In order to celebrate the bicentennial of the arrival of the first McCleland to South Africa, I decided to compile a history of my ancestor. Fortunately, he was instrumental in the erection of the first church in Port Elizabeth, St Mary’s Church. In addition, his house at Number Seven Castle Hill was proclaimed a National Monument in 1965. This has provided a starting point in uncovering of the real person concealed behind the cassock.
Main picture: St Mary’s Church after being rebuilt in 1895
Anybody who has endeavoured to write a biography of a relative or somebody equally unknown, even if that person was as “close” as their parents or their grandparents, will appreciate the difficulties involved. All the dramatis personae would, by then, have long been deceased, even one’s parents. Apart from some dates and photographs, one is bereft of information. Unlike celebrities or famous people, no articles recording aspects of their lives are ever written. Both my grandfathers either died long before my birth or shortly afterwards so I have no personal knowledge of them. In addition, both my grandmothers have been deceased for between 40 to 50 years and my parents for decades. Therefore, the spigot of knowledge has long since withered away.
This is also true with Francis McCleland but even more so.
Fortunately, due to the historic nature of the mass migration of British subjects to South Africa and his occupation, being the first Minister of the Anglican Church in Port Elizabeth, he became a minor notable. Despite this, there is little to illuminate the character of the man. What has been revealed especially in his dealings with the Party Leader, William Parker and certain other congregants, is that Francis was an extremely cantankerous man given to making foes with ease.
This biography will be in the form of a number of blogs, each serving to illuminate a chapter in the life of the Reverend Francis McCleland.
- The origins of the McCleland Clan in Scotland and the importance of the Kirkcudbright Document in establishing the McCleland’s rights to knighthood [Blog entitled: Kirkcudbright Document: Establishing the McCleland’s Right to Peerage ]
- This blog will set the scene so to speak includes the period from his birth to completion of his studies at Trinity College in Dublin as a Minister. It will also include his appointment as a Lay Reader in Longford, his hometown. Most of this blog will deal with the church itself as little or nothing survives of his life prior to this appointment. [Blog entitled: Rev Francis McCleland: From Birth to London – 1793 to 1819 ]
- All the extant Correspondence with the Colonial Office is currently available. This blog merely serves as the repository of all the correspondence by Francis with this Office. The period that these letters cover is immediately prior to his departure for the Cape and the decade thereafter. [Blog entitled: Correspondence by Rev Francis McCleland with the Colonial Office in London ]
- The turbulence in Francis’ life as first he relocates from Longford, his hometown, to Passage West outside Cork, then briefly to London and finally back to Passage West in Ireland, is revealed. [Blog entitled: Rev Francis McCleland: From Passage West to the Cape – 1820 ]
- The tumultuous five-year interlude at Clanwilliam is exposed in this blog. For the first time one can obtain a view of the personality of Francis. [Blog entitled: Rev Francis McCleland: An Interlude in Clanwilliam 1820 – 1825]
- Finally with Francis’s relocation to Port Elizabeth as Colonial Chaplain sees the culmination of Francis’ life work, firstly in being instrumental in the erection of the first Anglican church, St Mary’s and secondly the family home at Number 7 Castle Hill. [Blog entitled: Reverend Francis McCleland: A Life in Port Elizabeth 1825 – 1853 ]
Most frustrating of all from a biographer’s perspective, was obtaining a nuanced picture of the man. The only extant depiction of Francis is a drawing of a close relative. Certainly one’s immediate impression of Francis is somebody of a dyspeptic nature who probably also does not suffer fools gladly. Possibly also, Francis failed to display an empathetic ear to troubled parishioners.
Nonetheless, Francis did perform his duties with diligence and vigour. In overseeing the construction of St. Mary’s Church, his temperament suited the objective in cajoling lackadaisical workers but where this created all manner of upset and consternation was in dealing with wayward parishioners. Simply put, Francis was vocal in all matters regarding the morals of his flock to the point where they took umbrage with him. That stubbornness and forthrightness did not stand him in good stead with such people.
Another vein of dissatisfaction for Francis, throughout his lengthy sojourn in South Africa, was his remuneration. He continually bemoaned the fact that he was being underpaid relative to the work that he was performing. This meant a certain level of extramural activities in order to garner additional money.
The greatest regret that I have is the arson attack by an unknown arsonist who set fire to St. Mary’s Church on 9th March 1895, utterly destroying it. Furthermore, subsequent to its reconstruction, during the afternoon of the 1st April 1897, the eccentric Miss Frances Livingstone Johnson attempted to deploy her pyromaniac skills, but was foiled. On incarceration on Robben Island, she very nearly succeeded in burning down some government building.
Not only did the conflagration in 1895 result in the total destruction of the Church but also, more importantly, the Church Records. It is perhaps even possible that a portrait or two of Francis McCleland had been painted prior to his death. If there were such portraits, nothing remains of them. Not only that but perhaps there would have been correspondence which would have cast a sharp light on Francis which would have provided a more nuanced view of the man than a cantankerous and dyspeptic pastor.
Certainly, in all the extant correspondence, Francis is definitely not cast in a positive light. Even though certain descendants would rather ignore such negative views, the fact remains that such characterisations are confirmed by a number of Settlers over his whole life. Hence, they cannot be gratuitous actions or comments of aggrieved individuals or malcontents but rather they are indicative of the unvarnished nature of the person.
Francis McCleland was a flawed man, highly moral, religious, intelligent and industrious but also quick-tempered and irascible, not the personality type befitting the role as a sympathetic hail-fellow-well-met clergyman.
Like many families of that era, Elizabeth and Francis had to suffer the loss of young children through disease or ill health. According to the extant records, Elizabeth bore Francis ten children of which three died in childhood. However, the gravestone of the Rev Francis and Elizabeth McCleland commemorates the deaths of four infant children. There are records of the death of three infants, Frederick at age two, Caroline at four months and a second Frederick at twenty-two months old, but there is no record of a fourth infant dying. Looking at the birth dates of the first children, it seems highly probable that a child was born before their first recorded child, Elizabeth. In the disruption and dislocation of the long sea voyage to the Cape and the family settling at Clanwilliam, it is highly likely that the records of this event were lost.
Warts and all, this is the nature of the Reverend Francis McCleland, progenitor of the McCleland clan in South Africa.
Blogs on the Life of the Reverend Francis McCleland: