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

On that Wednesday morning of 17th October 1827 as Elizabeth give birth to Francis William, her fourth pregnancy but third child. Foremost amongst Elizabeth’s concerns that loomed large was the delicate matter of accommodation. Unlike in the “old country”, Ireland, the church did not provide a parsonage as a perk of the job. Instead, in a rapidly expanding village with a dearth of accommodation, they had probably grappled with this issue. In spite of residing in Port Elizabeth for two years, the family of four was still residing in temporary lodgings. Now a fifth member was added to the household.

Perhaps it was spousal concerns of Elizabeth that chided Francis into action. Needless to say, during the following month, November 1827 Francis purchased a stand close to the crest of the hill overlooking the main landing point. The sum paid was a princely three guineas [three pounds and three shillings] conditional on Francis building “a good and substantial house” within eighteen months of the date of purchase. The stands at the top of the hill were in close proximity to the old hill fort, Fort Frederick, now commanded by Capt. Evatt.

Castle Hill 1851 painted by engineer Henry Fancourt White of White's Road fame

Castle Hill in 1851 painted by engineer Henry Fancourt White of White’s Road fame. This shows how few buildings had been constructed even 21 years after the arrival of the 1820 Settlers.

This was an unlikely location for a house being some distance from the foreshore and the centre of activity. Perhaps the acquisition of the adjacent stands is indicative of his intention to supplement his miserly income of £150 per annum from the proceeds of farming. His purpose was never recorded and has never been established. At a later stage, these unused stands were disposed of.

On the stand encompassing Number 7 Castle Hill, Francis then set to work. In record quick time, a double storey house with a panoramic view of the bay had been erected in terms of the purchase agreement. It was in his Victorian house with its handpump in the courtyard, that young Francis William would grow up.

The Hand Pump

The Hand Pump

Exactly where Francis William obtained his first years of schooling is unknown but it is presumed to be at the government aided school, known as the Grammar School, in Chapel Street under the direction of the Rev. Adam Robson of the London Missionary Society [LMS].

In July 1841, the new Government free school was opened by John Paterson, held in the “new school house belonging to the London Missionary Society.” It was located behind the Union Chapel and rented to the government at £40 per annum. As Government Schools were for boys only, it is presumed that Francis Williams’ sisters did not attend this school. Like other girls of the day, they either attended private seminaries or were taught at home by a governess. Fortunately for the McCleland girls, there was also a Ladies’ Boarding School in Chapel Street and a Girl’s Day School in Wesley Street.

In 1845, at the age of eighteen, Francis was appointed Assistant Master to John Paterson. Teaching was not to be Francis William’s vocation. He left his teaching post for a career in farming.

In 1858, the Government Free School formed the nucleus of the Grey Institute in Belmont Terrace.

Grey Institute before the Edward Hotel erected

Grey Institute before the Edward Hotel erected

He joined Sir Walter Currie at his farm on the Little Fish River near Somerset East. Sir Walter was an old friend of the McCleland family and it is likely that the friendship commenced with the Rev Francis McCleland and Lieutenant Currie, the father of Sir Walter and that they had met in Port Elizabeth.

Sir Walter Currie

Sir Walter Currie

Francis William did not stay long on Sir Walter Currie’s farm for he took an active part in the Seventh Frontier War of 1846-47. Indeed he was probably encouraged to do so by Sir Walter himself, who had fought in the previous Frontier War of 1834-35.

In the beginning, Francis William fought on a voluntary basis but later on, with his father’s assistance, he obtained a commission in the British Regular Forces and joined the 6th Regiment of Foot, The Royal Warwickshire Regiment, then serving in the Colony.

In May 1846, the Eastern Province Herald reported that “…Port Elizabeth Fingoes under [Lieutenant] McCleland are expected to reinforce at Bushman’s River Poort…”

The Seventh Frontier War or War of the Axe, was ended by Sir Harry Smith when he was appointed Governor. Francis remained in the Army and the only other detail recorded of his life was a few years later when he was in Port Elizabeth. In August 1848 he was a steward at a public subscription ball held at the Commercial Hall in Market Square.


Francis William also participated in the subsequent Frontier War, the “War of Umlangeni” of 1850-53, obtaining the rank of Captain. In January 1851, two European Corps were raised in the Cape, each consisting of four Companies. Captain McCleland, still of the Sixth Regiment of Foot, was the officer commanding the Second European Corps. He acquitted himself honourably in the fighting, serving for some time under Colonel John Mitchell by whom Francis William was on more than one occasion honourably mentioned. As with the preceding war, the Eighth Frontier War appears to have muddled on until a new Governor was sent out.

