Port Elizabeth of Yore: The Parsonage House at No. 7 Castle Hill

This, the oldest unaltered house in Port Elizabeth, bears a specific significance in my life. The original owner of that house – the Reverend Francis McCleland – was my great-great-grandfather. In 1962 the house was declared a National Monument. In order to restore the parsonage house from a place of ill-repute back to its former glory, all members of 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, its fall from grace, and then how it achieved its current status as a treasured museum

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

Significance of the homestead
No. 7 Castle Hill has a three-fold claim to be preserved for posterity. The house is, as far as can be ascertained, the oldest dwelling still standing in the city. Francis Evatt’s house at Chelsea can claim to be older but as it is not strictly located in the city and as extensions and refurbishments have destroyed the original house, it can no longer vie for the title of the oldest house. No. 7 is also a fine example of the type of town house built in the Eastern Cape during the first part of the nineteenth century by colonist of British stock. In addition, it was erected as the home of one of the original settlers of 1820, the first Rector of St. Mary’s Church, and one of Port Elizabeth’s most influential early residents.

Francis’ background
Francis McCleland was of Irish extraction being born in Longford [Town] in December 1791. 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 the 7th November 1819.

Offer to emigrate to the Cape
Floor Plan of No. 7 Castle Hill - By courtesy of Messrs. Owen Eaton, Roux & Wolmarans
Floor Plan of No. 7 Castle Hill – By courtesy of Messrs. Owen Eaton, Roux & Wolmarans

At that stage he had probably heard through a compatriot, William Parker, about a plan by the British 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.

No 7 Castle Hill Lots 9 & 10 in 1903. Francis McCleland purchased this land in November 1827 on public auction

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 Indian, back to Passage West outside Cork in Ireland together with some British settlers.

A watercolour of Number 7 Castle Hill
A watercolour of Number 7 Castle Hill

Legend to picture: A 1850 view of Castle Hill as seen from the Market Square. It was drawn by road engineer Henry Fancourt White. The almost indistinct numbers represent the following:  1. Jail; 2. The first Post Office in Port Elizabeth, later the house of Mr. Caithness. It is recognizable in the picture below dated 1864; 3. Richards and Impey; 4. Mrs Philips 5. Mr Heugh 6. Caesar Andrews; 7. Sterley’s cottages; 8. Rev. F McCleland; 9. Mr Ashkettle 10. The public well with people drawing water

En route back to Ireland after visiting the Colonial Office in London, Francis’s 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.

Left: No. 7 Castle Hill. This is part of Walford Arbouin Harries’s drawing lithographed in 1851. Jarvis’s house and the present No. 7, home of Rev. McCleland (land bought at the end of 1827) are at the top left. Opposite are Henry Jones’s house circa 1838 and William Sterley’s cottages. Facing the sea are Pieter Heugh’s large “Prospect House” and adjoining it Caesar Andrews’s matching one. The cottage at the centre was built circa 1838 by James Ellicott, sold to George Turner and inherited by his wife, later Mrs Phillips. It is still standing in Hope Street.

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.

Number 7 Castle Hill Port Elizabeth-Old#01

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’s obnoxious behaviour. The Governor, Lord Charles Somerset, was unavailable but the acting Governor, Sir Rufane Donkin, was.

Map of PE in 1823
Map of Port Elizabeth in 1823 by JF. Cornfield

In Somerset’s absence, Donkin had already elected to amend the explicit instructions that all settlers were to be sent to the Eastern Frontier. Fearing clashes between the English and the Irish settlers, he decided to settle the latter in Clanwilliam over a 1000kms from the English settlers being settled in the Eastern Cape.

Sir Rufane Donkin
Sir Rufane Donkin

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.

Nineteenth century farm in Clanwilliam
Nineteenth century farm in Clanwilliam

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

Portrait of the Reverend Francis McCleland

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.

No 7 Castle Hill's cobbled stone courtyard
No 7 Castle Hill’s cobbled stone courtyard

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.”

The basement kitchen and the pantry that adjoins it have brick floors, and are furnished with a collection of old utensils
The basement kitchen and the pantry that adjoins it have brick floors, and are furnished with a collection of old utensils

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.

The well at No7 Castle Hill
The well at No7 Castle Hill

Description of the house
In her article entitled Port Elizabeth’s Oldest House in Looking Back Volume 1, Number 4, December 1961, Margaret Rainier provides the best description of the house as follows:

The house, which is built of stone and rubble, plastered and white-washed, overlooks the bay from its steep hillside site, reflecting in its symmetrical design the manners of a bygone, formal age. Only one important feature of the house has been altered, the original slate roof being replaced with asbestos, the characteristic gable ends disappearing in the operation.

The main ·structure is parallel with the street, with a short wing, alike double-storeyed, projecting to the rear. Where the ground falls abruptly away at the side there are basement storerooms, originally (and evidently inconveniently) the kitchen quarters. In front of the house is a narrow-flagged veranda. The door is centrally placed, flanked by sash windows on either side. Above small but corresponding windows light the first-floor rooms.

The front door opens into a hall leading across the width of the house to a small vine-shaded courtyard. This is enclosed upon one side by the kitchen, and on the others by servants quarters and outhouses. Here rainwater from the roofs used to be collected for domestic use, stored in an underground tank of brick and plaster, with a neatly corbelled top.

To the right of the entrance is the staircase, ascending in one straight flight, and with a simple wooden balustrade. It is almost identical in design with the staircase at the farm Chelsea, which was granted in 1814 to Captain Evatt, commanding the garrison at Algoa Bay.

Every room, of course, has features of interest and charm. For example, most of the floors are of the typical broad yellowwood planking; but in the principal living room the boards are only about three inches wide, having been cut, apparently, to a special specification to reduce their tendency to warp.

In the same room the fireplace has a Victorian iron grate, fitted perhaps after the middle of the nineteenth century. In a room upstairs however, there is still a little open fireplace, ornamented with a simple reeded wooden beading; and this again has a companion piece at Chelsea.

Everywhere, space which. might have been· wasted; has been utilised for storage. Besides glass-fronted shelves downstairs, of the Cape “muurkas” type, there are closets upstairs large enough to walk into, and part of the wooden partition under the stairs opens to reveal a neat tool rack. The old house is notable for its personal associations as well as for its architectural features, and it has changed hands only twice – when the McCleland family sold it in 1904 to a Mr. Daly, and again when he sold it in 1939 to Mr. HB Smith. Mr. Smith, before retiring, practiced in Port Elizabeth as a Land Surveyor, following the tradition established by his father G. W. Smith who was responsible for so much of the lay-out of the expanding city.

The explanation of the architecture of No. 7 has been based upon an article by Edit Neethling who in 1973, was the historian at the Port Elizabeth Museum.

Floorplan: The Cape Dutch U plan.is followed, the frontage being the main part of the house with two wings added. The first addition to the original front elevation was apparently the left-hand single-storeyed wing containing the servants’ room and the room now furnished as a study. The second addition was the double-storeyed wing consisting of an upstairs fourth bedroom and an extra room on the ground floor.

Exterior: The simple character of the house resembles the rural cottages of the British Isles, dating from the pre-Regency period, the proportions and spacing of the doors and windows, in particular, being characteristic. The present stoep with its solid wall is Cape Dutch inspired. It is, therefore, debatable if a wrought iron rail was originally there, although this could well be the case, as iron rails were extensively’ used in British Regency homes for balconies and bay-windows.

Interior: The general style is in the British tradition; the ceiling beams with white-washed planks between being typical. Local material was used for these beams, namely yellowwood. The slightly arched sashed windows are in the British Neo-Classical style. The interior shutters were added later for security reasons.

Although the house is of the late Georgian-cum-Regency architecture, it does not have the characteristic dado of the period’ in the parlour and dining room. I The wall cupboards show the Cape Dutch influence, a style with which the Rev. McCleland may have become familiar with during his five years as minister at Clanwilliam before his appointment to Port Elizabeth. The entrance hall has the proportions of an English town-house, with no indication of a screen of the Cape Dutch kind.

