Port Elizabeth of Yore: The First Generation of McClelands in PE

Much is known about the 1820 Settler, the Rev Francis McCleland, merely because he was the first Colonial Chaplain at St Mary’s Church in Port Elizabeth and probably more so due to his house, Number 7 Castle Hill. But how did his offspring fare in this new land especially given the fact that there were no school facilities initially?

Main picture: Number 7 Castle Hill, the house in which they were brought up

Of the ten children that Elizabeth and Francis sired, only seven survived childhood. Of these, they can be divided into three categories: sons, married daughters and unmarried daughters. In an era when the number of men handily exceeded the number of women in Port Elizabeth, it is surprising that there were any unmarried women during that time. Was this a function of the lack of opportunity due to the social mores precluding females from many activities, or was it due to parental constraints?

Furthermore, there was a marked distinction between the lives of Francis’ sons and his sons-in-law. His sons-in-law led very “public” lives in that took an active part in local and even national affairs whereas his sons’ interests lay elsewhere.

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

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

Elizabeth Boland McCleland

Elizabeth (1821-1890) married William Higgins (1812-1860) on 30th Nov 1843, a year after her mother’s death.  The Graham’s Town Journal on 7th December notes that “married on Thursday, 30th November 1843, at St Mary’s Church, Port Elizabeth, Williams Higgins Esq. to Elizabeth Boland, eldest daughter of the Revd. Francis McCleland A.B. T.C.D., Colonial Chaplain.”

By virtue of being the eldest daughter, it can be surmised that Elizabeth had borne the brunt of the additional responsibilities such as running the household and taking care of her younger siblings during the final years of her mother’s illness and finally death. Her responsibilities would now be devolved to the younger sisters when Elizabeth moved into a cottage with William.

St Mary's Church in 1876

St Mary’s Church in 1876

Both William and Elizabeth were keen participants in church life. William sat for some years on the Vestry Committee with the Rev Francis McCleland as chairman, while Elizabeth drew a small fee as organist at St. Mary’s for many years. Perhaps this is how they originally met, much like her father who probably met his future bride at St Mary’s Church in Passage West, Ireland.

William Higgins is reputed to have come to the Cape from London. About the time of his marriage, he was a partner in a firm of merchant importers. This partnership was dissolved two years after his marriage to Elizabeth. The E.P. Herald of 24th January 1846 carried the following two Notices:

  1. Notice of the dissolution of the partnership of C. Maynard, H. Maynard and W. Higgins
  2. Notice that W. Higgins will continue to trade on his own

In the year 1844, William entered into another venture with other businessmen. Jointly they formed the Port Elizabeth Trust Association with the purpose of administering Insolvent and Assigned Estates.

Baakens River Valley#02

Was William Higgins’s wool pressing business in Baakens Valley like other wool washing businesses?

William built up his own flourishing business as a merchant until his primary interest, civic affairs, took precedence. William accepted the appointment as Town Clerk for a three year period of 1848 to 1851. To prevent any conflict of interest, this appointment meant selling his merchanting business.

The issues that Higgins dealt with during his term of office reflect interesting aspects of early Port Elizabeth:

  • The marking of footpaths in Main Street
  • Fixing of the covers of the public wells
  • Calling for tenders for a horse and cart
  • Issuing of instructions that horses were not to be let loose while market was in progress in the Square
Market Square-lithograph by Thomas Bowler

Market Square – lithograph by Thomas Bowler

Furthermore, he took an active part in two of the major issues that dominated Eastern Cape politics at the time. The first issue, initiated by John Paterson and Robert Godlonton, was that of independence of the Eastern Cape. This movement arose due to the fear that the weaker Eastern Cape would ultimately be dominated by the far stronger Western Cape.  William’s role within this association, the Branch Resident Government Association, was that of Honorary Secretary.

The other vexatious issue at the time was a proposal by the British Government to establish a penal colony in the Eastern Cape. This was vigorously opposed by the residents of this area. Here too, William was appointed as Honorary Secretary. This protest action ultimately had the desired effect and the proposal was scuppered.

With a miserly salary as Town Clerk, and William’s passion absorbed by his job, to the detriment of his personal finances, in December 1949 Higgins suffered a serious financial reverse. He was declared insolvent. It is ironical that it should have happened to such a responsible man who was frequently trustee in the insolvent estates of others.

Havelock Street

Havelock Street

William and Elizabeth were forced to liquidate their home and furniture and to move into the house of the Rev Francis McCleland at No 7 Castle Hill. With his entrepreneurial talent undimmed, William sought new business opportunities, becoming a wool-presser and again building up his own business. Partially it is surmised, due to the financial strain that he was enduring, William died at a young age of forty eight. He is buried beside Francis and Elizabeth McCleland in the St Mary’s Cemetery in South End.

Elizabeth threw herself into other ventures. During the 1850s, she ran a small private school at No .7 Castle Hill. In 1861, the year after William’s death, No 7 was let for all the McCleland children had now grown up and the youngest, George, was twenty. This action forced Elizabeth to move into a cottage at North End.

Early view over the Baakens River

Early view over the Baakens River

During her remaining fifteen years in Port Elizabeth, she was for a time a member of the Ladies Benevolent Society. Eventually when Anna, her sister, died, she followed her other sisters to Wynberg, Cape Town where she lived until her death in 1890.

En passant, I wonder where the wool pressing factory was located. Was it situated in the Baakens Valley close to where the wool washers such as Ebden & Dunnell factory was located? Furthermore I have also pondered why Elizabeth went to live in North End which in an era when the “mode of transport” was walking? As most of her family resided on the Hill, visiting them would imply plenty of foot slogging


Adelaide McCleland

Had her father Rev Francis McCleland been alive, he certainly would have approved of this match. Adelaide’s decision to marry William Fleming (Junior), the son of William Fleming (Senior), a close associate of his, would have been heartily welcomed. William Senior shared religious interests with Francis McCleland with William being a member of the Vestry Committee for some time and both men were active participants in the British and Foreign Bible Society.

William Fleming Junior (1833-1894)

William Fleming Junior (1833-1894)

His initial business interests were in a merchant, Heugh and Fleming which later became Fleming & Co. His shareholding and membership included the Public Library, Guardian Insurance and Trust Company, Chamber of Commerce, PE Bank, the Harbour Board, MLC 1854-58, Justice of the Peace, Municipal Commissioner. In 1851 while William Junior was still staying at home, he built what is now known as Fleming House in Bird Street, which in 1864 was valued at £4,000, more than the value of any other house in Port Elizabeth at that time.

During Prince Alfred’s trip to Port Elizabeth in 1860, arriving on the 6th August, he and his entourage stayed at Fleming House. Prince Albert was the second son of Queen Victoria and a midshipman in the navy. Prince Alfred spent his sixteenth birthday in Port Elizabeth and his visit was a tremendous success. So successful in fact, that for years afterwards the day was honoured as a public holiday.

Fleming Street where the Harbour Board Building is located is named after William Senior as well as. Fleming House, the former Customs House. The street was named after Fleming as his firm Heugh and Fleming, owned the land.

Fleming House at 20 Bird Street

William Junior was born to William Senior and Frances Charlotte Andrews in Uitenhage in 1833 two years after Adelaide. While he was a child, William Senior relocated to Port Elizabeth and with him his whole family. Even in his school days, William Junior exhibited sterling qualities that were evident in his subsequent career. He attended the Government Free School and in 1846 he received the first class prizes in Grammar and Geography. With his brother Charles, he then went to Edinburgh High School in Scotland, where they both received recognition in a literary contest.

Pearson Street - Looking down the road from Whitlock Street

Pearson Street – Looking down the road from Whitlock Street

William and Adelaide were married on 21st January 1858 in St Mary’s Church. As the Flemings had a large circle of friends, it was a large wedding with five groomsmen and five bridesmaids. While still residents of Port Elizabeth, they resided at Hamilton House in Pearson Street.

Fleming House

Adelaide’s husband had a varied and indeed prominent career. After completing his schooling in Scotland, he had entered his father’s merchant importing business. Three years after their marriage, William Junior inherited the whole lot when his father died in 1861. William’s career mirrored that of his father is many aspects as both men participated in politics as well as many other spheres of public life.

Adelaide Fleming nee McCleland

Adelaide Fleming nee McCleland

William Junior was a member of the Legislative Council from 1869-70. He was well-known for his generosity as reflected in this article in the E.P. Herald dated 21st May 1874, “There was another large class in Port Elizabeth in far different circumstances…………..he referred to those towards whom his (William Fleming’s) liberal hand had always been so open, and a class who can appreciate the friend in need, as the friend indeed more fully, perhaps than those who required no such friendship.” 

William Junior did not achieve the status of politician without an apprenticeship in local affairs. The extent of his interests in amazing; Justice of the Peace, a founder member of the Chamber of Commerce, member of the Harbour Board, captain of the local militia and a committee member of the Provincial Hospital and the Grey Institute. He enthusiastically supported the development of the harbour facilities and he supported the use of Algoa Bay by writing a brochure entitled “to place before the mercantile and maritime public …… all the reliable data that could be collected in connection with Port Elizabeth, the flourishing and rapidly increasing seaport of Algoa Bay.”

 William Fleming Junior & Senior

In 1874, William and Adelaide left Port Elizabeth. A farewell dinner was held at the Port Elizabeth Club where William was a member at which he expressed his sentiments as follows: “For the last few days he [William Junior] had been going through no ordinary struggle in tearing himself away from a place  where he had so many kind friends – which from his infancy had been his home – which was the home of his wife too, and birthplace of all of his children – and in this he dared to say that he had not to tell those who knew Mrs Fleming well, her attachment to, and fondness for, Port Elizabeth.”

As if two William Flemings were confusing enough, their only son was also named William Fleming. Fortunately for historians, this should not create any confusion as unlike his father and grandfather, he was not prominent in Port Elizabeth’s affairs. Instead he seems to have left the Cape and never returned.

