Reverend Francis McCleland: A Life in Port Elizabeth 1825 – 1853

At best the Irish 1820 Settlers in Clanwilliam eked out a precarious existence. The settlement could not have been called a resounding success either by the settlers generally or the McCleland household in particular. After a number of unseemly quarrels, Francis was granted a transfer to the newly created hamlet of Port Elizabeth which was meant to have been their original disembarkation point. 

It was here that Francis and Elizabeth would spend the rest of their lives. This chronicles the lives of my great-great-grandparents in Port Elizabeth.

Main picture: Castle Hill in 1851 painted by engineer Henry Fancourt White of White’s Road fame. Number 7 Castle Hill is the commodious double storey house on the right on top of the hill

Journey to Port Elizabeth from Clanwilliam
According to Nathaniel Isaacs, Rev McCleland sailed as far as Port Elizabeth with his wife on the brig the Mary, captained by James King, a Nova Scotian trader and privateer who together with Francis Farewell in 1823 founded Port Natal, which later became Durban. The ship sailed from Cape Town on the 26th August, 1825, arriving in Port Elizabeth on the 14th September. [Travels and Adventures in Eastern Africa (Vol. 1)]

The Bay of Agoa de Saldanha
The Bay of Agoa de Saldanha

According to a booklet on Francis McCleland by Grizel Hart, Francis “was eventually moved to the Albany District and officiated as Colonial Chaplain at Graham’s Town until his appointment at Port Elizabeth arose.” Nowhere have I been able to confirm this fact or establish the period of his service in Graham’s Town. In spite of Francis’s predilection for copious correspondence, never does he mention this interlude.

The probable reason why Francis could have been initially transferred to Graham’s Town, if that did occur, and not Port Elizabeth, is because most of the 4,000 Settlers were directed to the Albany District whereas the hamlet of Port Elizabeth in 1824 could only boast a population of 319 as per a census taken that year.

Route from Clanwilliam to Cape Town
Route from Clanwilliam to Cape Town

On arrival in Port Elizabeth in early September 1825 what greeted the couple was a wind-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. Forthwith Francis set to work imploring the colonial authorities to provide him with a residence whilst simultaneously prevailing upon them the inequity of their situation. With the church stalling on whether to provide a house for their first clergyman, Francis and Elizabeth were obliged to seek an alternative. Presumably, they rented a cottage for their first two to three years. Alternatively, they could have slept like many other Settlers in tents for whole or portion thereof.

Margaret Rainier characterises Francis as follows: McCleland’s duties as Colonial Chaplain required him to travel far and wide, and to administer the sacred rites in both English and Dutch. He was also responsible for the first school in Port Elizabeth. His contemporaries recognised his gifts as a speaker and organiser, and he seems to have been associated with almost every scheme to promote the public welfare.

Ships in Algoa Bay by Thomas Baines
Ships in Algoa Bay by Thomas Baines

Appointment and salary
Francis’ appointment as Colonial Chaplain to Port Elizabeth was confirmed in the Appointment List for the Quarter ended 31st December 1825 in which it states that the appointment is effective from 1st October 1825 at a stipend of £150 per annum. Interestingly this official document refers to Francis as having been transferred from Clanwilliam. If in fact, he first obtained an interim appointment in Graham’s Town, this document would surely have said so.

McCleland’s remuneration became an ongoing bone of contention. During his life, he directed a flurry of letters to all and sundry on his plight. In dispute were two distinct issues viz the remuneration per se and the free use of parsonage house. As regards the absolute amount of his remuneration, the salaries of fellow clergymen on the Appointment List were also £150 per annum so this grievance was largely ill-founded.

Appointment List
Appointment List

The point that McCleland raises with a degree of insistence is the additional duties that he perceives that he was obliged to perform vis-à-vis his contemporaries. He enumerates various duties such as having to provide religious services to a mainly Dutch-speaking community at Clanwilliam for which he was compelled to learn the language. This he did with alacrity except that his pronunciation was suspect. The other general complaint related to the number of congregants that he had to service & their dispersal. In fact, the other pastors probably experienced the same dispersal of the flock unlike that of their home country. Amongst the other duties, not least was the establishment of new churches. At worst these responsibilities came with the job and at best were probably no worse than those borne by fellow pastors.