Royal Warwickshire Regiment cap badge

Royal Warwickshire Regiment cap badge

For the next five years of his life, – 1853 to 1858 – Francis William resided in England. Whether he had already departed from the Cape Colony when his father died on 10th July 1853 is not recorded. Being a member of a British Regiment, when he was ordered “home”, he was shipped to England where he was placed in charge of invalids.

During this period England, he resigned his commission in the Royal Warwickshire Regiment and gave up military life. Motivating this change in life was his impending marriage to Georgina Cornelia Elizabeth Buchanan, usually called Elizabeth. A probable motive for his resignation from military life was the incompatibility between the two lifestyles.

Georginia Cornelia Elizabeth McCleland nee Buchanan

As both parties were residents of the Parish of Marylebone, that is where the marriage was held on 5th July 1858. As Elizabeth was the daughter of Dr Buchanan in Indian Service at the time of her birth, Elizabeth was born in Madras but the date thereof remains unknown. It would not be incorrect to assume that Elizabeth was in her early twenties at the time as Elizabeth had been sent to England in order to complete her education. It was then that the two had met. Like many of early McCleland family, the age difference was large, in this case probably of the magnitude of ten to eleven years.

Parish of Marylebone

Parish of Marylebone

After the marriage, the recently married couple sailed for the Cape Colony, settling in Port Elizabeth where he commenced farming once more. The farm was apparently called “Walmer” after a suburb of Port Elizabeth by the same name.

Elizabeth was to bear Francis William eight children, all born in Port Elizabeth. Of the eight children, the first two were girls followed by six sons. Only one son did not survive to adulthood, Walter Currie McCleland, as a gesture to the man who had introduced him to farming. Of the remaining five sons – Robert Hamilton, Frank Tisdall, Harry William, Gerald Farrington and Hugh Frederick – three were to marry Beckley girls.

Francis William McCleland died in Walmer on 1st May 1883. He had not been a public figure like his brothers-in-law, especially Adelaide’s husband, but the local newspaper recorded, “As a companion he was genial and warm hearted, full of anecdotes of adventures by blood and field, as we have no doubt the few of his companions still living will testify to.”

Such was the life of my great grandfather.


Life Details of Francis William Henry McCleland

Detail Date Location
Born 17 Oct 1827 Port Elizabeth
Christened 25 Dec 1827 St. Mary’s Church, PE
Occupation Soldier, farmer
Died 1 May 1883 At home, Walmer, PE
Buried 4 May 1883 Port Elizabeth
Father Francis McCleland
Mother Elizabeth McCleland
Comments: His career as soldier his marriage is told in the McCleland family history pp 29-32. He appears on “The South African 1853 Medal Roll” by G.R. Everson – Cape Mounted Riflemen where he was a Lieutenant 6th Regiment. Farmed at “Walmer,” later a suburb of Port Elizabeth. His wife signed the Death Notice GCE M’Cleland on 29 Aug 1883. About £200 under the will of the late William Henry Clarke had not yet been paid by executors in England. He did not leave a will.


Life Details of Georgiana Cornelia Elizabeth McCleland nee Buchanan


Detail Date Location
Born 24 Jul 1834 Madras India
Christened 6 Jan 1835 Masulipatam, Madras, India
Married 5 Jul 1858 Parish of Marylebone, London, England
Died 11 Jul 1910 35 Pearson Road, Port Elizabeth
Buried   South End Cemetery, Port Elizabeth
Father   Robert Hamilton Buchanan
Mother   Theodosia Harriette Nicholson
Comments: In the Christening Register, it is stated that her father was Assistant Surgeon in the HCIC Madras.

She was receiving a quarterly pension from the Madras Medical Fund and the balance was due at the date of her death. Her daughter, Minnie, signed the Death Notice giving her age as 76 years 11 and a half months.

There was another death notice signed by her son, Harry, where the year of death was incorrectly given as 1911 but it was signed on 1 Aug 1910. The incorrect year of death is also in the McCleland book. The Death Registration Form was signed on 12 July 1910, age given as 77 years. Gravestone has “aged 78 years.”


The Reverend Francis McCleland: Colonial Chaplain to Port Elizabeth 1825 – 1853

Port Elizabeth: A Social Chronicle to the end of 1945  by Margaret Harradine

Port Elizabeth in Bygone Days by JJ Redgrave

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