The objective of any biography is to obtain an understanding of what motivates that person and how they handle situations, especially the troublesome ones. Essentially what one attempts to do, is to understand what makes a person tick. Even in the best cases, vital pieces of evidence are missing, hidden behind the veil of their private lives. Just ask a divorced person for a resume of their ex-spouse and compare the response with what is publicly known about the person. The mask will slip, and the real person will be revealed. So it is with Francis McCleland except that Francis’ obnoxious actions towards third parties became common knowledge and were not restricted to one person. Being so egregious, the other parties took public umbrage at Francis’ actions and hence his personality – or at least to the putrescent bits.
The first impression that one gains from viewing the sketch of Francis McCleland, by Mrs Dorothy Kay is unflattering at best. The surly, scowling visage stares dyspeptically into the distance. As first impressions count, already there is a mark against the man. It invokes an image of a person with a fiery temper, devoid of empathy for others, evincing a bilious disposition.
As a picture speaks a thousand words, rightly or wrongly, that is the picture which is painted.
Before analysing the various negative character traits displayed over the years, let us focus on his formative years as a callow youth. Francis was fortunate in being able to attend Trinity College, Dublin University in Dublin. This evinces not only a “privileged” upbringing but also attests to an above average mental ability.
Francis first displays disdain for convention by deciding to emigrate to the Cape Colony and then discards protocol by marrying a winsome Elizabeth shortly after meeting her. These acts are indicative of a person with an adventurous spirit. At that stage, Francis had recently been ordained as a priest, yet it is doubtful whether he ever practiced as a clergyman in Ireland. Only in an era when religion was intrinsic to life itself, could such a person find employment in a Colony where practical skills were crucial for survival.
So far, so good. All available indicators, confirming that Francis is a fine upstanding young individual, are in evidence. Nothing untoward intrudes into this sanguine picture, such as being expelled from university for salacious behaviour unbefitting an aspirant Priest.
Alas, this sketch is shortly to be irrevocably tainted. This incident arose on a Sunday night, 12th February 1820, while aboard the East Indian at anchor in Cork Harbour with the English settlers after the trip from Deptford, London. Whilst in an inebriated state, Francisvilifies the English, including several who are in the cuddy with him, to such an extent that John George Newsom, an Alderman of Cork, threatens to horsewhip Francis. Whether this in fact occurred, is not known. Suffice it to say that Newsom departed from the ship and never returned.
Francis has now well and truly blotted his copybook. Apart from this incident, Francis had also been tempted by the demons of liquor on numerous occasions whilst on board ship, such that he developed a reputation as a drunkard. Unless Francis made amends shortly, he would forever be tarred with this blemish on his character.
Left: Benjamin D’Urban – one of the many guests at No. 7 Castle Hill over the years. [WP]
The fact that the Party Leader, William Parker, had been involved in some dubious financial transactions and conjured up some hare-brained schemes did not bode well for their relationship either. From now onwards, Parker and McCleland would be at swords drawn forever. In this regard, I largely take Francis’ side.
It is during the sea voyage to the Cape Colony that Francis McCleland well and truly seals the fate of his reputation, disdaining social rites and rituals. By this is implied the commonly held view of English Priests as being cast in the “Father Brown” mould in which decorum, empathy and understanding is paradigmatic of a priest. In other words, they should always conduct themselves in an exemplary manner, as their behaviour should be of an ethical nature and beyond reproach because they are supposed to be pillars of society.
The iconoclastic McCleland once again shatters that mould by being inebriated to the extent that he is unable to deliver the sermon. Perhaps inebriated is too polite a word for paralytically drunk. The kindly Dr. Holditch, the ship’s surgeon, steps into the breach, and rescues the situation by performing an ad lib impersonation of a priest. In spite of Holditch successfully delivering an adequate sermon, sufficient to mollify the congregants, nonetheless, once Francis is aroused from his self-induced stupor, his priestly gratitude emanates in the form of a vitriolic attack on Holditch for “impersonating” a priest. Albeit a detour from convention, instead of vilifying Holditch, he should have praised him for stepping into the breach.
Francis’ preordained role in the Colony was as a clergyman but as the duties in the settlement in Clanwilliam were insufficient, the expectation was that he would also serve as the Schoolmaster. In this latter duty, he was remiss, to the extent that Lord Charles Somerset, the Governor, resolved that Francis would be dismissed with effect from 1st July 1823. Francis’ excuse for his indolence was that the school was an hour’s horse ride from his farm in the northern segment of Klein Valley. What a pathetic excuse when Francis himself should have proposed alternative arrangements. Fortunately, a sympathetic settler proposes a solution. Captain Walter Synnot offers to rent a house to Francis close to town, which he accepts with alacrity.
This act of kindness was to be repaid in the vilest manner, for when the Olifant’s River came down in flood and inundated the house, McCleland flew into a rage, blaming Synnot for his travails. Synnot befittingly took umbrage and evicted Francis from the property. Francis had veritably cut off his nose to spite his face. Presumably, Francis was again compelled to endure an hour’s scenic horse ride every day.
Francis’ less than Christian treatment of the kindly Synnot at Clanwilliam, exposed the man as uncaring and unappreciative of human kindness.
Landing of the Settlers by H W H Charles Piers [NM Metropolitan Art Museum]
The die is cast. With the level of turmoil fermenting within the Irish community, together with a petition by the Landdrost Adrian Vincent Bergh requesting Francis’ removal, Somerset established a Commission of Enquiry. Again, McCleland rose to the occasion. On hearing of Mrs Ann Shawe’s testimony regarding her husband’s treatment of her, McCleland dashes off to visit Mr Samuel Shawe in order to divulge this secret to him. On arriving home, Mrs Shawe is confronted by an aggrieved husband who demands that she retract her testimony to the Commission.
This reprehensible behaviour by McCleland is testimony to ill-developed people handling skills. Much like an eight-year-old, they will happily engage in disclosing compromising information to other individuals. Any pastor with an iota of sense would have engaged the parties with extreme circumspection, without compromising either party. McCleland’s tactic was more like the proverbial bull-in-the-china shop. Probably he personally justified this behaviour by viewing it as being his duty to resolve this impasse. What he missed in that simplistic assessment was that it had to be handled with tact. A preferable solution would have been to broach the topic in person with Ann Shawe and enquire whether he could be of assistance, rather than blurting out the facts to her husband.
Above: PE from the shipping in 1850 by HWHC Piers [NBM AM]
After the Commission of Enquiry, to consider the Settlers’ grievances in Clanwilliam, had not released its recommendations in a timely manner, the Landdrost, Adrian Bergh wrote to the Chairman in Cape Town appealing for McCleland to be removed. Bergh does not mince his words as he vilifies Francis mercilessly as follows: “Our Most Respected friend, the crooked Kelpie , and damn’d Parson will show his amiable face here; if therefore thro’ your influence we could be delivered from that “half man half beast disguised in that specious form a Priest” by having him sent to any post in the world, even Hell if you should think proper, the whole district would be as much rejoiced as if they were delivered from the torment of a Devil, and will consider this one of the greatest services bestowed [up]on them; for even the Old Wolf (Woodcock) is since he is missing the assistance of his friend that fox to guide him in search of prey covered himself with the skin of a lamb”.
This is strong stuff!
Finally, the petition by Adrian Vincent Bergh has the desired effect. Somerset responds by agreeing to relocate McCleland to Port Elizabeth as Colonial Chaplain, much to the relief of the remaining Irish settlers in Clanwilliam.
During October 1825, Francis relocates his family to the bustling port on the shores of Algoa Bay. True to form, within little more than six months, Francis McCleland is once again at the centre of a controversy, this time with the Church Committee of St. Mary’s Church in Port Elizabeth.
In this instance, the initial spark of the disagreement arose due to a misunderstanding. Captain Francis Evatt was a pioneer in early Port Elizabeth, and he occupied the influential position as resident Commandant at Fort Frederick from 1817 until 1848. Furthermore, he had been in the forefront of the proposal in 1824 to erect an Anglican Church in Port Elizabeth.