Landing goods at Port Elizabeth before the construction of the Jetties
Landing goods at Port Elizabeth before the construction of the Jetties. This was how the McClelands’ possessions were brought ashore

The Housing Imbroglio
However, where McCleland has irrefutable proof of inequality was in the lack of a parsonage house. All clergymen in his home country as well as South Africa were entitled to the use of a parsonage house. Interestingly Francis always insisted that the house had to have a garden but whether they had a garden in Ireland is moot. In any event, his complaint was founded on solid ground and was not some arbitrary whimsical grievance. The replies to his entreaties to all and sundry awakened vain hopes that the issue would, in the fullness of time, be resolved. Yet it never was, at least not to Francis’ full satisfaction. The issue of housing was addressed on 1st April 1827 when in lieu of the provision of a parsonage house, he was awarded a housing allowance of £40 per annum. Furthermore, McCleland’s salary was increased from 1st January 1828 from £150 to £200 per annum.

An early view of Port Elizabeth from the Illustrated London News dated 24th June 1843
An early view of Port Elizabeth from the Illustrated London News dated 24th June 1843

This was to result in a temporary respite and no more. In a letter on 6th March 1828, some three months after the 33.33% increase, McCleland was again to lament to the Secretary of State for the Colonies, about his woefully inadequate salary. In his rash intemperate protestation, he displays a lack of graciousness and gratitude.

Erection of a private Parsonage
At the time of his death, Rev McCleland was the owner of five erfs, all but one being on the Hill in the vicinity of Castle Hill. The auction sale of the erven which the Rev. Francis McCleland purchased were advertised in the Cape of Good Hope Government Gazette dated 19 October 1827. This auction was held at the Court House on the 26th November 1827. The land offered at the auction was described as “a number of eligible Building Lots situated within a new block immediately in the rear of the Commandant’s House. The Commandant was, of course, Captain Francis Evatt. As Evatt’s house faced the sea, it must have stood on the lower slopes of Castle Hill.

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 dwellings on the 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”. The reason for the acquisition of a plot on the ridge of the hill appears to be pecuniary as he alludes to this fact in one of his numerous missives.

1845 Mouth of the Baakens (note Salmond’s Hotel, Wreck of Abbotsford, John Owen Smith’s jetty, Baakens Bridge), H167

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 he bonded the house for a further £500. In spite of his requests for an erf at the foot of hill, he was never granted a new erf. Instead at some stage during the next few years he built the double storeyed eastern wing onto the parsonage. This addition 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.

Accorss the road from the No7 Castle Hill Museum stands two historic houses known as the Sterley Cottages. The lower one (not in this picture) is one of three that was built in the 1830's and belonged to William Sterley. Two of the three were demolished some years ago already. Number 12 (in the picture) was built on land that was originally granted to Henry Jones in 1839. Both of these houses are national monuments and still occupied.
Across the road from the No7 Castle Hill Museum stands two historic houses known as the Sterley Cottages. The lower one (not in this picture) is one of three built in the 1830’s and belonged to William Sterley. Number 12 (in the picture) was built on land that was originally granted to Henry Jones in 1839. Both of these houses are national monuments and are still occupied.

Land grant
The land between the vlei in Trinder Square and the Holy Rosary Convent was originally part of land granted to the Royal Garrison Company stationed at the Fort. With the vlei beside it, it was intended as a vegetable garden for the soldiers. The Company was disbanded at the end of the Napoleonic Wars and the land was granted to the Rev. Francis McCleland in 1838. He sold it to William Henderson in 1851 and Henderson built a family home on the Bird Street side of the property.  

Sale of land to Alfred Javis
Alfred Jarvis purchased two pieces of land from Rev. Francis McCleland. The piece of land, transferred to him in 1847, on which he built his house and the other piece of land being situated at the corner of the former Garrison Company’s Garden in Bird Street, next to the vlei.

Above: Property sold by McCleland in 1847 to Alfred Jarvis. House built shortly thereafter

Alfred Jarvis purchased two pieces of land from Rev. Francis McCleland. The piece of land, transferred to him in 1847, on which he built his house and the other piece of land being situated at the corner of the former Garrison Company’s Garden in Bird Street, next to the vlei.

