The Reverend Francis McCleland - The ninth step ... Somewhere in South Africa - CycleBlaze

December 23, 2020

The Reverend Francis McCleland


The first organized migration of English speaking people to South Africa were the 1820 Settlers from the British Isles.  The plan was that they be settled on the eastern frontier of the Cape Colony to provide a buffer between the Xhosa tribes to the east and Britain's new colony.  Britain had chosen the Fish River as the boundary.  It is unlikely that the Xhosa clans affected had any say in the matter, even though they had been traveling and settling west of the Fish River for centuries.

Approximately 4000 settlers arrived in South Africa in about 60 parties between April and June 1820 but not all of them were settled in the Eastern Cape as originally planned.  Included in the settlers were a group of Irish from Cork on board the ship, the "East Indian".  Sir Rufane Donkin who was acting Governer of the Cape at the time decided the Irish should be kept apart from the British settlers and despatched them to Clanwilliam more than two hundred kilometers north of Cape Town.

Amongst the clergymen who formed part of the 4000 settlers was a certain Reverend Francis McCleland, an Anglican priest educated at Trinity College in Dublin.  While waiting at Passage West near Cork for the ship to depart for South Africa, he met and became engaged to eighteen year old Elizabeth Clark and the pair were hastily married.  From meeting to marriage to emigrating from Ireland from lasted only three weeks!

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By all accounts the Rev McCleland was not an easy man.  His behavior on the voyage to South Africa made it clear in the other settlers' minds as to what they would have to content with if he was to be their guide and guardian on matters of morality.  Records show that he was unable to give the Sunday service on board owing to over-endulging the previous night.  The result of this was him brawling with Dr Holditch, who had given the sermon in his place.

The Irish settlers were somewhat shocked to discover that they were being settled in the northern Cape rather the on the eastern frontier.  Nonetheless, Clanwilliam and its surrounds became their initial home in Africa although few remained there for many years.  With regards the good Reverend, it took lots of canvassing from his congregation to have him moved elsewhere.  Within six months of their arrival in Clanwilliam they petitioned the Governor of the Cape to remove him for the following reasons:

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

Among the many other pieces of correspondence asking for his removal, this one from the local post master, Adrian Bergh, sums it up quite well.

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

In the end, Francis was booted out of Clanwilliam and moved to Port Elizabeth in the Eastern Cape as Colonial Chaplain.  Here he built the oldest unaltered house the city,7 Castle Hill which was declared a National Monument in 1965.  He also built the first Anglican church in the city, St Mary's and cemented the Anglican community there.

7 Castle Hill
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More importantly for me, he and Elizabeth were the ancestors of the McCleland clan in South Africa, many of whom have remained in the Port Elizabeth area, one of them being my beloved wife Leigh and for this I will be forever grateful.

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Kathleen JonesThat's quite a story. So it worked out for the best!
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