Rev Francis McCleland: An Interlude in Clanwilliam 1820 – 1825

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

Diverted to Clanwilliam

Whilst still en route to the Cape, the first of the calamities to befall the settlers occurred. Amongst the first was the temporary transfer of the Governor, Sir Lord Charles Somerset, to England. With impeccable timing, Sir Rufane Donkin had become available to act as Acting Governor in his absence. Between lack of information and misinformation, Donkin’s appointment would lead to some miscalculations and missteps.

The one vital piece of information that Donkin’s predecessor had requested from the Colonial Office in London, but had never been received, was the expected settler headcount. Six thousand miles of sea and a sailing time of three months would always have made communication tedious and disjointed. The Colonial Secretary in Cape Town, Col Christopher  Chapman Bird, upon whom Donkin was totally reliant  had indicated to Lt Colonel Cuyler, Landdrost of Uitenhage, that he anticipated that 2000 settlers would be arriving for which he would provide camping equipment for 1,500 persons and rations for all 2,000. It was only in March as the ships started arriving that the realisation dawned upon him that double the anticipated number of people would be en route.

Sir Rufane Donkin

Sir Rufane Donkin

The second misjudgement was more serious from the Irish Settlers’ perspective. When Somerset had intimated to Bird that he wished to segregate the settlers by nationality, Donkin misunderstood that comment to provide him with carte blanche to locate the Settlers anywhere in the Cape and not necessarily, as Somerset had implied, at a different location on the Eastern Border. The effect of this change was to defeat the primary purpose of the whole scheme.

This error in judgement was to be further compounded when a Magistrate, Daniel Johannes van Ryneveld, who had previously been the deputy landdrost at Clanwilliam, commented favourably on this district to Donkin.


Colonel Christopher Chapman Bird

Based upon this unwelcome news, the Colonial Secretary, Colonel Bird, despatched his brother-in-law, Mr Buissine, a Land Surveyor, to survey the area. Afterwards, Buissine was to compile a report on the Crown Land available in the area. To fulfil his commitments to the settlers, Donkin required 100 acres of land per adult male to be issued as a grant to the settlers.

Petrus Stefanus Buissine surveyed the following valleys in the vicinity of Clanwilliam: The Groot Seekoei, the Klein Valley, the Groot and Klein Patrys Valleys and also the Taaiboschkraal Valley. In his report, Buissine stated that there was only sufficient land for 80 families whereas the estimated number of families believed to be on board the East Indian and the Fanny was of the order of 125.

Even before receiving the report from Buissine, Donkin wrote to Lord Bathhurst informing him that all the settlers from Cork would be accommodated at Clanwilliam. Donkin then left for the Zuurveld on the Eastern Border.

The East Indian, the ship carrying the Parker Party

The East Indian, the ship carrying the Parker Party

This lamentable cascade of events had doomed the Irish Settlement a priori.

Meanwhile, the sea weary settlers aboard the East Indian and the Fanny were at last within sight of Table Mountain on Wednesday 26th April 1820. The elated passengers became subdued when the dispiriting news was received that they were not dropping anchor in Table Bay. Instead they would be rounding the Cape Peninsular and sailing into False Bay where they would be dropping anchor in Simon’s Bay – now renamed Simonstown. Their journey of thirteen weeks ended on Sunday 30th April 1820.

That same day, the Reverend Francis McCleland gave thanks to the Almighty for their safe arrival.

Main Street, Simonstown

Main Street, Simonstown

Lt Charles Wolridge drafted a Notice of Arrival in the quaint obsequious official language of the day and dispatched it post haste to Cape Town.

Hired Ship East Indian

Simon’s Bay

30th April, 1820

My Lord,

In obedience to my Orders from the Commissioner of His Majesty’s Navy, I have to acquaint you of the arrival of the Hired Ship East Indian having stores and settlers on board for the Colony conformable to enclosed lists, that of the settlers differing from the original forwarded from the Secretary of States’ Office, in consequence of several exchanges having been permitted by direction of the Commissioner of His Majesty’s Navy


I have the honour to be

My Lord

Your Lordships

Most obedient

Very humble servant


Charles Wolridge Lieut RN

& Agent Afloat for Transports


While the two ships were being reprovisioned before setting off again, the Heads of the Parties along with the other leaders of the groups were allowed ashore to be informed of the details of their final locations. The rest of the passengers were kept on board in case they deserted.