The very steep staircase has a beautiful well-proportioned handrail of straight lines in the Regency style, which blends well with the staircase itself. The yellowwood mantlepiece in the sitting room is of the Neo-Classical fluted style. The wrought-iron grate is a later Victorian addition. The fireplace in the dining-room has been entirely removed. The _basement kitchen originally featured an open-hearth fireplace as can be seen by the still-existing arch. The interior “bakoond” (baking oven) is Cape Dutch, such as can be seen in town houses of the period. This oven was built right into the rock of the hillside as was the pantry, to ensure coolness in the summer. The original floor of the kitchen was probably a mixture of mud and dung. The brick floor is a later addition. The yellowwood lintels above the windows and door of the kitchen are in the British and Continental tradition. Here again local material was used.

The walls of the basement and first floor are very thick as they have to support the weight of the upper floor. The first-floor walls of the outside are of the same thickness as those downstairs, but the interior dividing walls are less heavy, extensive use having been made of wattle and mud instead of the solid stones of the exterior walls. The two front bedrooms both had fireplaces: but only one is still in existence. This features the same well-proportioned fluted mantelpiece noted in the sitting room, but has been painted white. The room now furnished as a nursery must originally have been a linen-room, as the existing closet indicates.

The fourth bedroom (the office of the Historical Society until recently) also had a fireplace. This room originally had an outside staircase leading to the courtyard. On the ground floor, the present office of the curator was an extra dining room. The fireplace is still in existence. The present upstairs tea-kitchen and the downstairs cloakroom were later divisions of the original rooms and served as bathrooms.

The present dining-room I envisage as the minister’s study, because of its easy access from the entrance hall and its privacy from the rest of the house. Usually in parsonages, the study led off from the entrance hall on the left-hand side. An example of this can be seen in the Heritage Museum in Adelaide, which was ‘the parsonage of Ds. Stegman. The dividing wall between the hall and the present dining room was removed at some stage and moved towards the hall, thus enlarging the dining room. On the ceiling of the dining room one can still detect indications of a fireplace which must have been situated in the entrance hall.

The room off the dining room which is now fitted out as a study was probably a storeroom as there is no window and the door leads directly from the courtyard. The inside doors of the house are of the Regency style with six panels.

The servants’ room in the courtyard also has a fireplace but without any decoration. The two small windows and the door have yellowwood lintels. The servants’ toilet must have been the original lavatory of the house. The “well” in the courtyard is just a tank for storing the rainwater from the roof, the only means qf water-supply for this dwelling. The stand for the pump and the mouth of the well must have been made of wood instead of cement as at present.

A: small proportion of the original cobblestones has survived but the rest has been restored in keeping with the original. The stone benches in the courtyard are made from stone steps taken from the old North End Gaol when it was demolished. Benches of this kind were common in Cape Dutch homes and these blend well with the character of the house. The slate roof is not the original one but a restoration made from the same kind of slate.

The garden features a grapevine and a fig tree. The closed arch of stonework originally led to the adjoining coach house and stable.

It features a steep stairway with a simple wooden handrail 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.

A steep stairway with a simple wooden hand-rail leads from the entrance hall to the bedrooms above.


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.

No 7 Castle Hill's Courtyard

No 7 Castle Hill’s Courtyard

Francis died in July 1853 after a long illness.

Later Years
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.

Advert-Family Mansion to Let
Advert-Family Mansion to Let

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 the First and Final Liquidation and Distribution account.

Dining room
Dining room

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, surrounded themselves with possessions, and acquired a style of permanence.

Old needlework is displayed in the bedrooms
Old needlework is displayed in the bedrooms

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.

Painting of 7 Castle Hill
Painting of 7 Castle Hill

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.

Decayed plaster was removed from the external walls during repairs in 1963, revealing the random stone coursing supplemented with brick.
Decayed plaster was removed from the external walls during repairs in 1963, revealing the random stone coursing supplemented with brick.

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.