Running a school
In order to augment his income, Rev McCleland decided to open a small day school sometime during 1831. It was envisaged to be attached to St. Mary’s Church and would offer a classical eduction. Being an era before females were allowed to attend school, this school would be for boys only. In order to attract pupils, Rev McCleland placed an advertise-ment in The Graham’s Town Journal on Friday 13th January 1832. The establishment of schools such as this by the clergy was normal practice, providing a service to parents and extra income for the teacher.

In a letter dated 4th October 1833 Rev. Francis McCleland wrote to J.G. Brink, the Acting Secretary to the Government, stating that he wished to obtain the approval of the Acting Governor, Lieut. Colonel T.F. Wade to a set of rules for the conduct of the Free School at Port Elizabeth. “I am given to understand that the school at Simon’s Town is in a most flourishing condition, principally owing to the enforcement of similar rules.”

Schools in the predominantly English-speaking areas, including Port Elizabeth, used the Bell system books, those published by the National Society, monosyllabic Books, Murray’s Abridged English Grammar, Wallingham’s Arithmetic and several religious books such as “Our Saviour’s Discourses, Selections of Hymns for Children” and “Church Catechism Broken into Short Questions.”

The school was apparently successful and in February 1837 the Journal referred in an item to the “little boys issuing from Rev. Chaplain’s schoolroom.”

Glebe land
Apart from the housing allowance, the church reverted to a medieval solution: the provision of glebe land. Glebe is an area of land within an ecclesiastical parish used to support a parish priest. Tithes were in early times the main means of support for the parish clergy but glebe land was either granted by a lord of the manor of the church’s parish or accumulated from other donations of particular pieces of land. In Francis’s case, he was given some glebe land in an area eponymously called “Parson’s Vlei” on the outskirts of Port Elizabeth just off the R102 near Greenbushes. Even though the expectation was that he would earn some income from it, being a barren and worthless piece of land, it was rarely tenanted. As such, he hardly benefited from it.

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 and No 7 Castle Hill visible

St. Mary’s Church
By 1824 with a permanent white population according to the census of that year of only 190 people, the need had arisen for the establishment of a school and a church in Port Elizabeth. To this end, a meeting of inhabitants was held on the 20th February 1824 in the Red Lion Tavern under the chairmanship of Capt. Evatt during which a memorandum was drafted motivating their request. The Governor, Lord Charles Somerset, replied in the affirmative as regards a school but cited budgetary constraints in not being able to accede to their second request for a church.

Notwithstanding this rebuff, a further meeting was held on the 26th April 1824 to address this issue at which it was resolved that a subscription be entered into immediately. A committee comprising Capt. Evatt, Thomas Pullen, John Damant, Thomas Williamson, Andrew Nicol, and with Benjamin Green as secretary, was set up.

Captain Francis Evatt
Captain Francis Evatt

The committee’s response was swift. Shortly afterwards, money and materials to the value of RxD 2052 had been subscribed. Furthermore, by dint of hard work in April 1825 a large plot of land was granted for the building of a church, paid for by public subscription and furthermore a chaplain had been obtained. The location was ideal as it was situated facing what was to become the focal point of the emerging town: Market Square.

According to St. Mary’s Registers, the Reverend Francis McCleland was appointed as Colonial Chaplain on the 1st October 1825 and the first church clerk, William Roxby Hilton was appointed on the 15th December 1825. During October of that year, the foundation stone of St. Mary’s Church was laid by Captain Evatt.


Like all new settlements, there was insufficient space available of whatever description to accommodate their needs until the church was erected. To tide them over, a prefabricated building was used as a temporary church.

Even though the foundation stone of the church building was laid in 1825, the structure was not opened for worship until 1834. In the interim, the congregation met in a schoolroom near the present St Augustine’s Roman Catholic Cathedral in Prospect Hill. Then as now, some humans unfailingly raise complaints about spurious issues. In this case, some disaffected congregants uncharitably raised objections about why the Chaplain’s personal residence was completed before that of the church. In 1830 while the walls of St. Mary’s were being erected, the congregation faced another challenge: their numbers had outgrown the schoolroom that they were forced to use buildings near the St. Augustine’s Roman Catholic Church.

View of Port Elizabeth before both St Mary's Church & No 7 Castle Hill were constructed
View of Port Elizabeth before neither St Mary’s Church nor No 7 Castle Hill had been constructed

In order to fund the building project, the church was compelled to sell some of its assets. A Deed of Sale reveals that the Churchwardens sold three plots of church ground which included the whole of St. Mary’s Terrace for the sum of £ 33 to a Mr. W.M. Harries on 12th November 1833. From 1833 to 1839 Walford M. Harries was one of two church wardens at St. Mary’s Church. Some thirty years later, portion of this land had to be repurchased.