Admiralty House, Simonstown

Admiralty House, Simonstown

The voyage for the passengers aboard the East Indian had been unpleasant, fraught with petty squabbles and numerous disagreements.

In the absence of Donkin, Parker and the other leaders met with the Colonial Secretary, Colonel Bird in Cape Town on the 4th May 1820. Contrary to expectations, Col Bird informed them that their final destination had been amended to Clanwilliam.

William Parker took matters into his own hands. On the 13th May, he left Simon’s Bay on horseback with two others for Clanwilliam, 170 miles away. Finally on 16th May, the two ships left the shelter of False Bay for Saldanha Bay where transport would await them for the final 80 miles of their journey.

Garrison at Clanwilliam

Garrison at Clanwilliam

Parker and his two companions arrived at Clanwilliam on the 17th May where they were appraised of the situation by a Land Surveyor and local postmaster, T. Tulleken and Adrian Vincent Bergh respectively.

After viewing the proposed locations, they grew increasingly alarmed especially after being informed of the paucity of resources of even the most basic kind in the vicinity.

Meanwhile the ships bearing the settlers had entered Saldanha Bay. The first hint of the barrenness of their disembarkation point and ultimate destination would now have become apparent to them. Shortly after their arrival, Parker returned with the disconcerting news. Quite obviously, consternation abounded.

Ruins of Parker's Town at Saldanha Bay

Ruins of Parker’s Town at Saldanha Bay

While the other parties set out for Clanwilliam in 12 ox-wagons, Parker’s Party remained on board the East Indian while Parker attempted to negotiate with the Colonial authorities for a different settlement area. In the meantime, Parker dismissed the ox-wagons sent to transport his party to Clanwilliam. Effectively Parker’s Party was now trapped on board the East Indian at Saldanha Bay much to Bird’s annoyance.

Parker now submitted a memorandum to Colonel Bird detailing his observations and requesting a farm Groenekloof closer to the coast. Only subsequent to further threats by Colonel Bird, did Parker agree to comply with his original order to settle at Clanwilliam.

Final disembarkation from the East Indian was at last arranged, wagons hired from the farmers and the trek to Clanwilliam commenced.

Ruins of Parker's Town at Saldanha Bay

Ruins of Parker’s Town at Saldanha Bay

Settling in at Clanwilliam

The Klein Valley had been allocated to Parker’s Party. This area, as Parker had so vociferously complained already, was inadequate for the settlers. With tents as their first homes on dry land, it is not difficult to imagine what privations the settlers endured. Winter rains and bitterly cold winds were to add to their discomfort. Within the first few weeks at Clanwilliam, four settlers died as well as several children.

After numerous disputes, the Colonial Secretary relented and allowed many of the settlers to be transported to the Zuurveld on the Eastern Border. Meanwhile, those remaining in Klein Valley, began the task of establishing themselves permanently.

View of Saldanha Bay

View of Saldanha Bay

Initially McCleland and his wife, Elizabeth occupied a converted stable, described by McCleland as being “a hovel that before it was roofed had been used as a kraal for calves, consisting of two miserable rooms separated by a partition without a door where in winter Mrs McCleland must cook, eat and sleep literally surrounded by water. Myself, to the great amusement of the village, running through dirt and mire to prevent my cows from doing injury to the very gentleman who was bound by contract to have them taken care of.”

From a privileged background in Ireland, Francis was now forced into totally inadequate and demeaning accommodation in Clanwilliam. Especially for Elizabeth with her patrician roots, it must have been a formidable cross to bear. Her clearly cantankerous husband must have aggravated the situation.

