This, the oldest extant house in Port Elizabeth, bears a specific significance in my life. The original owner of that house – the Reverend Francis McCleland – is my great great grandfather. In 1965 it was declared a National Monument. In order to restore the parsonage house from a house of ill-repute back to its former glory, all the McCleland clan in Port Elizabeth were requested to contribute financially to this process.
This blog chronicles how this parsonage came to be erected in Port Elizabeth together with its current status.
Main picture: This must be the earliest view of Number 7 Castle Hill. A lithograph by W.J. Huggins, showing whaling in Algoa Bay in 1832. The recently completed house of Francis McCleland stands alone at the top of Castle Hill, midway between Fort Frederick and the memorial pyramid to Lady Donkin, after whom the town of Port Elizabeth was named
Francis McCleland was of Irish extraction being born in Longford [town] in either 1792 or 1793. On the 7th October 1811, he entered Trinity College in Dublin to study Divinity, qualifying in the summer of 1817. After appointment as a deacon in June 1819 at Temple Michael in Longford Town, he finally obtained an appointment as a priest on 7th November 1819.
At that stage he had probably heard about a plan by the British through a compatriot, William Parker, to settle some of their citizens in the Eastern Cape, the intention being to establish a bulwark against incursion by the Xhosas. This vital piece of information was withheld from them. None were to be settled in the village of Port Elizabeth itself, a recently established town with no facilities apart from a fort.
On 23rd November 1819, Francis arrived in London presumably to meet William Parker. Immediately Francis drafted a letter from his residence in Adelphi London to the Colonial Office. This letter is extant. On the 10th December, he addresses yet another letter to the Colonial Office. Both relate to the impending trip to the Cape. William Parker and Francis McCleland then boarded the ship, the East India, back to Passage West outside Cork in Ireland together with some British settlers.
Legend to picture: 1850 View of Castle Hill taken from the Market Square. No 2 in this picture is the first Post Office in Port Elizabeth, later the house of Mr Caithness. It is recognizable in the picture below dated 1864. Key: 1. Jail; 2. Post Office; 3. Richards and Impey; 4. Mrs Philips; 5. Mr Heugh 6. Caesar Andrews; 7. Jailer Sterley’s cottages; 8. Rev. F McCleland; 9. Mr Ashkettle 10. The public well with people drawing up water
En route, Francis’ fiery temper came to the fore. He got involved in an fracas with some English gentlemen and according to reports, roundly vilifies them. Back at Passage West awaiting the arrival of the Irish Settler contingent, Francis met a petite 19 year old lass by the name of Elizabeth Clark. It is love at first sight. On the 4th February 1820 he married her at the St Mary’s Church in Passage West.
Eight days later on the 12th February, the newly married couple set sail for South Africa. En route to the Cape, Francis yet again gets into a confrontation with fellow passengers. Parker decides to lay a formal complaint with the Colonial Office regarding this incident. On 1st May 1820, the East India anchors off Simon’s Bay, as it was then called.
William Parker rowed to shore, then rides by horse to Cape Town in order to obtain further instructions and to hand over his complaint regarding Francis’ obnoxious behaviour. The Governor, Sir Lord Charles Somerset, was unavailable but the acting Governor, Sir Rufane Donkin, was.
In Somerset’s absence, Donkin had already elected to amend the explicit instructions that all settlers were to be sent to the Eastern Frontier. In fear of clashes between the English and the Irish settlers, he had decided to settle them in Clanwilliam over a 1000kms from the English settlers being settled in the Eastern Cape.
Without sufficient land and water at Clanwilliam and William Parker clearly on his own mission, treating many of his fellow Irishmen as indentured labourers, a veritable mutiny broke out. Many of the party were allowed to immediately be relocated to the Eastern Cape but William himself elected to return to Ireland. Of the minority who agreed to remain in Clanwilliam, Francis was one of them.
This was not to last. After yet another altercation with his fellow Irishmen, in 1825 he was offered a job as Colonial Chaplain, which he readily accepted.
