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Francis Kelland

Decorator & Town Councillor

Keith Tankard & Rose Kelland
Updated: 14 April 2011
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Francis Arthur Kelland was born at Dartmouth on 2 March 1857, the second son and sixth child of Robert Kelland and Susan Elizabeth Demarchye. At the age of 14 he became apprenticed as a painter and he thereupon made painting his chosen profession.

England in the 1870s and 1880s was not a place for somebody who wished to rise up in the world. The country was suffering a recession caused by an economic destabilisation from the Franco-Prussian War and the massive war indemnity imposed by Germany.

Kelland would, therefore, soon seek richer pastures in South Africa, settling at East London in about 1880, where he immediately established himself as an interior decorator in a partnership known as "Kelland and Booth", coach painters, trimmers, sign-writers and general decorators.

He had clearly left a sweetheart in Dartmouth for, having established his business, he soon journeyed back to England to marry Annie Jane Gillard at St Petrox Church on 3 November 1882. The young couple then returned to East London where Annie would make her new home with him.

The first of their five children -- Francis Robert -- was born at East London in February 1884, 14 months after their wedding. The other children were Arthur, Percy Thomas, Archibald Turner and Philip Edmond.

The firm "Kelland and Booth" had its offices in Union Street and St Paul's Road, and later in High Street on the West Bank and Buffalo Street on the East Bank.

East London at the beginning of the 1880s was a mushrooming town, growing upon the wave of the lucrative diamond diggings in Griqualand West. The original town had been founded on the western bank of the Buffalo River in April 1847, and a new village -- called Panmure -- was established on the eastern bank in 1857 as a home for the German settlers.

With the discovery of diamonds in Kimberley in 1868, however, the Cape Colony became awash with money, a sizeable portion of which was used to build a proper harbour at East London, as well as a railway line from the port to Queenstown.

Since the railway terminus was situated at Panmure, this meant that the port mushroomed mostly on the eastern bank, leaving the original town on the west bank to stagnate. In 1873, the East London municipality was created, and the original villages thereafter became known simply by their ward names of West Bank (Ward 1) and East Bank (Ward 2).

By 1883, however, the Cape Colony slumped into a major recession, known to contemporaries as "the Great Depression". It would last for three years and brought desperately harsh economic times to everyone living at East London.

One can presume, therefore, that the Kelland family would have had to struggle through those three years until, in 1886, gold was discovered on the Witwatersrand and a new wave of wealth washed over the port. Indeed, the years 1890 through to about 1905 were to become East London's golden age during which the Kelland family had every prospect of becoming well off.

In was during those years that Kelland chose to serve on East London's Town Council, being elected in August 1889 to represent Ward 1, which presumably meant that he was then living on the West Bank. He was re-elected in February 1890 and 1893.

He resigned his council seat in January 1895, citing "business reasons" for his resignation. It is clear, however, that he was by then suffering from tuberculosis -- or consumption, as it was known. It is possible therefore that he was finding it difficult to run his business in the face of failing health.

It is known that he was eventually forced to leave East London for a while on account of his ill-health but returned very quickly, presumably to be close to his family during his last few months.

In the meantime, Kelland had become a Free Mason -- more than half the town councillors were masons -- and was elected a Past Grand Master of the Buffalo Lodge. This enabled him to use his talents on the decoration of the Masonic Temple in Park Avenue.

In 1896 the Town Council had made the decision to build a Town Hall and, in February 1897, sought tenders for the various contracts. "Kelland and Booth" was awarded the lucrative contract to undertake the painting.

Francis Kelland himself would, alas, not even see the work started. His consumption worsened and he died in the Frere Hospital on 22 August 1898. He was then 41 years of age. Annie Jane would die just ten years later -- on 12 July 1908 -- at the age of 52.

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