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

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

At best the Irish Settlers in Clanwilliam eked out a precarious existence. The Settlement could not have been called a resounding success both for the Settlers generally and the McCleland household in particular. After a number of unseemly fracases, Francis was granted a transfer to the newly created hamlet named Port Elizabeth which was supposed to have been their original disembarkation point. 

It was here that Francis and Elizabeth would spend the rest of their lives. This episode, the final one, is the chronicle of that life. 

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

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

George McCall Theal

George McCall Theal was the most prolific and influential South African historian, archivist and genealogist of the late nineteenth and early twentieth century. In his epic compendium Records of the Cape Colony, he records all the correspondence by and to the Colonial Office in Cape Town for the period 1793 to 1827. As the last seven years coincide with the arrival of the original batch of Settlers, this series of 35 books contains a rich vein of data to be mined. 

Before even landing in Saldanha Bay, Francis McCleland had already made a name for himself as a heavy drinker and troublesome priest. As well, William Parker – the Party Leader – and Francis McCleland were a volatile mix, ever on the brink of ignition. 

For these reasons, the McCleland name is often fairly and sometimes unfairly denigrated in these pages. For ease of reference, I have extracted all references to the irascible Irish clergyman however oblique. 

Main picture: George McCall Theal

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Rev Francis McCleland: An Interlude in Clanwilliam 1820 – 1825

Settler House at Klein Valley Clanwilliam

This, the fifth episode in the life of the Reverend Francis McCleland, deals with his arrival in Cape Town in early May 1820 and their disappointment at being redirected to settle in Clanwilliam instead of the Eastern Border. 

Not to put too fine a point on it but the five years spent at Clanwilliam were character forming with the man in the cassock not always cutting a fine figure. Casting a long shadow over this Party was the leader himself. Self-serving, megalomaniac and irascible, William Parker was to add to their woes. 

Beset by troubles from every quarter, acrimony and dissension descended on this disparate party. 

Main picture: A Settler House in Clanwilliam

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Port Elizabeth of Yore: St Mary’s Church

st-marys-church09

Given the situation that there are no longer any residents who live in close proximity to the church, there are few  parking facilities in the area and there are hardly any parishioners who attend regularly, what is the future prognosis of this icon of Port Elizabeth? Naturally, I am biased because my great great grandfather was its first pastor but is society in general not able to appreciate that this building is integral to the history of Port Elizabeth. 

It will serve Port Elizabeth well to remember that it is not a church, probably in dire financial difficulties, that has to be saved, but a treasure of the city itself. 

This blog is the history of this institution.

Main picture: St. Mary’s after being reconstructed in 1896 but before the construction of the UBS building in Main Street

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The Parsonage House at Number 7 Castle Hill Port Elizabeth

Lithograph by WJ Huggins of Port Elizabeth. Note the whaling activity in the foreground

This, the oldest extant house in Port Elizabeth, bears a specific significance in my life. The original owner of that house – the Reverend Francis McCleland – is my great great grandfather. In 1965 it was declared a National Monument. In order to restore the parsonage house from a house of ill-repute back to its former glory, all 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 together with its current status.

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

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

templemichael-parish-church-in-longford-town

Because the ultimate point of departure of the Irish Settlers was Cork, or more accurately a hamlet some 10 kilometres east thereof called Passage West, most of Francis’ South African descendants have assumed that the family was in fact resident in Cork or its environs when in fact this is fallacious. Frederick McCleland, Francis’s father was a merchant in Longford. As a consequence, Francis was in fact born and raised in Longford Town in Longford County which is situated in central Ireland. 

This blog which commences the life story of the Reverend Francis McCleland, the progenitor of the extensive McCleland clan in South Africa, deals with the period from his birth, through his varsity years until his voyage aboard the East Indian from Deptford London to Passage West in Ireland to pick up the Irish Settlers.

Main picture: St. John’s Church of Ireland Church, Church Street, Battery Road, Longford Town, County Longford of which Francis was appointed as a Deacon
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Correspondence regarding Rev Francis McCleland with Colonial Office in London

Nanny goat market

This correspondence provides one with an intimate look both at the concerns and the trials and tribulations of these Settlers who came from established towns and villages to a virgin country.

Pictures in this blog: They were all taken 120 years ago in Ireland when it was still impoverished and backward. Perhaps this was the impetus to emigrate to America or in the case of the Reverend Francis McCleland, to an equally improverished, far-off and backward land called the Cape of Good Hope.

Main picture: Nanny goat market

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