Francis did endeavour to improve their lot. At some point, as he relates to the Secretary of State for the Colonies in a letter dated 6th March 1828 that he “built a commodious house upon his location [presumably at Klein Valley] which from the scarcity of provisions, and the extravagant price of labour, cost him at the lowest calculation upwards of two hundred pounds, which with other expenses incurred in clearing the ground, caused an outlay of three hundred pounds Sterling.

Nineteenth century farm in Clanwilliam

Nineteenth century farm in Clanwilliam

Furthermore, Francis laments that the house was eventually sold in 1827 for the sum of £150 or Rx2000.  Apart from his loss on the sale of the property, he bemoans the fact that his duties were not only to the settlers but also to every other person in the District whether they were Dutch speaking or not.

With his madcap schemes of finding gold at O’Kiepe or establishing a town to be called New Cork at Saldanha Bay, Parker was the bane of not only the settlers but also the Colonial Secretary, Colonel Bird. On the 24th October 1820, Parker had his comeuppance.  Bird deemed that he had abandoned the Party and that a new Head would be selected by the remaining members of the Party. Eventually Samuel Shawe was chosen but not unanimously resulting in further dissension.

View of Saldanha Bay

View of Saldanha Bay

Synnot, a calm moderate man was regarded highly by Donkin who found him to be “one of the most respectable of all the Settlers….I appointed him Special Heemraad in his district, an appointment analogous to that of Justice of the Peace.” 

Settlers petition Donkin to remove McCleland

Finally, by December 1820, the Irish Settlers in Clanwilliam were totally disenchanted with Francis McCleland. In order to bring the matter to finality, they addressed a petition to the Deputy Governor, Sir Rufane Donkin. In many ways, their dissatisfaction confirmed the caricature that William Parker had already sketched of McCleland.

In requesting the removal of McCleland as their Clergyman, they made a number of damning indictments.

As such, they characterised McCleland as follows:

  1. [by] his unremitted and slanderous ill-behaviour made himself generally despised
  2. [his] continual cause of Drunken, Immoral, Profane and Irrelequeous [Irreligious?] conduct
  3. [would] cheerfully receive any pastor who would supervise [?] the religious education of their children, a thing which our present one has totally neglected
  4. [must] enforce his precepts by his example
  5. [makes] a mockery on the most high to hear His name called upon by a reprobate Parson

Synnot’s nemesis

As Dickason correctly states, “But if Synnot had a cross to bear, it was the presence of McCleland. From the earliest days at Clanwilliam, he and Synnot had been at loggerheads. Firstly when McCleland abused the favour granted by Synnot of allowing two of McCleland’s cattle to graze on his lands, Synnot endlessly pointed out that there were always more than two and that as they were unsupervised by the Hottentot maid, they ate the vegetables [that] he had cultivated. McCleland paid scant regard to Synnot’s repeated warning until such time when Synnot was obliged to withdraw the concession altogether. 

Capt Walter Synnot's House in Clanwilliam

Capt Walter Synnot’s House in Clanwilliam

The problem of schooling for the numerous children was also a source of irritation, particularly as McCleland, whose duty to attend to this was more than remiss in his lackadaisical attitude towards attending the teaching class. He was frequently in the habit of keeping the children waiting for a considerable time and very frequently never arrived at all. 

Young Michael Barry, who assisted as schoolmaster, appealed to Synnot for action and also a proper venue. Synnot then allocated the use of an apartment appropriated for the services of the Heemraden on court days for the purpose of holding school. In a short order, says Synnot, McCleland discontinued the school and converted it into a wine cellar.

Dutch Reformed Church at Clanwilliam built by Foster

Dutch Reformed Church at Clanwilliam built by Foster

McCleland was so neglectful of his duties that the Settlers were to protest vigorously to Lord Charles Somerset about his conduct “who by his unremitted and scandalous behaviour has made himself generally despised and forfeited by a continual course of Drunken, Immoral Profane and Irreligious conduct.” 

