

And the final stanza was;

  • “Hurrah! that shout it rolleth out with cadence wild and stern; ‘
  • Tis the triumph roar of the galloglass, and the fierce yell of the kern.
  • The foeman flies before their steel—but not for far he flies
  • In the narrow pass, in the bogs and scrubs on either side, he dies.
  • Where’er he speeds death follows him like a shadow in his tracks—
  • He meets the gleam of the fearful pike and the murderous battle-axe.
  • Young Barnewell was made prisoner fighting bravely in the van,
  • And his comrades all fell slain around him—save one single man:
  • That man they sped, and away he fled, unharmed by galloglass,
  • That he might tell how his comrades fell that morn at Tyrrell’s Pass.”

Barnewell was the leader of the English forces.

The Lady of the Castle Legend.  In the early part of the 16th century, Roger Tyrrell made the old castle of Castleknock near Dublin the terror of the neighborhood.

One summer’s evening he carried off Eibhleen O’Brinn, the daughter of a Wicklow chieftain, and confined her in the turret of his castle.  At dead of night, the maiden heard steps ascending the stone staircase that led to her abode and, fearing the worst, opened a vein in her neck by means of her breast-pin and bled to death.

Next morning the fact was divulged and there was great indignation against Tyrrell.  Turlogh O’Brinn assembled his retainers and marched towards Castleknock.  Tyrrell, finding that he was to be attacked, declared that he would not take refuge behind his ramparts but would meet his enemy in the open field.  A bloody battle ensued in which Tyrrell was slain. His end was considered a just punishment for his many crimes.

The death of the maiden was long regretted.  It was long a popular belief, that, at the hour of midnight, a female figure robed in white might be seen moving slowly round the castle. This, they said, was Eibhleen and they called her “the Lady of the Castle.”

John Terrell and the Cherokee Evictions.  In late 1831 the US Government started to enrol the large number of Cherokee Indians, almost one thousand in total, for removal from Georgia.  John Terrell and his family of nine, residing on the Chestatee river, were enrolled in March 1832.  At that time Terrell made a claim for the value of the property he would leave behind:

“One good hewed house; well covered good floor door and chimney; one kitchen, negro house, one other house; one lot and gate; one smokehouse; one double stable; one other corner crib; one outhouse; one spring house; one other lot; two small houses and sheds and two lots; one piece of lowland, eleven acres; one piece of highland of eleven acres; first rate highland of eight acres; five acres highland; twenty six acres of rich lowland; new leather fence; twelve first-rate peach trees and four other peach trees.”

The total value was assessed at $664.

In early April 1832 the Terrell family, together with other emigrants, left the Cherokee agency on nine flatboats, travelling down the Tennessee river to Muscle Shoals, Alabama.  There they were transferred to the steamboat Thomas Yeatman, traversing the Tennessee, Ohio, Mississippi and Arkansas rivers until they arrived at the mouth of the Illinois river at the end of the month.  The emigrants landed at Fort Gibson and the men walked to the Woodall School house area between Fort Gibson and Tahlequah with axes to build houses.

John did receive his $664 compensation from the US Government.   He remained in an area southwest of Tahlequah until his death in 1840.  He and his wife Elizabeth were buried in unmarked graves in what is now known as the Price cemetery at Metory.

Robert Terrell, Texas Pioneer.  Robert Terrell had been born in 1820 in Tennessee, the seventh child of James and Penelope Terrell.  He later wrote about his father:

“My father was James Terrell, born in Virginia near Lynchburg; emigrated to Tennessee at an early day, served with General Jackson in all his wars; commanded a regiment in the battle of the Horse-Shoe, and led the famous “wedge” that surrounded the last stronghold of the Indians in that battle.  He was a brother to Dr. Christopher J. Terrell whose two sons live in Texas – Judge Alexander W. Terrell at Austin and Captain J.C. Terrell at Fort Worth.”

The Terrell family moved around a lot in Robert’s early years, to Kentucky, Missouri, and then, after his father died, to Louisiana.  In 1839 Robert followed his older brother George to Texas.

Two years later he accompanied a party of colonists, led by Dr. William P. King, to locate the much publicized land within the three forks of the Trinity river in Texas. They arrived in an area where the town of Kaufman now stands and initially established a fort. Robert had been trained as a surveyor and surveyed the area.  In the process he received land in payment for his survey work and in 1849 was said to have been the second wealthiest man in Kaufman county.

He also found time to protect the new Republic of Texas.  He was sent to Mexico by Sam Houston to spy on Santa Anna and apparently had many narrow escapes.

In 1844 he built a crude log cabin with a dirt floor on the land he had located for himself in what is now the town of Terrell.  A year later he built a more substantial cabin with a puncheon floor. He married in 1846 and he and his wife Emily raised seven
children.  He farmed there until his death in 1881 at the age of sixty one.  An extract from his eulogy read:

“Robert Terrell was known by every old Texan from the Sabine to the Rio Grande.  He served his country always and not only his country but his church and his God.”

William Tyrrell in Toronto.  There is a plaque on the house where William Tyrrell lived on 64 King Street in Weston in the outskirts of Toronto.  It reads as follows:

“Tyrrell House.

The building was the home of William Tyrrell for twenty seven years (from 1851 to 1878).  He served on the councils of the township of York and in 1881 became the first reeve of the town of Weston.  Two of his sons, William Burr Tyrrell and Joseph Tyrrell, were surveyors and explored most of the west and northwest territories.  William Tyrrell built many mills and bridges, engineered sewer and water lines and taught apprentices in construction.  An outstanding man of his age.”

Reader Feedback – Joseph Burr Tyrrell.  Joseph Burr Tyrrell (1858 – 1957), the third child of William Tyrrell, was engaged by the Canadian Geographical Society to explore and document mineral deposits in Western Canada.

In 1884, while canoeing down the Red Deer river in Alberta, he discovered a large fossilized skull protruding from the river’s cliff face.  He had discovered the first of 26 Albertosaurus fossils (a smaller relative of Tyrannosaurus Rex) at what became one of the richest dinosaur finds in North America.

The Royal Tyrrell Museum in Drumheller, Alberta – Canada’s foremost paleontological research facility – was built and named in his honor in 1985.

Jim Taylor (jimptaylor1@gmail.com)

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Tyrrell and Terrell Names
  • Sir Walter Tyrrell came with William the Conqueror to England in 1066 and was the progenitor of the English and Irish Tyrrells.
  • Sir John Tyrrell was Speaker of the House of Commons in the early 1400’s.
  • Captain Richard Tyrrell of Westmeath was regaled in song after his victory over the English at the Battle of Tyrrell’s Pass in 1597
  • William Terrell of Virginia married Susannah Waters in the 1680’s and was the forebear of many of the Terrells in America today. 
  • Joseph M. Terrell was the Governor of Georgia from 1902 to 1907. 
  • Ernie Terrell was the WBA heavyweight boxing champion of the world from 1965 to 1967.  He was the older brother of Jean Terrell, the lead singer of The Supremes after Diana Ross left in 1970.
Tyrrell and Terrell Numbers Today
  • 8,000 in the UK (most numerous in London)
  • 15,000 in America (most numerous in Texas)
  • 6,000 elsewhere (most numerous in Ireland)

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