Select Fleming Miscellany

Here are some Fleming stories and accounts over the years:

Flemings in Scotland

In England in 1154, when Henry II expelled all aliens as encroachers on English trade, many Flemings were compelled to seek fortune and refuge in Scotland.  At that time the Border counties obtained most of their revenue from wool.  The arrival of these banished Flemings was remarkably opportune for they were favored in the knowledge of weaving all manner of articles from wool.  Trade opened up, through them, with the rich wool merchants of Flanders.

During excavations in 1927 of a new theater at Hide Hill in Berwick, a quantity of human bones was discovered, recalling the dramatic circumstances of Flemish settlement there.  They are believed to be the bones of Flemings who had traded in wools and hides there.  When the King of England captured Berwick in 1296, Red Hall was set on fire and the Flemings were buried in its ruins.

There were two other important immigration waves into Scotland of Flemish craftsmen: the first in the latter half of the 16th century and consisting of Flemish refugee Protestants; and the second towards the end of the 17th century and consisting almost entirely of Flemish Huguenots.  Every Scottish town of note seems to have encouraged Flemish immigration at some period in its history and had Flemish traders and craftsmen.

As one commentator described it:

"Flemish enterprise deserves consideration because it had a broadening and deepening effect on the life and character of the people they settled amongst.  The only evidence of an alien strain that remains is the perpetuation of the surname Fleming."

The Flemings at Biggar

When David I succeeeded to the Scottish throne in 1124, he introduced feudalism and granted land to Norman and Flemish knights in return for their military service.  The most famous appointment in the south of Scotland was that of Baldwin le Fleming of Biggar as sheriff of Lanarkshire, a post of strategic importance to the nation's defence against the Galwegians.  The Flemings imposed peace on and brought prosperity to a wide area.

Robert Fleming achieved fame when, accompanying Robert the Bruce at the slaying of the Red Comyn, he severed the dead man's head and offered it to Bruce with the recommendation "let the deed show" - which thereafter became the motto of the Flemings.  Bruce rewarded him with the grant of the lands of Cumbernauld in Dumbartonshire.

Visitors to Biggar should not miss the chance to see the lovely church founded as a collegiate church by the 3rd Lord Fleming in 1545.  The other notable feature from the past is Boghall tower, the remains of the Fleming castle.

Captain John Fleming in the Revolutionary War

John Fleming was a captain in the First Virginia Regiment of the Continental Line.  Towards the end of the year 1776 his regiment marched northward and joined the American forces about Philadelphia under Washington.  He commanded his regiment at the battle on Princeton on January 3, 1777.

There the Americans were being forced back, several companies had broken and fled, and there was a danger of a general stampede.  Washington was alarmed and rode forward at great peril to attermpt to stem the retreat.  He rode his horse between his men and the British, only thirty yards apart, and became the target of the enemy's fire, but was providentially preserved. 

"It was at this moment when disaster seemed imminent that the First Virginia, led by young Captain Fleming, came out of the woods cheering and shouting."  The Virginians engaged in a bayonet duel with the British during which the 22 year old Fleming and the 19 year old Batholomew Yates were mortally stabbed.

On January 24, 1777, the following notice appeared in the Virginia Gazette:

"By accounts from the northward, we have the melancholy news of the death of Captain John Fleming of the First Virginia Regiment, who proved himself to be a gallant officer and nobly fell on the third instant, near Trenton, at the head of his company in defense of American freedom.  He was universally esteemed by those who were acquainted with him and his loss is much regretted."

Benjamin Fleming, an African American Story

Benjamin Fleming was born in Lewistown, Delaware in 1782.  He was of African Scotch descent and was considered a "mulatto" (one of mixed black and white ancestry) in the language of the time.  In his early years he was a seaman on Delaware coasting and pilot boats. 

When war was declared against Britain in 1812, he was among the sailors to volunteer for service on the Great Lakes.   He served with Lieutenant Elliot in a daring raid when they captured the British ships Detroit and Caledonia that were anchored in the Niagara river. 

In the spring of 1814, Fleming was discharged from the Navy when his term of service expired.  He remained in Erie after his discharge, possibly because of a Delaware law the prevented freed blacks from returning to that state.  Instead, he took over his father-in-law's fishing business and expanded it by selling the fish door-to-door for a nickel.  It was this occupation which earned him the nickname "Bass" Fleming.

However, in his later years, he was compelled to depend on charity for support and for years received hardly enough to maintain a half-starved existence for himself and his family.  After he had died, his 77 year old widow, Catherine, applied in vain for a War of 1812 widow’s pension.  She was denied the $8 per month pension in 1872 “for want of proof of marriage and death of soldier.” 

Sir Sandford Fleming

In 1973 a historical plaque commemmorating Sir Sandford Fleming was unveiled in the town where he was born, Kirkcaldy in Fifeshire.  It read:

"Sir Sandford Fleming, 1827-1915

Inventor of Standard Time and pioneer in world communications, Fleming was born in Kirkcaldy and trained in engineering before emigrating to Canada and settling at Peterborough, Ontario in 1845.  He soon moved to Toronto but retained a lifelong interest in his birthplace which he visited frequently.  In 1882 he was made a Burgess and Freeman of the town. 

He was the builder of the Intercolonial railway and as chief engineer of the Canadian Pacific Railway conducted surveys of a trasnscontinental route.  His proposal, presented to the Canadian Institute in 1879 outlining a worldwide uniform system for reckoning time and his advocacy of a cable route linking Canada with Australia, earned Fleming universal recognition.  He was knighted in 1897."

Fleming's concept of a uniform system for time gava rise to the International Prime Meridian Conference in Washington in 1884, at which the basis of today's system of Standard Time was adopted.


The Flemings at Nettlebed

The Fleming family involvement with the village of Nettlebed in the Chilterns began in 1903 when the merchant banker Robert Fleming purchased Joyce Grove, together with its 2,000 acres, kilns and clayworks, and many of its cottages.  The big house gave work at that time to many people, gardeners, grooms and house servants; while the kilns and potteries needed men to produce the bricks.

Many of the Fleming family were buried in Nettlebed churchyard.  This included Peter Fleming, the traveller and writer, and his wife Celia Johnson (who starred in the 1945 film Brief Encounter), but not his younger brother Ian (the James Bond author).  Current members of the Fleming family live locally, run the estate, and take an active part in village life.   

Jim Fleming, Supermarkets and Horses

Jim Fleming had left Scots College at 15 for the school of hard knocks on the shop floor in Darlinghurst.  He stayed with Woolworths for a decade from 1960 before leaving to buy the 42-store NSW grocery chain Warmans, which he relaunched as Jewel Food Stores in 1971.  Slicing prices to the bone, Fleming quickly built the chain to 96 supermarkets.

He would rise at 6 am, jog five kilometres or swim, do some physical jerks, visit the Sydney Turf Club and then go to work at Jewels.  After some deliberation, he sold the Jewel chain in 1995 to Davids Holdings, ending the family's 60-year involvement in grocery retailing.  "I'm not going to retire," he said. "I'd go balmy."

He would instead devote more time to his sporting passions.  He had first gotten involved in racing as a teenager with his father, who owned Kilkee, a thoroughbred stud near Cowra.  He became a member of the Sydney Turf Club in 1967 and later its chairman.  And he was a busy breeder, with 40 broodmares at the Tyreel Stud at Richmond, NSW.  He died in 2007. 

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