Bird Street. The PE Club circa 1884

Bird Street. The PE Club circa 1884

After that sad farewell, William and Adelaide left for Europe. Exactly what their intentions were, is unclear and whether their relocation was permanent or not is unknown. What is known is that they returned to South Africa, not to settle in Port Elizabeth, but rather Cape Town where they acquired a dwelling in Wynberg. William continued his outstanding career in public affairs in Cape Town as Justice of the Peace, a member of the Legislative Council, Mayor of Cape Town from 1881 to 1883 and he served on two commissions.

William died whilst on a visit to London. Adelaide, it seems, never returned to the Cape but in a house called “Deeping Bank” in Camberley, England with her two unmarried daughters.

No 7. Castle Hill harbours some mementoes to William Fleming in the form of some water colours painted by him.

Francis William Henry McCleland (1827-1883)

Francis William was my great grandfather. His life story, which is varied and interesting, is dealt with in a separate blog.

Captain Francis William Henry McCleland


Anna D’Urban McCleland (1835-1867)

Named after Lieutenant General Sir Benjamin D’Urban GCB KCH FRS, a British general and colonial administrator, who is best known for his frontier policy when he was the Governor in the Cape Colony, Anna was born in Port Elizabeth on the 10th May 1835. Sir Benjamin D’Urban had resided at No & Castle Hill during a visit to Port Elizabeth in the 1830s.

Anna married Hugh Maynard Scrivenor on 11th December 1856, three years after her father’s death. As such, she was not married by her father like her siblings. Furthermore, even though her husband was not intimately connected with St Mary’s church unlike her two sisters’ husbands, the Rev Francis McCleland would also surely have approved of him without the slightest hesitation unless he equated lawyers with rogues.

View of Port Elizabeth circa 1940 with both St Mary's Church & No 7 Castle Hill visible

View of Port Elizabeth circa 1940 with both St Mary’s Church & No 7 Castle Hill visible

Hugh Scrivenor emigrated to the Cape as a young man and was of old British stock. His father had been the author of several books on the iron trade and the railways in Britain.

Hugh’s main interest, however, unlike that of his father, was in law. As it was a foregone conclusion that his future lay in this direction, Hugh received his training as a law clerk in Port Elizabeth in the 1850s. He qualified about the time of his marriage to Anna and became an attorney in the Supreme Court. Like this brothers-in-laws, the attribute of civic mindedness comes to mind as he gave much of his limited time to two institutions in Port Elizabeth. He was secretary of the Provincial Hospital for thirteen years and also secretary of the Grey Institute for many years. Unlike his two wife’s sisters’ husbands, he disdained politics and seems not to have been involved in it.

Apart from these civic obligations, Scrivenor’s recreational activity was in the form of painting. More than a mere dabbler, he entered some work in the Port Elizabeth Art Exhibition held in 1861. A Mr Rochlin, who was a critic at the exhibition, reported in the Eastern Province Herald that “Of amateur performances, there are some very creditable productions. Those of a local nature being by …… and Mr Scrivenor.” If there was any inter-family rivalry, it would have been in the person of Hugh’s brother-in-law, William Fleming who also participated in this exhibition. As he is not mentioned by name, one can assume that his paintings were not rated as being worthy of mention by the adjudicators.

No 7 Castle Hill's Courtyard

No 7 Castle Hill’s Courtyard

Anna and Hugh were married for eleven years before Anna died in 1867 at the early age of thirty-two. In that time, five children had been born to them, four of them being daughters.

After Anna’s death, Hugh Scrivenor remarried and had three daughters by his second wife, Jane Ann Perkins. Hugh Scrivenor remained in Port Elizabeth until his death in 1911.

George Thomas Walker McCleland (1840-1893)

George was the youngest child of the Reverend Francis McCleland and Elizabeth McCleland. He had the misfortune of suffering the loss of both parents at an early age. Clearly he did not know his mother as she died when he was two and a half years old whereas he was thirteen when he father died, leaving him in the care of his unmarried siblings.

Wife and children of George McCleland

Little is known of the life of George other than the fact that he moved to Australia to farm. His intentions in this regard are unclear but on his return, he farmed in Uitenhage and married Maria Minnie, who bore him eight children.


If one discounts the unmarried sisters, whose lives were probably restricted due to the mores of the time, all of the rest of the children, apart from perhaps George, were a resounding success. Ironically from a somewhat brief assessment, the lives of the succeeding generation were not quite as prosperous or as illustrious as that first generation. Moreover, apart from Francis William Henry McCleland, success was attained by the females in the family marrying well rather than by their own endeavours. Again, this is not a pejorative comment, but rather a reflection of the limitations imposed upon females by societal norms of that era.

Directions to McClelands Graves

They are buried at the St Mary’s Cemetery: Enter at the gate, go right towards the main road and walk up the hill. It is just behind the surrounding wall. The historian, Emile. and Grizel Hart have cleaned and cleared the grave to commemorate some McCleland anniversary.


The Reverend Francis McCleland: Colonial Chaplain to Port Elizabeth 1825-1853 by Gabrielle Churchouse (1976, Human Sciences Research Council, 1976)


  1. Please note that the image shown in this article is not Fleming House. Fleming House is located between this house and Cora Terrace.


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