In consequence of the representations made directly to Lord Charles, the Governor decided in July 1823 to dismiss McCleland with one year’s salary in advance. Synnot, always the peacemaker, prevailed upon Lord Charles to postpone the decision and returned to Clanwilliam where he remonstrated with McCleland about the neglect of his duties.

In reply, McCleland stated that, as he was obliged to stay at Klein Valley, the distance to town prevented   him from discharging his duties in full. To remove this obstacle, Synnot then proposed renting to McCleland a cottage on his farm which adjoined the village. This proposal was readily accepted by McCleland, but as for reforming his ways, the closer proximity to the village now provided him with even more opportunity to cause trouble, well aided and abetted by Woodcock whenever he chose to.

Mount Synnot Clanwilliam

Mount Synnot, Clanwilliam

Richard Fryer was to comment on the Preacher’s conduct in this manner:

I was at old Strauss’ auction. I consider McCleland’s conduct at the auction to be the reverse of what a clergyman’s should be by entering too much into the spirit of it. McCleland went to my brother-in-law and told him that I then had a wife and children in England thereby breeding discussions in my family – and I was away from home at the time. This is a most wicked falsehood. I also accused that I was certainly married to the woman who came with me from England. This produced a coolness between myself and my father- and mother-in-law.

McCleland also refused to marry a couple when they urgently requested it, saying that they must wait until it was convenient, something the couple could obviously not do. Poor Synnot was again obliged to intervene.

Synnot’s contretemps continues

If nothing else confirms Francis McCleland’s obnoxious streak, it was this incident on the night of Monday 6th September 1824 when the Olifants River burst its banks following a week of heavy rain. The end result was flooding in most of the low lying surrounding areas including the cottage occupied by McCleland on Synnot’s land. The following morning, McCleland addressed a letter of complaint to Synnot as follows:

I gave you notice this morning that my family was likely to become seriously indisposed from the Pondhoc [Pondokkie – a small house] being almost knee deep in water. Your kind reply was that you could not help it. The truth is [that] you will not, and your answer is nothing but a subterfuge to avoid what honour as well as law (for which, I suppose as a Magistrate you have some regard) should compel you to.

Mount Synnot Clanwilliam

Mount Synnot Clanwilliam

McCleland’s response had been akin to that of a tenant from hell. Finally, McCleland had tested Synnot’s forbearance to the limit. It was the final straw for a man who had rescued McCleland from a fate as an unemployed clergyman.

Your letter is a very improper production from the pen of a person in your situation and in consequence of the personal impertinence conveyed in it, I am under the painful necessity of dispensing with your official attendance in this house as I shall feel myself culpable were I to tolerate your intemperate conduct any further. 

On that sour note, relations between them were severed. In spite of his apparent success in his new country, the discord had taken its toll on Synnod. On the 25th April 1825, Synnot wrote to the Governor stating that he could no longer see his way clear staying in the Cape. As such, he requested passage back to his home country, Ireland.

Ballymoyer Lodge-Home of Walter Synnot in Ireland

Ballymoyer Lodge – Home of Walter Synnot in Ireland

Commission of Enquiry

Since their arrival, the Irish contingent at Clanwilliam had steadily dwindled to fourteen men and their families as well as three unmarried women. Over the years the Colonial authorities had been inundated with complaints arising from this settlement. In order to resolve these grievances once and for all, a Commission was set up to hear the settlers’ grievances & to enquire into the administration of the Settlement. During March 1825, His Majesty’s Commissioners, Messrs Hayward & Marsh arrived in Clanwilliam.

The loquacious settlers bombarded the Commission with complaints of all description, many of them irrelevancies. One of the more amusing testimonies was that of Mrs Anne Shawe who disclosed in a no-holds barred fashion her matrimonial difficulties paying no heed that this irrelevant tale was being assiduously listened to by an impertinent pastor McCleland. With rapt attention he noted all the alleged indiscretions.

Ballymoyer Lodge

Ballymoyer Lodge

On her return home, Mrs Shawe found that the insidious McCleland had informed her husband, Samuel Shawe, of her disclosures to the Commission. One can imagine Mrs Shawe having to defend the indefensible to her husband. This indiscrete action by the Irish clergyman obliged Mrs Shawe to write to Commission in a desperate attempt to correct the evidence.