Above: Watercolour entitled ‘View of Port Elizabeth from upper Russell Road’ by Lester Oliver in 1854 [NMM AM]
During April and May 1826, Capt. Evatt deemed it necessary to lodge a complaint against McCleland for neglecting his duties as Clergyman by being absent without permission in Graham’s Town. Initially the rest of the Church Committee sided with McCleland by passing a motion of confidence in Francis without Evatt being aware of the meeting.
Naturally, when Evatt became aware of this resolution, he became incensed, as he felt excluded from the decision making of the church of which he was a founding member. Initially a fellow committee member, John Anthony Chabaud offered to act as intermediary to placate both parties. Probably due to McCleland’s belligerent, uncompromising attitude, Chabaud reversed his position during which he angrily responded by stating, “I hope that you are not in any way interested or connected with him or his descendants for he [McCleland] is a most unamicable character“. Chabaud then continued to sully McCleland’s character even further. “Even on the voyage out he evinced a most quarrelsome, mischief-making disposition and is in constant hot water with one and another in Port Elizabeth after settling here”.
Remember that these gripes are being articulated about McCleland’s character flaws barely six months after Francis’ arrival in Port Elizabeth.
At this point Chabaud got to the nub of the problem in one of his many criticisms of McCleland’s character. “There is barely a door open to him in the village [Port Elizabeth] through his having quarrelled with everyone….. the malicious and scandalous reports [that] he sets in motion regarding a young married lady” ( who had visited Chabaud).
In order to smooth things over, Capt. Evatt decides to give a dinner party to which the most prominent people in the town are invited. The morning before it is held, Rev. McCleland and his wife Elizabeth invite Mrs Chabaud – who is now hauled into the fray – to No. 7 Castle Hill. During this meeting, they say the most insulting things about the young lady, who is a guest at the Chabaud’s house. They refuse to go to the dinner if “that lady is to be there”.
Ultimately, this case is heard in the Landdrost Court on 3rd November 1826. After lengthy evidence from both sides, Mr Chabaud is fined RxD300 and costs. Despite this finding, the Court concluded that “since Mr McCleland had taken up his residence in Port Elizabeth, broils and dissensions have become common”.
No further incidents of obnoxious behaviour are recorded over the remaining period of his life. Whether in the intervening years from 1826 to 1853, when he died, Francis desisted from such inappropriate behaviour or whether any further incidents remained outside the public domain, one will never know, save for a comment by Bishop Gray.
Upon pondering the imponderable, I have arrived at the following conclusion: Numerous incidents had highlighted the fact that Francis’s behaviour was volatile. Whenever he disagreed with somebody, he tended to explode into a rage making outrageous, hurtful and even worrisome comments. These outbursts had manifested themselves initially at Passage West prior to embarkation, on board the ship, East Indian, en route to the Cape, at Clanwilliam and within months of his arrival at Port Elizabeth. Francis’s outbursts were legendary yet after his initial outburst in Port Elizabeth, Francis is never again recorded having a paroxysm of anger.
Did Francis have a Damascus Moment or is there some other explanation? Extant records do not provide any insight into Francis’s personality or behaviour to enlighten one. The only plausible trigger for this irrational behaviour is Francis’s pledge to Elizabeth’s father to maintain his wife in the manner to which she was accustomed. Perhaps as an unemployed priest felt pressurised to fulfil this promise too diligently. Conceivably it is also possible that this desire to please is the origin of his misguided attempt to obtain a salary increase when in fact he was on the same pay grade as his contemporaries. Consider the initial living conditions of Francis and Elizabeth. At Clanwilliam they resided in Synott’s stables and initially in Port Elizabeth, a prefabricated building.