Plaque at 7 Castle Hill, Port Elizabeth
Plaque at 7 Castle Hill, Port Elizabeth

Fine old needlework is displayed in the bedrooms and in the sewing room which features a treadle sewing machine made in Massachusetts in 1870.

The sitting room

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.

No 7 Castle Hill#04

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 cobblestones in the backyard have been 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 Castle Hill Port Elizabeth Published by the Port Elizabeth Museum Board, 1975

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

No7 Castle Hill Museum

No 7 Castle Hill truly captures the ‘old’ Port Elizabeth in the ambience of the building’s interior and exterior.

Theft of silver cutlery


Wording on Historical Monuments plaque




Historical Monuments Commission


Slide show on No 7 Castle Hill

No 7 Castle Hill#06

No 7 Castle Hill#06
Certificate of Donor # 23 Mr Harry Clifford McCleland
Certificate of Donor # 23 Mr Harry Clifford McCleland

Map of the location of Number 7 Castle Hill


Blogs of the Life of Rev Francis McCleland

Kirkcudbright Document: Establishing the McCleland’s Right to Peerage

The Reverend Francis McCleland – A Life of Service

Correspondence regarding Rev Francis McCleland with Colonial Office in London

Rev Francis McCleland: From Birth to London – 1793 to 1819

Rev Francis McCleland: From Passage West to the Cape – 1820


Books and articles
The Reverend Francis McCleland: Colonial Chaplain to Port Elizabeth 1825-1853 by Gabrielle Churchouse (1976, Human Sciences Research Council, Pretoria)
Hills Covered with Cottages: Port Elizabeth’s Lost Streetscapes by Margaret Harradine (2010, Express Copy & Print, Port Elizabeth)
The Story of the Collegiate Church of St. Mary the Virgin, Port Elizabeth. Short History and Pictorial Record by The Venerable W.F. Bunyan, Vice-Provost and Rector.
Port Elizabeth: A Social Chronicle to the end of 1945 by Margaret Harradine (1996, E H Walton (Packaging (Pty) Ltd, Port Elizabeth, on behalf of the Historical Society of Port Elizabeth).
Port Elizabeth in Bygone Days by J.J. Redgrave (1947, Rustica Press)
The Cathedral of St Mary the Virgin, Port Elizabeth: Its windows and furnishing, a pictorial record and some aspects of its history by Margaret Harradine (2018, Express Copy & Print, Port Elizabeth)
Irish Settlers to the Cape: A History of the Clanwilliam 1820 Settlers from Cork Harbour by GB Dickason (1973, AA Balkema, Cape Town)
Port Elizabeth’s Oldest House by Margaret Rainier [Looking Back, Volume 1, Number 4, December 1961]
Some Points of Information on the Arhitecture of No. 7 Castle Hill by Edith M. Neethling, Historian, Port Elizabeth Museum (Looking Back, Volume XIII, No. 1, March 1973)

Photos: Off internet and Jonker Fourie’s blog

Pamphlet by Museum: Number 7 Castle Hill

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1 Comment

  1. H B Smith was my late mother’s uncle, and I can remember visiting H.B as a child. If my memory is anything to go by, his bedroom had a magnificent view over the harbour. 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.

    • Hi Peter.
      Thanks for that information. I am in the process of writing a whole bunch of blogs on PE, my home town. You can access them on the left panel under “Port Elizabeth of Yore”. I also have more personal memories under “Family Histories – McClelands”

        • Hi Shaun

          No, I don’t. I have lived in Joburg for 35 years now. Who is your father & grandfather. By the way, I am in the process of writing a biography on Rev Francis McCleland. I have already posted bits & pieces under the family history section of my blog.


  2. As always, I am left wanting more- yet utterly enthralled by your story- the pictures and the fact that you are/have recorded so much of the history of Port Elizabeth- for ‘our’ edification- and enjoyment. This museum, is in my bucketlist- soon, soon, bev

    • Hi Beverley

      Thanks for your feedback. I will hopefully one day be able to produce a book using my blogs as the basis thereof


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