The rest of the settlers raised their complaints but as Graham Dickason states “the principal complaint was against McCleland and his neglect of his duties, religious and otherwise.”

The Children of Walter Synnot Esq by Joseph Wright of Derby

The Children of Walter Synnot Esq by Joseph Wright of Derby 

After the Commissioners departed, it was hoped that some change would be made. But when nothing materialised by June 1825, Adrian Bergh wrote to them in Cape Town appealing for McCleland to be removed. The vituperative style of the letter is indicative that their five years with this indiscrete, obnoxious man had driven them to the end of the tether.


Clanwilliam, 30th June 1825


My Dear Sir,


It appears to me that since you have left us, you have forgotten this place and its peaceable inhabitants but as I am convinced of the trouble you have taken to put everything to right, I am sure that you will not be quite indifferent to learn that almost everything is altered to the best and to which Ryneveld greatly contributes. We certainly enjoy much happier days now, but fear they will not last long as everything will again be turned topsy turvy as soon as our MOST RESPECTED FRIEND, THE CROOKED KELPIE, THE 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 of 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 on them; for even the Old Wolf [Woodcock] is since he is missing the assistance of his friend that fox to guide him in search of prey has now covered himself with the skin of a lamb.

 Now my dear friend, for God’s sake, do everything in your power to remove that fellow from hence for as long as he remains in this District, the people here will not enjoy peace and Government be continually annoyed for you are as well acquainted as myself with his troublesome character and that he is of no use whatever to this district and I not doubt that if his Excellency , our much beloved Governor, is made acquainted with all the particulars of this case, he will fulfil this prayer.


Remember me to Mr Marsh and be so kind to apologise for not as yet answering his kind note which answer I intend to accompany with a few of the best ostrich feathers as soon as an opportunity offers itself and believe me to be

                                                                                    Dear Sir

                                                                                              Yours sincerely

                                                                                               A.V. Bergh


Young Adrian Vincent Bergh’s prayer was indeed answered and McCleland was removed from his position & appointed minister in Algoa Bay.                                                                       

In the next episode of the life of Reverend Francis McCleland, we will encounter him in Port Elizabeth where he spends the rest of his life, forever being remembered as the builder of St. Mary’s Church.

Locations of all Settler Parties at Clanwilliam

Locations of all Settler Parties at Clanwilliam


Additional notes:

Meaning of kelpie

A Kelpie or water kelpie, is the Scots name given to a shape-shifting water spirit inhabiting the lochs and pools of Scotland. It has usually been described as appearing as a horse, but is able to adopt human form. The origin of the belief in malevolent water horses has been proposed as originating in human sacrifices once made to appease gods associated with water, but narratives about the kelpie also served a practical purpose in keeping children away from dangerous stretches of water, and warning young women to be wary of handsome strangers.

Not only did Bergh call Francis a kelpie, but he also impugned his character by calling him “that damned Parson”, “half man half beast disguised in that specious form a Priest,” and finally he refers to Francis as “that troublesome character.” Bergh’s venom and wrath cannot be as a result of one incident but must attributable to a series of clashes with Mr. McCleland. What they were, have not been recorded.


Letter by unknown author dated 20 October 1824

                                                                                                                           Clanwilliam, 20th October 1824



In reply to your letter of 3rd ultimo respecting the success of my undertaking as a Settler and other particulars connected with the progress of the Settlement attempted near Clanwilliam in the year 1820, I beg leave to confine myself to statements of facts relating to that particular party of which I had the misfortune to be a member, I mean Mr Parker’s.                                                                                                                                       

The Party to the best of my recollection comprised about 75 families, consisting of upwards of 300 individuals, but the exact number could easily be obtained at the Colonial Office from official documents. 