St. Mary’s Church operational
Finally seven years since conception, in January 1834 the Church of St. Mary the Virgin was opened for worship. There was rejoicing and celebration as flags were flown in the town and on the ship “Kate,” lying at anchor in Algoa Bay. The church had even arranged a choir of 20 members which were accompanied by a violin, a cello and a flute. Rev Francis McCleland used as the text for the sermon, the first verse of 2nd Timothy: “This know also that in the last days, perilous times shall come”.

The initial structure was definitely not an object of beauty as it was a plain oblong building with a roof of local red tiles supported by teak pillars. In effect, St Mary’s was a work-in-progress. Within their limited means, the citizens of Port Elizabeth had created their first church.

St. Mary's Church on the right of the Commercial Hall in which Francis held two shares
St. Mary’s Church on the right of the Commercial Hall in which Francis held two shares

As money permitted, this plain structure would – over the succeeding years – be converted into something more graceful and dignified. Even if it would never be elegant, it was the first Anglican Church in Port Elizabeth.

Among the additions & modifications were the following:

  • 1837 – a new slate roof replaced the red tiles
  • 1844 – a gallery was added at a cost of £ 189 and a wooden belfry made by Mr W.G. Butt for £ 18, was erected to hold the new bell
  • 1847 – tenders were called for the building of a masonry tower

Yet again in 1835, another of the habitual Frontier Wars erupted like an unlanced boil. History would record this episode as the Sixth Frontier War. A Town Guard was formed and even a place of worship, St. Mary’s, was fortified for garrison purposes. Fortunately, Port Elizabeth was spared as the Xhosa tribesmen only reached as far as the Sundays River.

Photo taken in 1853 from Market Square looking down Main Street
Photo taken in 1853 from Market Square looking down Main Street

D’Urban’s visit
When Sir Benjamin D ‘Urban visited Port Elizabeth after the 1836 war, a “great party” accompanied His· Excellency out to Point Recife where it was proposed to erect a lighthouse; Francis McCleland, the principal speaker, delivered “an impressive address“. [Ref. Narrative of a Voyage of Observation among the Colonies of Western Africa and of a Campaign in Kaffirland in 1835, by Captain James Edward Alexander, vol. ii, p. 302.]

Rev Francis Owen
During McCleland’s tenure as the clergyman at St Mary’s, No. 7 often served as a waystation to guests passing through. One such person was Rev. Francis Owen This fact is revealed in a letter dated 14th November 1838 in which he does not reveal that he was the principal witness of the massacre of the Piet Retief’s party at Dingaan’s Kraal on the 6th February 1838. Notwithstanding that he refrains from reporting the sensational but instead focuses on the mundane.  In this epistle, he reports that he returned to the colony in June 1838 and has been staying at Sidbury. His visit was truncated being reassigned to Port Elizabeth in order to take the place of the Rev McCleland for several weeks as “he having been unwell and compelled to shut up his church.” The Reverend had taken a recuperative holiday and that the Rev. and Mrs Owen were occupying the house.

Dissension in the Church Ranks
Also troubling for the recently created church, was one of the unscrupulous character traits of Rev McCleland. This quirk was first evidenced on the voyage from Deptford in London to Passage West in Cork in early 1820. Now it was to rear its nasty head again. Typifying this approach was a penchant for making libelous statements and accusations about people in open forums. In addition, he would get other bystanders and third parties involved as well. Not only did this practice not endear him to the person whose name was being sullied but also to that person’s family & friends. In most such instances, the issue at stake related to the morals of a female.

In this instance, the issues evolved from a complaint by Capt. Evatt during April and May 1826. At issue was an allegation by Evatt that McCleland had travelled to Grahamstown without leave and hence neglected his Church Services. On the 16th May 1826, letters of outrage passed between them .

St Mary's Church in the foreground with the New Church on the left hand side of Main Street
St Mary’s Church in the foreground with the “New Church” on the left hand side of Main Street

In response, Mr. J.A. Chabaud, the Secretary of the Church Committee, having either read or heard about the letter that Capt. Evatt written to the Government stating: “[I] do declare [that] the subject matter of that complaint or charge to be without foundation.” The Church Committee also passed a resolution requesting Rev McCleland to accept the thanks of the Committee for general good conduct and usefulness as chaplain. Copies of these resolutions were then forwarded to the Government with a letter from Chabaud.