I contend that the lack of further examples of obnoxious behaviour is merely a function of non-reporting in sources which will survive the passage of time. Reports of the initial indiscretions were recorded in durable sources such as the British Archives in London and Theals’ books of official correspondence between residents and the colonial authorities in the Cape. If the colonial authorities in Cape Town were never requested to intervene in some egregious incident committed by Francis, it would not have been preserved for posterity. Furthermore, for a large period of Francis’s life, there were no local newspapers to report on such issues. Perhaps to buttress this supposition, one should recall the off-the-cuff comment by Bishop Gray that Francis was not well-liked amongst the residents of Port Elizabeth. What is not stated is whether this arose due to a gruff demeanour, a fickle Irish temperament or general paucity of EQ or Emotional Quotient. If so, what did this mean for Elizabeth who probably had to carry an unfair cross during her life?
In conclusion, without any extant documents to shine even a dim light on this man, the only conclusion that I can draw is that a convergence of maturity with age and the paucity of preserved sources is probably the reason why no further outbursts are recorded and not some “reform”.
Bishop Gray has the final word
A final disconcerting epitaph is provided by Bishop Gray in a letter to Reverend Phillips on 26th September 1853, which belatedly confirms that Francis persisted with his unacceptable behaviour during those years. Three months after Francis’ death, in referring to the personality of his replacement for Francis McCleland, he laconically states to Reverend Phillips that , “They have some bias at present towards low views, chiefly in consequence of their having had a minister for the last 30 years whom they did not respect”.
This is a sad indictment of Francis’ character.
In many ways, this seals the fate of the memory of Francis McCleland. If he had in those final years substantially redeemed himself, Bishop Gray would have paid a glowing tribute to the memory of the man.
If it was it not for a hastily scribbled comment by Sir Benjamin D’Urban on yet another memorial by Francis dated 1st August 1834, I would not had been able to supply one favourable mention that was not a form of eulogy after his death? On the letter, which was to be forwarded to Downing Street, Sir Benjamin D’Urban annotated “Of whom I hear very favourable mention as a pious and diligent member of the church”.
Against the backdrop of all these incidents, the image that one gains of Francis McCleland is consistent. Even disregarding the belligerent attitude between Francis and William Parker, a persistent trend of calling Francis’ behaviour into question is evident. As six incidents have been revealed, they probably represent the proverbial tip of the iceberg. Many other incidents of obnoxious or inappropriate behaviour could have occurred without ever reaching the public domain. In being endowed with an “unfortunate” personality, Francis can be found guilty as charged. In his capacity as a pillar of society, a model of probity and an exemplar of good judgement, regrettably Francis McCleland failed dismally.
Yet another weakness that Francis displayed was that for liquor. Francis was never satisfied with a few glasses of his favourite tipple. Rather, he drank to excess. On both occasions – one on the ship in the harbour at Passage West and another while aboard the East Indian en route to the Cape Colony – it was the root cause of his appalling behaviour.
Also troubling are rumours that Francis was a womaniser but this additional blemish on his personality could not be verified. As such, I have discarded it in the “Benefit of the Doubt” bin. Again, given the other infractions of social norms and conventions, one is alert to the possibility.
For all these reasons, I must concur with the altar of public opinion that Francis was not a model citizen.
Yet that is the prognosis of my mixed emotions, my unease. For is it not a heartfelt desire to delve into one’s past and uncover an impossibly beautiful gem, something to swagger about? Instead, what is mined is a flawed gemstone, something not quite worthy of one’s dreams.
Then disappointment abounds.
One strand of discontentment suffuses itself through all of the copious extant correspondence and that is Francis’ complaints regarding his remuneration. To be more exact, there are two components relating to Francis’ complaint: his salary and his lack of a Parsonage House.
Firstly, as regards his salary, it would be provided by the Colonial Government and not by the congregants themselves. This notion probably arose due to the fact that the Settlers were themselves impecunious and were initially more intent on acquiring material possessions rather than the spiritual. Only once accommodation was constructed, fields were tilled, and cattle were acquired could their money be devoted to the church.
For McCleland, this was a concern right from the beginning at Clanwilliam. His expectation was that a parsonage house would be provided, yet instead, initially, the family’s accommodation was little more than a converted stable. For somebody of Francis’ background, being a university graduate, and having detached his winsome Elizabeth from a life of leisure, if not relative luxury in Ireland, it was a Sisyphean challenge. Perhaps more than we are cognizant of is the possibility that this issue weighed heavily on Francis’ mind resulting in the slew of letters of complaint being written.
