Schoenies: A Very Special Place

The Main Pool at Schoenmakerskop

Mom hated Schoenies, or Schoenmakerskop, to give it its full name.  Maybe that’s a bit strong, but she was bored, bored, bored with the place.  Dad was seldom adventurous and since he grew up there in the early 1900s, he kept returning to it like a homesick baby desperately trying to return to the womb.  Saturday afternoon, summer and winter, would invariably find us there.  Maybe Mom had a spirit of adventure after all.  I, however and I think my siblings, loved the place.  We kids knew that place like our own backyard as we explored every little bit of it – multiple times.

Main picture: Main gully at Schoenies showing the two islands at mid tide and how the obliquely running rocks form a natural breakwater

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Reverend Francis McCleland: A Life in Port Elizabeth 1825 – 1853

A watercolour depicting Number 7 Castle Hill on the top RHS of the hill

At best the Irish Settlers in Clanwilliam eked out a precarious existence. The Settlement could not have been called a resounding success both for the Settlers generally and the McCleland household in particular. After a number of unseemly fracases, Francis was granted a transfer to the newly created hamlet named Port Elizabeth which was supposed to have been their original disembarkation point. 

It was here that Francis and Elizabeth would spend the rest of their lives. This episode, the final one, is the chronicle of that life. 

Main picture: Castle Hill in 1851 painted by engineer Henry Fancourt White of White’s Road fame. Number 7 Castle Hill is the commodious double storey house on the right on top of the hill

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Reverend Francis McCleland per Theal’s “Records of the Cape Colony”

George McCall Theal

George McCall Theal was the most prolific and influential South African historian, archivist and genealogist of the late nineteenth and early twentieth century. In his epic compendium Records of the Cape Colony, he records all the correspondence by and to the Colonial Office in Cape Town for the period 1793 to 1827. As the last seven years coincide with the arrival of the original batch of Settlers, this series of 35 books contains a rich vein of data to be mined. 

Before even landing in Saldanha Bay, Francis McCleland had already made a name for himself as a heavy drinker and troublesome priest. As well, William Parker – the Party Leader – and Francis McCleland were a volatile mix, ever on the brink of ignition. 

For these reasons, the McCleland name is often fairly and sometimes unfairly denigrated in these pages. For ease of reference, I have extracted all references to the irascible Irish clergyman however oblique. 

Main picture: George McCall Theal

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Rev Francis McCleland: An Interlude in Clanwilliam 1820 – 1825

Settler House at Klein Valley Clanwilliam

This, the fifth episode in the life of the Reverend Francis McCleland, deals with his arrival in Cape Town in early May 1820 and their disappointment at being redirected to settle in Clanwilliam instead of the Eastern Border. 

Not to put too fine a point on it but the five years spent at Clanwilliam were character forming with the man in the cassock not always cutting a fine figure. Casting a long shadow over this Party was the leader himself. Self-serving, megalomaniac and irascible, William Parker was to add to their woes. 

Beset by troubles from every quarter, acrimony and dissension descended on this disparate party. 

Main picture: A Settler House in Clanwilliam

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Captain Francis William Henry McCleland

captain-francis-william-henry-mccleland

Of the ten children that the Reverend Francis McCleland sired over a period of 19 years from 1821 to 1839, four were sons of which two died in infancy. Spare a thought for his wife, Elizabeth. In effect this fact meant that Elizabeth was pregnant every second year of their marriage. Of these surviving sons, Francis William Henry McCleland was the eldest son. Born on 17th October 1827, Francis William was arguably to become the most successful of the Rev. Francis’ six surviving children. 

It is through Francis William that the majority of the McCleland family in South Africa can trace their descent and why the Beckley and McCleland clans in South Africa will forever be inextricably linked. The betrothal of three of Francis William’s sons to three Beckley girls would be that chain. 

This is the life story of my great grandfather. 

Main picture: Francis William Henry McCleland

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St. Albans Church, Draaifontein

St Albans Church at Draaifontein where Elizabeth Daisy McCleland married Harry William McCleland on 11th May 1904

Amongst the few things that I know about my grandmother’s upbringing, is that as a Beckley, she was raised in the family house in Draaifontein. Furthermore, Elizabeth Daisy McCleland always claimed that she was the first person to be betrothed in the St Albans Church.

Only after recently receiving a photograph of the original iron & timber church from Rosemary MacGeoghan and the excellent notes by Anthony Beckley, have I been able to establish something of substance about this quaint church. 

This is the story of the family church. 

Main picture: Original St. Alban’s Church

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Cecil McCleland: Memories of Meriel Burman nee McCleland

dorothy-cecil-mccleland-in-1939

Spare a thought for an extremely young girl, her parents first separated and then at the tender age of 10, her father dies. Imagine the sense of loss, the perpetual sense of emptiness. This is the personal and touching story of Meriel [Merry] Burman as she recalls her father, Cecil McCleland and recounts her life growing up almost cheek-by-jowl with other McCleland’s in Newton Park but never knowing them. Meriel is the correct spelling of Merry’s name as I have gently been scolded.

This is Meriel’s story

Main picture: Cecil & Dorothy McCleland in 1939. A serene idyllic scene of family happiness with Cecil fishing & Dorothy stroking the family dog

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A Letter by a Grandmother to her Granddaughter on her Engagement

Top L-R Thelma, Mr Clements, Daisy Bottom L-R Kathleen, Maureen & Clifford

In March 1926, the 19 year old Kathleen Mary McCleland took the momentous step of getting engaged. No one understood what attracted Kathleen to the 33 year old George Wood but whatever it was, she was smitten. 

To congratulate her and offer some sound words of advice, her grandmother, Mrs Mary Ann Beckley, sent her this letter. Having been born in Ludlow, Shropshire, England on the 20th December 1847, Granny Mary was 79 years old. 

Main picture: Top L-R Thelma, Mr Clements, Daisy Bottom L-R Kathleen, Maureen & Clifford

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Bryce Beckley McCleland – A Second Chance at Life

bryce-auret-mccleland

Bryce was the proverbial laat lammertjie. By being born on the 24th August 1922, meant that he was the youngest of the six McCleland children of Harry & Daisy McCleland of Schoenmakerskop. In what can only be described as a tumultuous few years, first his elder brother Francis accidently shot himself during an attempted break-in at his parents Tea Room, then at the age of 8 his father succumbed to Black Water Fever which he had contracted fighting in German East Africa. 

Main picture: Bryce and Auret McCleland – most probably taken at their 40th wedding anniversary in 1986 when Mom was 65 yrs old – Dad was 68.

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