Robert Hamilton McCleland: With the Pioneer Column to Rhodesia

In line with my philosophy of using The Casual Observer as a platform to propagate my views concerning the events in the world, I also wish it to become a repository of the articles on the McCleland family. We are fortunate in having a printed family history entitled The Reverend Francis McCleland: Colonial Chaplain to Port Elizabeth 1825 to 1853. Hopefully this is the first of many such articles but for that to materialise, I require information on the family from recipients of this blog.

The first in the series highlights the achievements of Robert Hamilton McCleland who was a member of the Pioneer column which occupied Mashonaland in 1890

Main picture: Robert Hamilton McCleland from Draaifontein Collection

The Eastern Province Herald – now called The Herald – published an obituary of RH McCleland in February 1944.

This is a transcript of that article:

A Rhodesian Pioneer

The Late Mr. R.H. McCleland

The dwindling band of survivors of the Pioneer Column which carried out the occupation of Mashonaland in 1890 and won Rhodesia for the British Commonwealth lost another member in the recent death of Mr. Robert Hamilton McCleland of Morning Glory Kragga Kamma. He was in his 82nd year when he had a seizure in the evening after reading his newspaper, and passed away shortly afterwards.

Matilda McCleland - Wife of Robert Hamilton McCleland on left with black hat

Matilda McCleland – Wife of Robert Hamilton McCleland on left with black hat

The late Mr. McCleland came of [sic] a notable Port Elizabeth family, the majority of whom are farmers. His grandfather was the first Rector of St. Mary’s Church and his father, Captain Francis William Henry McCleland of the 6th Warwickshire Regt. The father was born in 1828 and died in 1883. Sensing his love of adventure, the late Mr. H.B. Christian of Kragga Kamma put the late Mr. McCleland in the way of enlisting of enlisting in the Pioneer Column, and more so than many, for he was one of the small patrol which, principally by sheer bluff, stood off a heavily superior Portuguese force intent on marching in from Portuguese territory.

RH McCleland and the Pioneer Column

RH McCleland and the Pioneer Column

There were tense hours while the little British patrol lay ensconced in positions on one side of the river, with the Portuguese milling around on the other side of the drift. The commander of the British patrol had stationed a helio unit in full view of the “enemy” and the signallers occupied their time in sending and receiving messages to and from a mythical strong column coming up from the rear as reinforcements. It was this bluff which persuaded the Portuguese commander that he was too late and had better abandon his enterprise.





Rhodesia’s First Hotel

Mr. McCleland spent three years in Rhodesia, being the recipient of the usual grant of land awarded to the Pioneers. In this time he built the first hotel in Southern Rhodesia, an affair of mud walls, reed roof etc. His only tools were an axe and a spade. But fever took [a] heavy toll of his health, and in the end, the medical authorities ordered him back to the Cape Colony, lest his health should become permanently undermined.

Pioneer Corps

Mr. McCleland was one of the Pioneer guests of the Rhodesian Government on the occasion of the 1930 commemoration of the Column’s march, and again in 1940, when the fiftieth anniversary of the event was celebrated. One of his most cherished possessions was an illuminated certificate recording that he “served as a member of the Column which in 1890 occupied Mashonaland and secured its incorporation as part of the British Empire.” It was signed in 1930 by Sir R.J. Hudson, Minister of Defence.

Rhodes Corps Medal

Rhodes Corps Medal

Mr. McCleland is survived by his widow and ten children.

Family Tree:

McCleland Family Tree to RH McCleland

McCleland Family Tree to RH McCleland

McCleland Family Tree from Grandfather to me

McCleland Family Tree from Grandfather to me

Matilda Ann Beckley

Matilda Ann Beckley



Obituary from the EP Herald: Mrs Sharon McCleland

Wedding photos which depict Matilda McCleland nee Beckley wife of RH McCleland: Mrs Yvonne Ward-Able

Prominent dates in life of RH McCleland: 1820 Settlers Association web site

Photo of RH McCleland: MyHeritage web site

Genealogy from the book: The Reverend Francis McCleland: Colonial Chaplain to Port Elizabeth 1825 – 1853 by Gabrielle Churchouse.


Photos and copies:

Obituary from the EP Herald

Photograph of RH McCleland

Photograph of Mrs Matilda McCleland nee Beckley together with son Ronald and wife Eva Seaman




To me:

  • The Reverend Francis McCleland – great great grandfather
  • Robert Hamilton McCleland – great uncle

To Yvonne Ward-Able:

  • Robert Hamilton McCleland – grandfather


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