Evatt retaliated by claiming that the Church Meetings are called “whenever they see fit without reference to him and he is met with marked disrespect”. Bickering and misunderstanding continued from both sides – the Church Council and Evatt – with Chabaud in the middle attempting to pacify all parties. However, later on, he and McCleland quarrelled. Chabaud responded “I hope that you are not in anyway 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 made about McCleland’s character barely six months after his arrival in Port Elizabeth.

This portion of Walford Arbouin Harries’ drawing, lithographed in 1850, depict Jarvis’ & Rev. Francis McCleland’s houses at the top left. Opposite are Henry Jones’ c1838 and William Sterley’s cottages. Facing the sea are Pieter Heugh’s large Prospect House and adjoining it, Caesar Andrews’ matching one

In order to smooth things over, Capt. Evatt decides to give a dinner party to which the most prominent people are invited. The morning before this takes place, 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 her guest, the young lady. They refuse to go to the dinner if “that lady is to be there.” They “suggest [that] Mr. Chabaud inspan his cart and send her home immediately or their house would get a bad name, and many worse things.”

The poor woman returned home very agitated and informed her husband, Mr. Chabaud, about what had transpired. Incensed, Mr. Chabaud wrote to Francis for an explanation. Nothing is recorded of this.

Number 7 Castle Hill Port Elizabeth
Number 7 Castle Hill Port Elizabeth

When confronted, McCleland “hedges and prevaricates and even, in a terrible fright, says he is happy to see her at his house (No 7).” This did not prevent him from continuing the slander and tensions escalate until Mr. Chabaud decided to deliberately insult Francis in the expectation that McCleland would either prove his statements or retract them. Then on 12th August 1826, Francis drafted a letter to the District Secretary, Roselt, in which he detailed a confrontation between Chabaud and himself, during which he was called a slanderer and a pest of society. Furthermore, he requested him to intervene. As can be imagined, the quarrel caused a great sensation in the small community for most of the leading members were involved, either directly or as witnesses.

Mr. Chabaud’s witnesses were Capt. Evatt, Mr. Dawson, Capt. Sheaffe and Mrs. Chabaud. Roselt, the District Secretary was undecided who should hear this case. Ultimately, it was heard before the Court of the Landdrost and Heeraden on the 3rd November 1826. After lengthy evidence from both sides, Mr Chabaud was fined RxD300 and costs. Furthermore Mr Chabaud was considered a “peaceably disposed person and not a quarrelsome character”.

Francis' great great great grandchildren - Alesha & Gavin - at the Parsonage House
Francis’ great-great-great-grandchildren – Alesha & Gavin – at the Parsonage House

It was then admitted that “since Mr McCleland had taken up his residence in Port Elizabeth, broils and dissensions have become common.” Chabaud stated in evidence that ”this Revd. Divine [has been] sent by our Maternal Government to preach in this remote corner of her dominion Peace and Goodwill to all men”. He continued by mentioning his own upright character in contrast to the irreligious behaviour of McCleland.

Additional revenue from salt pans
Notwithstanding McCleland’s perceived injustice regarding his personal remuneration not befitting his duties and responsibilities, Francis also did  all in his power to raise funds for the church. His initial tack was to claim portion of the revenues from the salt pans in the Uitenhage district which had been granted for church purposes by the government.

Oil painting of Saltpan near Kleinskool by Dorothy Moss Kay [NMM AM]
Oil painting of Saltpan near Kleinskool by Dorothy Moss Kay [NMM AM]

Despite that understanding, the Dutch Reformed Kerkraad in Uitenhage had laid claim to it all. The tireless clergyman then began a prolific letter writing campaign, petitioning the harried authorities to acknowledge the right of St Mary’s Church to their fair share of the revenue. But it was all to no avail.

What would any modern day employee do when their superior does not accede to their request? Even two centuries ago to bypass one’s superior when lodging a complaint would have been a career limiting move. McCleland’s superior in this matter would have been the Secretary for the Colonies at the time, Lord Stanley, whose boss was the youthful Under-Colonial Secretary, William Gladstone, a future Prime Minister of Great Britain.

Aware of his interest in church affairs, McCleland sent a letter directly to Gladstone raising his concerns, lamenting the lack of co-operation on the saltpan issue as well as bemoaning the fact that he was being required to travel hundreds of miles per annum in order to perform the rites of the church in the Dutch language. In effect, McCleland was conflating two issues: his remuneration or lack thereof and the financial situation of St. Mary’s Church.

William Ewart Gladstone
William Ewart Gladstone

Ill-advised decision
During 1843, yet another blunder was committed, this time much more serious than the sale of the plots in St. Mary’s Terrace. The church property including some extremely valuable frontage on Main Street. In their infinite wisdom, the Select Vestry sold this to a Mr. W. Smith for the ridiculously paltry sum of £181. At that stage there was a servitude upon the property which prevented the stores built upon it from being raised high enough to block out a view of St. Mary’s Church from the Main Street. This ill-advised decision cannot be attributed to McCleland but rather to the Church Committee.

“High” church versus “Low” church doctrine
Divisions within the Church of England (Anglican) had emerged in the eighteenth century notably with John Wesley and the Methodists. The following century witnessed the growth of the Oxford Movement, its name derived from its origins in the University of Oxford where John Henry Newman, Edward Bouverie Pusey and others opened a rift within the Church of England following the publication between 1833 and 1841 of Newman’s Tracts for the Times. This expressed the wish to restore a Catholic orthodoxy in place of the Protestant traditions that had prevailed since the separation from the Catholic Church in 1534. In time this led to the distinction between “high” church which veered towards Anglo-Catholicism and “low” church which continued the Protestant tradition. [In Search of Dr Tancred from Cork: The “Joyous Adventurer of the old Cape Parliament by Bernard Hall (2023, Leicester, Troubador Publishing)]

In adopting some of the Catholic doctrines, McCleland aligned himself with the “High” Church wing of the Anglican Church. Nowhere is this expressly stated. Rather it is deducted from various spats within the church.

St Mary's Church showing the effect of the sale of frontage along Main Street
St Mary’s Church showing the effect of the sale of frontage along Main Street

Rev Francis Owen
During McCleland’s tenure as the clergyman at St Mary’s, No. 7 often served as a waystation to guests passing through. One such person was Rev. Francis Owen This fact is revealed in a letter dated 14th November 1838 in which he does not reveal that he was the principal witness of the massacre of the Piet Retief’s party at Dingaan’s Kraal on the 6th February 1838. Notwithstanding that he refrains from reporting the sensational but instead focuses on the mundane.  In this epistle, he reports that he returned to the colony in June 1838 and has been staying at Sidbury. His visit was truncated being reassigned to Port Elizabeth in order to take the place of the Rev McCleland for several weeks as “he having been unwell and compelled to shut up his church. The Reverend had taken a recuperative holiday and that the Rev. and Mrs Owen were occupying the house.

Prominent resident
Francis McCleland was not only the town’s foremost clergyman but he also played a prominent part in its non-ecclesiastical activities.

Prior to 1835, the townsfolk were still in survival mode with efforts towards creating some communal culture placed in abeyance. The year 1835 could be deemed to demarcate when this would change for in that year, two of Port Elizabeth’s leading merchants, John Owen Smith, and William Smith, apparently not related, together with Rev Francis McCleland, sent a petition to the governor requesting a grant of land for the erection of a Reading Room. This was granted in one curt sentence by Sir Benjamin D’Urban.

Something seems to have gone awry with this application as a second petition had to be sent in 1839 and the same plot of land was granted but this time for “erecting a Library and Commercial Hall.     

Services in Uitenhage
Prior to the arrival of Uitenhage’s first minister, Rev. P.W. Copeman, in 1847, Rev. Francis McCleland paid monthly visits to Uitenhage to hold services in a room in Baird Street. Fortunately the Draaifontein church was only built much later on the Beckley’s Draaifontein Farm otherwise it would have been within Francis’ remit compelling him to pay a monthly visit on horseback.

Later life
The Rev Francis McCleland remained the resident Chaplain of St Mary’s Church for 27 years. From a desolate wind-swept village clinging on for dear life on the exposed Algoa Bay littoral, in awe of its bigger siblings in Uitenhage and Grahamstown, Port Elizabeth developed into a strapping youth outgrowing both of its other siblings.