Acquisition of the stand and Erection of the Parsonage
On arrival in Port Elizabeth in early September 1825 what greeted the couple was a windy sand swept little village. As Churchouse laconically comments; “It would have been difficult to escape the impression that the small number of little whitewashed cottages had a tenuous hold on the sandy coastline. The only street was ankle deep in sand”
However their most immediate concern was accommodation. As the church did not provide a house for their first clergyman, Francis and Elizabeth presumably rented a cottage for their first two to three years. Alternatively they slept in tents for whole or portion thereof.
Instead of acquiring a plot close to the shoreline, in November 1827 Francis purchased a stand close to the crest of the hill some distance from the other foreshore. The sum paid was a princely three guineas [three pounds and three shillings] conditional on his building “a good and substantial house” within eighteen months of the date of purchase.
In former days, the property extended to the site of the original Collegiate Girls School and Annerley Terrace forming the well-known “Parson’s Garden”.
Indigenous yellow wood, sandstone together with locally made bricks and tiles were generously used in its construction. The style was the contemporary Georgian unlike the settlers to New Zealand who had adopted a more iconoclastic style. As a testimony to its sturdy construction, Number 7 has stood up remarkable well to the ravages of time and weather.
In 1831, Francis took a bond on the house for £150 and in 1836 Francis bonded the house for a further £500.
During those years, Elizabeth had an accident of unknown description which resulted in her having difficulty in walking down the steep hill. To mitigate this problem, Francis petitioned the government to grant him an erf in the lower part of town. He even considered building again. As Fuller notes, “[This grant] would enable Mrs McCleland to be much more attentive to her Sunday School, who in consequence of an accident is frequently incapacitated from going to church.”
He was not granted a new erf and at some stage during the next few years he built the double storeyed eastern wing onto the parsonage. This addition to the house consisted of a large room downstairs and a bedroom above it. The large bedroom was necessitated by the birth of yet another daughter, Anna D’Urban McCleland.
The enlarged house with its wonderful view of the bay was comfortable and certainly large by the standards of the day.
It features a steep stairway with a simple wooden hand-rail leads from the entrance hall to the bedrooms above. The floors throughout the house are of polished yellow wood, and the recessed shutters in the deep window reveals provide protection as well as shade.
The interior presents a picture of domestic life as enjoyed by an English middle class family in mid-19th Century Port Elizabeth. This picturesque family dwelling located in Castle Hill Road, Central has Yellow wood floors and beams, and a restored slate roof. The doll’s house, lace displays and kitchen is particularly impressive.
Francis died in July 1853 after a long illness.
In 1861 the house was advertised “To Let” but it remained the property of the McCleland daughters until it was sold to Mr James Daly in 1904.
As one of a number of lodging houses that Daly owned in the neighbourhood, it fell into disrepair and disrepute and was eventually condemned by the municipal; authorities. Then in 1938, Mr HB Smith, the Government Land Surveyor, bought it from Daly’s Estate and saved it by renovating it as a comfortable home for himself. It was a great source of pride to him and he welcomed its proclamation as a National Monument shortly before his death in 1962. He had hoped that it might eventually be turned into a museum and with this intention, the house was purchased jointly with the City Council and the Provincial Administration in 1963 and some basic repairs were carried out. On his death, the house was purchased by the then City Council for the princely sum of R6,890.00 – according to First and Final Liquidation and Distribution account.
When it became apparent that more work was entailed than had at first being envisioned, the care of the house was entrusted to the Historical Society of Port Elizabeth who raised funds, worked on the restoration and begged, borrowed and bought suitable furniture for it.
The modern asbestos roof was replaced with slate, rotten external plaster was renewed, and new internal shutters were constructed for the ground floor windows.
In September 1965, No. 7 was officially opened to the public.
The house has been decorated and furnished to present a picture of nineteenth century domestic life in Port Elizabeth. The collection of furniture and domestic objects that have been donated for display in Number 7 reflects a thriving mid-Victorian community, whose members had progressed well beyond their settler beginnings and who had put down roots, surrounding themselves with possessions, and acquired a style of permanence.
The exhibits are mostly of English origin from the period 1850 to 1870 with a few notable exceptions; the stinkwood table in the entrance hall is a Cape piece circa 1750 and the long case clock opposite it, was made in Scotland towards the end of the same century. Furthermore in the parlour there is an early nineteenth century Cape-made bookcase with glazed upper doors.