The Kleine Valley situated within about 5 English miles of Clanwilliam, was assigned [to] Government for the Location of this large Party, which, not speaking of Servants consisted of a number of independent persons to be provided each with a separate location, as for example Mr Parker and servants. Mr Shaw and Servants. REvd F. McCleland and Servants, Mr Francis & Servants, Mr Walters & Family, Mr John Hare and Servants, Mr Scanlan and about 17 other independent Settlers, Doctor Addy and Servant, Doctor Holditch and Family, and you humble Servant with 6 independent Settlers and 3 Servants.

The day after arriving, Parker brought charges against McCleland “that immediately on embarking the East Indian, he grossly insulted the wife of Dr Holditch, the surgeon, and on the night of Sunday, January 30, in Cork Harbour, he vilified the English, saying [that] he would get sixteen Irish who would flog any thirty English. He was so violent and insulting that he was threatened to be horsewhipped by John George Newsom Esq, an alderman of the City of Cork and magistrate of the county; Also by Thomas Parsons Boland and Edward Newsom Esqs, and Lieut Wentworth R.N. “

His animosity to McCleland continued as he (Parker) “hearing that he is located at Klein Vallei, Clanwilliam, he earnestly entreated not to permit said McCleland to be established, as he has by his unremitted and scandalous ill-behaviour made himself generally despised, and forfeited by a continual course of drunken, immoral, profane and irreligious conduct, all the respect and veneration to which his sacred functions would otherwise have entitled him.”


Addendum number 1: Full text of Petition to Donkin


Klein Valley, Dec 1820


To His Excellency, Sir Rufane Shawe Donkin, Governor & Commander-in-Chief

Cape Good Hope

The Humble Petition of the Free Settlers at Kleine humbly herewith


That it is the feelings of the deepest regret [that] your petitioners intrude themselves at the present upon your Excellency’s Notice but understanding that Mr Francis McCleland is to be located amongst them as Clergyman, your petitioners cannot in justice to themselves and to their children refrain from most earnestly and respectfully entreating your Excellency, as you value the moral character and well being of their infant settlement, not to permit the said Francis McCleland to be establishing amongst them as he has by his unremitted and slanderous ill-behaviour made himself generally despised and forfeited by a continual cause of Drunken, Immoral, Profane and Irrelequeous [Irreligious?] conduct all the respect and veneration to which his sacred functions would themselves have entitled him, thereby bringing a disgrace on your Petitioners in the name of Religion and scandal on the cloth [that] he so unworthy[ily] wears.


Your Petitioners most humbly beg to [indecipherable] your Excellency that nothing but what they perceive to be an imperative duty, could have induced them to make the present application and that your Petitioners would most willingly and cheerfully receive any pastor who would superxxxxxx the religious education of their children, a thing which our present one has totally neglected and who would in some measure enforce his precepts by his example, but it appears to your Petitioners a mockery on the most high to hear His name called upon by a reprobate Parson

who lets all His commands a token defiance under those imperfious, your petitioners could not possibl[y] attend to his ministry therefore xxxxxxx pledge themselves to prune the truth of the above allegations . They beseech of your Excellency to bestow on this their humble complaint all the consideration [that] it justly merits and your Petitioners will ever pray.



James Allison                                                      Charles Boucher

James Allison Jr                                                  Mr Conn

William Watson – his mark X                           John Hare

Jas Murray                                                           Mr Roberts – his mark X

George Barker                                                     S.E. Shawe

Richard Baker Jr

Thomas Grunwell


Irish Settlers to the Cape: A History of the Clanwilliam 1820 Settlers from Cork Harbour by Graham Dickason


  1. Some observations of the Portrait of Sir Francis Shaw Donkin.He is wearing a wedding band. His wife died Elizabeth in 1818 (?)Notice the Fort and the Barracks odd in a way because he never lived here in PE. Notice the gauntness of his face -pining for his love?
    He is buried in Southampton in an Anglican cathedral -St Andrews the same name of a catholic church in the same street in the same town.Wht is he not buried with his beloved but with his father?
    He adopted a girl from the French Revolution.What happened to her?


Leave a Comment.