During the last years of his life, Francis’s health deteriorated precipitously, often making it difficult for him to attend to his pastoral duties. Perhaps this precipitated the decision to relocate him to Sidbury. This fact was confirmed by an article in the Eastern Province Herald dated 9th June 1849 which commented as follows: “Rev. McCleland has been offered the vacancy at Sidbury but had not yet decided whether to accept or not.

Finally, on 10th July 1853, Francis McCleland was no more. The end of an era had come. McCleland’s huge legacy was not only St. Mary’s Church but also nurturing its offspring such as St Paul’s Anglican Church in Albany Road and Holy Trinity Church in Central Port Elizabeth. Moreover, he can stake his claim as being the midwife to the sister churches in Uitenhage and Sidbury.


A.T. Wirgman magnanimously described McCleland as follows: “Mr McCleland was an Irish clergyman with the strongly marked tendencies of the Irish clergy of his day. He showed much energy in forwarding the building of the church, and has left behind him the reputation of being a very able preacher as well as an organiser of no mean capacity”.

 Mrs Elizabeth McCleland
It would have been a disservice to have titled this section, Francis McCleland’s Wife as this would have shown disdain once more for the women of the era. Despite my best endeavours to include some aspect of her life in this blog, I have been singularly  unsuccessful. Apart from the standard information such as date of birth and date of death, I have only been able to ascertain one fact about her life.

The sitting room at No 7 Castle Hill
The sitting room at No 7 Castle Hill

Sometime during the early 1830s, Elizabeth suffered an accident which partially disabled her. What the injury was and exactly how much it impaired her mobility cannot be ascertained, but what is known is that Francis applied for a grant of 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.”

Lecture and book
In 1851, two years before his death, Francis delivered a lecture to mark the second anniversary of the establishment of the Port Elizabeth Public Library. Disclaiming any special qualification for the task, he was pleased to regard the invitation to speak as a mark of his fellows desire to pay a mark of respect for an old servant who has for twenty-five years figured before them in somewhat of a public capacity, and who during all that· time has, through good and evil report, endeavoured to raise his brother townsmen above the grovelling pursuits of the day” Ref. The Progress and Advantages of Literature by the Rev. Francis McCleland, p. 1. (Printed at the Eastern Province News Offices 1851).

Characterisation of Francis
Most of what is known about Francis, especially as regards his character, is unveiled in correspondence between various senior government officials. Few paint Francis in a positive light. Dyspeptic and quarrelsome would be some of the less negative characterisations that can be drawn from the various letters.

The well at No 7 Castle Hill
The well at No 7 Castle Hill

After a Commission of Enquiry to consider the settlers grievances in Clanwilliam had not released its recommendations in a timely manner, the Landdrost, Adrian Bergh, had written to them 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 (Woodstock) 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”.

Francis’s less than Christian treatment of the kindly Synnot at Clanwilliam, exposed the man as uncaring and unappreciative of human kindness.

A final epitaph is provided by Bishop Gray in a letter to Reverend Phillips on 26th September 1853. Unfortunately it seals the fate of the memory of Francis McCleland. In referring to the replacement of Francis he states, “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 on Francis’ character.

Also troubling are rumours that Francis was a womaniser, but this additional blemish on his personality could not be verified.

For all that, no matter how much one opines that people such as William Parker were vindictive towards Francis by maliciously casting him in a poor light, yet he probably reflected the essence of Francis McCleland as the weight of evidence finds Francis guilty as charged.

My vision of a parson since childhood is a kindly, soft-spoken person. Instead my research has revealed a person more in keeping with the gruff stern unfriendly countenance of the sketch of Francis McCleland.

Notwithstanding this, Francis McCleland was the progenitor not only of two National Monuments but also of the McCleland clan in South Africa. As such, he left an indelible mark on Port Elizabeth which will never be expunged.

For this, we should be grateful.


Inventory of the Estate of the Rev. Francis McCleland

After the death of the Rev. Francis McCleland on the 10th July 1853, an inventory was taken by his daughters of all the property, both movable and immovable, in his estate. This included the household furniture in No. & Castle Hill. It is interesting to compare this list, now lodged in the Cape Archives (MOOC 7/1/216 no. 63) with the extensive collection of domestic material presently displayed at No.7. The room-by-room listing of furniture provides tentative answers to some of the questions that have been asked about the original domestic arrangements, but it raises new problems at the same time.