The pictures and ornaments on the ground floor are almost all of historical interest. The young officer whose portrait hangs in the parlour was Mrs McCleland’s brother, Ensign Clark of the Fourth Regiment of Foot and the dining room is decorated with views of early Port Elizabeth in which Number 7 is clearly visible. The model of the old Bird Island lighthouse, protected by a typical Victorian glass “shade”, was made by the first lighthouse-keeper in 1855 from shells collected on the island.
The walls of the basement kitchen have been stripped of plaster to reveal the stone work beneath, still showing traces of colour wash. There is a brick bread oven built into the wall and the soot blackened hearth beside it, which has evidently been altered from its original form giving rise to much speculation about the cooking arrangements of the first occupants of the house. The variety of utensils on display includes such unusual objects such as loaf sugar cutter, candle moulds and an early waffle iron.
Fine old needlework is displayed in the bedrooms and in the sewing room which features a treadle sewing machine made in Massachusetts in 1870.
Decayed plaster was removed from the external walls during repairs in 1963, revealing the random stone coursing supplemented with brick.
A steep stairway with a simple wooden hand-rail leads from the entrance hall to the bedrooms above. The floors throughout the house are of polished yellow wood, and the recessed shutters in the deep window reveals provide protection as well as shade.
The kitchen in the basement has the original Bak-oond, transporting some, older, visitors back to their childhood. There is an old wood stove, a manual washing machine and a very clever peach-peeler amongst many other interesting items.
The original well is still working in the cobbled courtyard, bearing testament to the engineering expertise of the settlers. “The well in the courtyard is original and acts as an underground ‘tank’. It is made of the same sandstone as the house. Water is siphoned off the roof down gutters, into the well. The pump is dated 1849 and still works. The vine in the courtyard is beautiful and produces wonderful grapes,” said Hart of her caught-in-time museum.
Today it is an historical museum furnished in the style of the mid-Victorian era. The original charming cobblestone in the backyard was retained and the hand pumped well was restored and is in running order
It was opened as a historical museum in 1965 and is furnished to show a picture of domestic life as enjoyed by an English middle class family in mid-19th Century Port Elizabeth.
No 7 even has its own hair-raising ghost story!
According to several visitor accounts there is a manifestation of a woman walking the corridors of the house. .
“Although operating my ghost tours for 20 years I have never seen her myself,” Haunted Walk tour guide Rose Trehaeven said. “However the visitors who have seen her reported that she was holding a candle and wearing a long maroon dress with golden hair falling down her back.”
“Apparently the lady in the red dress would appear in a bedroom, walk down the upstairs hallway and disappear in the next room,” Trehaeven said.
According to Trehaeven some visitors would also report strange smells coming out of nowhere.
Though the house itself is from an earlier era its displays have a strong Victorian focus, including a collection of pipes and other fascinating knickknacks so favoured by people in Victorian times
No 7 Castle Hill truly captures the ‘old’ Port Elizabeth in the ambience of the building’s interior and exterior.
Wording on Historical Monuments plaque
PARSONAGE HOUSE, BUILT ABOUT 1830, WAS
THE HOUSE OF THE REVEREND FRANCIS
McCLELAND, 1820 SETTLER, COLONIAL CHAPLAIN
AND FIRST RECTOR OF ST. MARY’S CHURCH,
PORT ELIZABETH. IT WAS OWNED AND OCCUPIED
BY HIM FROM THE TIME IT WAS BUILT UNTIL
HIS DEATH IN 1853 AND IS ONE OF THE OLDEST
HOUSES KNOWN TO SURVIVE IN THE CITY.
Historical Monuments Commission
Blogs of the Life of Rev Francis McCleland
The Reverend Francis McCleland: Colonial Chaplain to Port Elizabeth 1825 to 1853 by Churchouse
Hills Covered with Cottages by Margaret Harradine
Port Elizabeth: A Social Chronicle to 1945 by Margaret Harradine
Pamphlet by Museum: Number 7 Castle Hill
Photos: Off internet and Jonker Fourie’s blog