This concern is very evident when he complains in one letter that their accommodation is little more than “a hovel that before it was roofed had been used as a kraal for calves, consisting of two miserable rooms separated by a partition without a door where in winter Mrs McCleland must cook, eat and sleep literally surrounded by water”.
Perhaps that is why Francis is so incensed when a property rented from Walter Synnot on the outskirts of Clanwilliam is flooded by a raging Olifant’s River. Francis unreasonably rebukes Synnot because his house was flooded. For what other plausible reason would any rational man remonstrate with a landlord about an act of God?
This was merely a harbinger of what was to come. On arrival in Port Elizabeth during October 1825, what accommodation awaited him and his young family? Precisely nothing. It is worth noting that with accommodation as scarce as hen’s teeth, they probably initially had to reside in tented accommodation. Even the Irish peasants in Ireland had some form of permanent accommodation. Amid his rising concerns about the dearth of accommodation, he wrote numerous pleading letters to all and sundry regarding the necessity for a parsonage house with a garden. For some reason, Francis would always stress that the house had to include a garden. Maybe it was a mark of respectability, given that in Ireland all upper-class houses incorporated a garden.
Let us consider the salary component of his emoluments. According to the Appointment’s Listfor the quarter ending December 1825, Francis McCleland was awarded a salary of £150 per annum from 1st October 1825. This is equivalent to the salary which he earned whilst located at Clanwilliam.
Ultimately, on 1st April 1827, Francis was awarded a housing allowance amounting to £40. Shortly thereafter, on 1st January 1828 his salary was incremented to £200. Despite these salary adjustments, within a few months there-after Francis also ungraciously expressed his dissat-isfaction with these amounts.
Initially after reading all the correspondence in this regard, I conjured up various scenarios about why Francis would be “ill-treated” by the Colonial Authorities. Initially, I drew an inference between Francis’s poor job performance and the quantum of his salary and the fact that it was not incremented for 15 years between 1827 and 1842. Surely, this would reflect some form of “discrimination” against Francis and could serve as valid grounds for discontentment?
Maybe it was even a form of “constructive dismissal” given the on-going level of complaints regarding his behaviour. What logic lay behind the inscrutable veil? Rather let us pursue the facts and let them speak to us.
In his 1843 book, “The Cape of Good Hope and the Eastern Province of Algoa Bay”, John Centlivres Chase provides a list of all the major positions held in the Eastern Border towns together with the occupant’s name and their annual salary. In it, he discloses the salaries of the significant citizens in Port Elizabeth including that of Francis McCleland who was still earning a salary of £200 per annum, which was the same as that in 1828. Only two other positions earn more than that viz, the Resident Magistrate and the Sub-collector, both of whom earn £300 per annum.
At a salary of £200 per annum, Francis’ remuneration is in line with that of other senior officials in the port town.
In one of the numerous letters of complaint to the Colonial Office dated 20th February 1834, Francis compared his salary with his contemporaries. He averred that Rev. Carlisle, who had been appointed in 1828, was now on a salary of £400 per annum. Furthermore, he alleged that Rev. Frazer, appointed in 1831, was earning £350 per annum.
A review of the salaries of Clergymen on the Eastern Border in 1842 reveals the following: Apart from Rev. J. Heaviside of St. George’s Cathedral in Grahamstown at £400 per annum and Rev. W Shaw in Salem at £75 per annum, all the rest of the pastors were earning the same as himself. The income of Rev. Heaviside is readily explainable as his role was that of a clergyman at a Cathedral whereas Francis’ status was that of an ordinary Clergyman. It is inexplicable how Francis obtained the fictitious salaries of his contemporaries. Whatever his source, it was inaccurate or perhaps even malicious.
What cannot be compared is the issue of the parsonage house. Whether the other pastors had access to a free parsonage house and if so, how the value of that benefit compares to the housing allowance of £40 per annum that Francis received, will never be ascertained.
On 6th March 1828, Francis drafted a verbose memorial to the Secretary of State for the Colonies in which he provides chapter and verse on why he is entitled to a salary increase. In a terse reply, G. Murray states to Lt. General Sir G. Lowry Cole the following: “What[ever] the services of his connections may have been, it is not material to enquire. With respect to himself, I find that he voluntarily proceeded to the Cape of Good Hope as an emigrant in the year 1820, that he now holds a clerical situation which he had no reason to expect would be given to him, and that Major General Bourke has already issued to him the whole amount of the increased rate of salary which has been recommended by His Majesty’s request. [His request for additional emoluments is deemed] to be unreasonable and therefore inadmissible”.
Perhaps in an effort to mitigate Francis’ discontent, they awarded him some glebe land known in perpetuity as Parson’s Vlei. Already the noun vlei, is indicative of its inability to generate any additional income for Francis. As such, it did not assuage Francis’ complaints.
In conclusion, Francis’ continual grumbling about his remuneration has no basis in fact. Rather it is testimony to a man with a disaffected, malcontented disposition perhaps even conflated with a predilection for keeping up with the O’Hagan’s or Flannigan’s. If the truth be told, Francis’ Parsonage House is probably vastly more commodious than those of his contemporaries.
After the incident aboard the East Indian in Cork Harbour on 30th January 1820, phrases to characterise Francis’ behaviour such as “blotted his copybook”, “poor role model”, “lacking credibility and Priestly temperament”, come to mind. It is fair to say that most people did not give Francis the benefit of the doubt, but after the incident with Dr. Holditch, an inebriated McCleland undoubtedly lost any residual credibility and respect from his fellow settlers. Be that as it may. McCleland’s behaviour did not portend well for the future.
Certainly, in all the extant correspondence, Francis is definitely not cast in a positive light. Even though certain descendants would rather ignore such negative views, the fact remains that such characterisations are confirmed by numerous settlers spanning his whole life. Hence, they cannot be gratuitous actions or comments of aggrieved individuals or malcontents, but rather they are indicative of the unvarnished and unalloyed nature of the person.
Francis McCleland was a flawed man, highly moral, religious, intelligent and industrious, but also quick-tempered and irascible, not the personality type befitting the role of a sympathetic hail-fellow-well-met Clergyman.
As regards to his assertions that he was being short-changed with respect to his salary, it is now evident that this was not in fact the case. Instead, I postulate that much of his initial frustration in this regard relates to a feeling of inadequacy. I contend that Francis felt that he had to maintain his wife in the standard to which she was accustomed. Failing that, he felt inadequate.
In his book about the St. Mary’s Collegiate Church, Rev. A.T. Wirgman has this to say about Francis: “he left behind him the reputation of being a very able preacher as well as an organiser of no mean capacity”.
In addition, we must be mindful of the meaningful contribution that he made at the church in Sidbury and at Uitenhage, as well as the new Anglican churches in Port Elizabeth.
Another troubling attribute about Francis was that he was a slave owner. In owning a slave in Clanwilliam, it is instructive to remind oneself that albeit offensive to modern norms, this was merely an accepted social convention of the time. Hence, one cannot cast aspersions on Francis’ character based on 21st century morality, however abhorrent to our sensibilities. On the other scale, Francis’ decision to ensure that his daughters received schooling during an era where such rights were unknown, reflects a modernist outlook ahead of its time.
In summary, Francis was a hard worker but prone to over-imbibing and disorderly behaviour, a kindly preacher but inclined to obnoxious and ill-mannered behaviour, and certainly not somebody whom I would want my daughter to marry. Such were the contradictions of the man: a paradox and an enigma. I expected much better of my great-great grandfather.
Warts and all, this is the nature of the Reverend Francis McCleland, progenitor of the McCleland clan in South Africa.
Set against all of these negatives, is the huge legacy of Francis McCleland. Apart from creating the McCleland clan in South Africa, he oversaw the construction of both the Parsonage House at No. 7 Castle Hill and St. Mary’s Collegiate Church, with vigour and determination.
For this, the city is so much richer.