The existing four upstairs rooms were all furnished as bedrooms, and the present parlour, with its fireplace was evidently the room described as the drawing room in 1853. Its 12 rosewood chairs were probably needed for the Misses McCleland musical evenings. However if one supposes that the pantry was the small room leading off the dining room, and now furnished as a study, and the kitchen was the ground floor room at the back of the house now used as an office, then the basement kitchen and pantry are left unmentioned and unaccounted for. Anyone familiar with these two damp basement rooms, and the narrow steep stairs leading down to them, will understand why they should have been replaced by more convenient domestic offices in 1853 but one would expect them to have continued in use for storage at least.

What is called the outhouse in the inventory is presumably the outside room that at present houses the toy collection. Surprisingly enough, the inventory of immovable property makes no mention of stables or of any outbuildings on the adjoining erf (facing onto Prospect Hill) that formed part of the property at the time. Stabling existing when the house was advertised to let in 1861 and what seemed to be the remains of foundations were still visible on the far side of the present boundary wall.


Obituary of Rev Francis McCleland in the Herald of Tuesday 12 July 1853
Another warning of man’s mortality has just been received by the inhabitants of Port Elizabeth. The Rev. F. McCLELAND, so long chaplain of St. Mary’s Church here, departed this life at 11pm on Sunday after a long illness, leaving a large family and wide circle of friends to deplore his loss. We have not learned the exact nature of the malady by which deceased has been carried off, but it has been for some time apparent to his friends that some fatal disease was at work against his constitution; and altho’ he long struggled against its manifest ravages and was scarcely ever heard, till about two months before his decease, to utter complaints, it was hurrying towards his end and was not to be arrested. All that medical skill could do was done but proved unavailing; and from the midst of his labours the Rev. Mr. McCLELAND is thus gathered to the home of his fathers, leaving those who survive to deplore their loss. With the bereaved family, in this time of their great sorrow, the public most deeply sympathise.

In the Estate of the late Chas. GURNEY
All Persons having Claims against this Estate are requested to file the same at the Office of the undersigned within six weeks from this date, and all persons indebted to the same are requested to settle immediately.
Ex. Testamen.
July 6th 1853

The Reverend Francis McCleland – A Life of Service

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

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

Rev Francis McCleland: An Interlude in Clanwilliam 1820 – 1825

Kirkcudbright Document: Establishing the McCleland’s Right to Peerage

Correspondence regarding Rev Francis McCleland with Colonial Office in London

Reverend Francis McCleland per Theal’s “Records of the Cape Colony”

Stellenbosch University:
Panorama of Port Elizabeth by E.K. Lorimer
The Rev. McCleland Story in South Africa by Grizel Hart
The Reverend Francis McCleland: Colonial Chaplain to Port Elizabeth 1825 – 1853 by Gabrielle Churchouse
In Search of Dr Tancred from Cork: The “Joyous Adventurer” of the old Cape Parliament by Bernard Hall (2023, Leicester, Troubador Publishing)
Irish Settlers to the Cape: A History of the Clanwilliam 1820 Settlers from Cork Harbour by GB Dickason (1973, AA Balkema, Cape Town)
No. 7 Castle Hill in 1853: An Inventory of the Estate of the Reverend Francis McCleland by M.D. Nash (Looking Back, Volume 20, No.2, June 1980)

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  1. According to Nathaniel Isaacs, Rev McClelland sailed as far as Port Elizabeth with his wife on the brig the Mary, captained by James King, a Nova Scotian trader and privateer who together with Francis Farewell in 1823 founded Port Natal, which later became Durban. The ship sailed from Cape Town 26 August, 1825, arriving in Port Elizabeth 14 September. Travels and Adventures in Eastern Africa (Vol. 1). (The Mary was wrecked, without loss of life, 1 October, attempting to cross the notorious sandbar into Port Natal harbour. James King settled in Port Natal until his death in September 1828.)

  2. I have thoroughly enjoyed this interesting read. My mind went into overdrive- what an interesting history, also of course the pictures too are marvellous.
    I envy too, the fact that you could put together such a complete history of the family; I have searched for years to find my family- much more difficult as Jewish history is ALWAYS a nightmare.
    I so enjoy all your posts.


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