Monday, 13 February 2012

Sunday's Obituary - William Finlay Fleming

My great great grandfather, William Finlay Fleming, was a confusing gent to research.  All the family members who have done so agree that he must have been a bit of a story teller.
His age at death was given as 102 years but after going through all the records found on him to date, everyone agrees he was not that old.  (even though he looks it)

General consensus is that he was born in 1831 not 1810 as he infers.  Shipping record, census records etc all tie in with 1831.  

Did he embellish the facts or did he simply not know how old he was? 

The Church record (New South Wales Free Presbyterian) of his marriage to Ann Jane Knight in 1852 gives no ages.

There were 2 long obituaries for him in the newspapers for the areas in which he'd lived the longest.  Edi/Whitfield/Wangaratta area and Kotupna/Nathalia area.  Even these differ in some facts.

Wangaratta Chronicle 2nd December, 1911

The death occurred at Edi (26 miles from Wangaratta) on Tuesday night of Mr. William Finlay Fleming, at the great age of 101 years.  Had he lived until the 8th of January next he would have been 102 years.  Mr. Fleming was possessed of a remarkably fine constitution and to back it up he was endowed with a fine stamina.  While the good health he enjoyed for 100 years was the means of always keeping him in the best of spirits,  until four months ago he did not know what it was to be ill, and during these last four months of his long existence he had the services of Doctor Bays and was well cared for by his wife and daughters and other descendants and friends.  He died peacefully and quietly, surrounded by members of his family.

Although he had set out on his second century, he retained up to the very last the full use of all his faculties - his eye sight, hearing and speech where not impaired in any way and he enjoyed conversing with friends.

Although he worked hard and to use his own term "roughed It" in the early days in this country, the hardships experienced in the 40's, 50's and 60's in this state, did not have any detrimental effect on his constitution.  He was one of the hardy old Scotsman.

The late Mr. Fleming was a native of Galloway, Scotland, and was born on the 8th January, 1810.

When he was 31 years of age the family decided to migrate to Australia, and the father and mother with members of the family came to Victoria by the "William Stewart", landing at Port Phillip in 1842.  Melbourne was then in its infancy.
Shortly after the landing, the subject of this obituary went to "Burnbank" Lexton, where he was employed for a time as a waiter in a hotel and afterwards employed as a shepherd by the late Hon. Finley Campbell in the Clunes district.  He also worked as a farm labourer for several years in the same district.  He was thrifty and careful, and after some years of saving, he got together sufficient money to purchase a wagon and team of bullocks, with which he commenced carrying on the roads between Melbourne and several gold fields, including Castlemain, Bendigo, Ballarat and Clunes.  He was not impressed with the life of a carrier and later made an application for, and was appointed Town Herdsman for Melbourne.  When he landed in Victoria, the boundary for a station was indicated by corner pegs driven into the ground, and when he took the duties of Herdsman of Melbourne, the ground on which Collingwood, Carlton and other neighbouring suburbs are now found, was
a big common.

Being somewhat of a roving disposition, he didn't  keep the position of herdsman for long, but resigned for the purpose of trying his luck at mining.  He started mining at the Bendigo and Clunes district.  Although he was not very successful he secured one fine nugget which turned the scale at 3lbs 2oz.  After 18 years on the gold fields, he entered upon farming pursuits at Creswick and combined butchering with his farm work.  Beef and mutton were not costly in those days and a
quarter of mutton could be bought for 6d, roasts for 1d and 2d per pound and other parts at similar prices.  Flour, sugar and tea were dear at this time.

In 1873, he left Creswick and settled at Kotupna in the Goulburn Valley, where he selected 185 acres of land.  Here he and his family remained for 27 years, when in 1910 they removed and settled in the Edi district, where the sons followed farming pursuits, and the father and mother lived quietly, enjoying the company of their sons, daughters, grandchildren and great grandchildren.

The late Mr. Fleming was married by the Reverend Miller, in the Presbyterian church; Melbourne on 15th March, 1852, his wife being a native of Gloucester (shire?), England.  She is now 78 years of age and is healthy and strong.

Mr. and Mrs. Fleming were in Wangaratta about six months ago, attending to business and on that occasion Mr. Fleming remarked that he was wonderfully well, the only thing that troubled him being his legs, which became weak at times.

When the American Fleet was in Melbourne, Mr Fleming visited that city and was presented to the Admiral with whom he conversed and joked about the guns and warships of the 30's.  Mr Fleming was accompanied by his wife and they visited various parts of Melbourne, which were a wilderness when they first lived there.

He lived under six different sovereigns viz: William, George 111 , George iv, Queen Victoria, Edward and George v.  He was an interesting personality and could relate with the blacks in the early days.  He remembered the gay doings and happenings of the Gold fields.

Mr Fleming was not an abstainer from spirituous liquors, but he never partook to excess.  He also enjoyed his pipe.  He was well known in several parts of the state and had a large circle of friends who held him in the highest esteem, not solely on account of his great age but because of his pleasant disposition and upright and manly actions during his 60 years as a Victorian Colonist.

By the death of Mr Fleming, the country has lost a nation builder, for his descendants, now living, total 98.  Out of a family of 13, four boys and four girls still survive.  They are Mr W. James Fleming, South Merong, Melbourne,  Mr Don Fleming, King Valley,  Mr Moses Fleming, Wyalong,  Mr J Knight Fleming, Edi, Mrs Thos Tuckett, Melbourne, Mrs Chas Worrall, Camperdown, and Mrs Sam Laurence, Whitfield.  There are 72 grandchildren and 18 great grandchildren.  Mrs Mary Ann Stokes of Sydney is a sister of deceased and she is now in her 85th year.

Sympathy is expressed for the sorrowing wife.  The funeral took place on Wednesday afternoon when the remains were interred at the Edi cemetery.  The cortege was a fairly lengthy one.  The burial service was read by Mr. Donaldson, Presbyterian Home Mission.  The funeral arrangements were in the hands of Mr. Thomas Lachlan.

Nathalia Herald September 9, 1911:

Old Mr. W.F. Fleming who formerly lived for several years in Kotupna, but now resides at Edi, sends word that he is ill, but is hopeful of getting better and lasting a few years longer.  When we remember that the old gentleman has passed the century, having been born in 1810, we hope his wish will be realised.  Mr. Fleming, in the long ago, was once Town Herdsman for Melbourne.

The North Eastern Despatch, Saturday, December 2 1911:

Death of Oldest resident of district, Mr. W.F. Fleming - Aged 101 years, 11 months.
The death occurred at Edi on Tuesday afternoon of a remarkable old man, Mr. William Finlay Fleming who, had he lived until January 12th next, would have reached his 102nd year.  The old man's great age was well attested, and he had marvellous vitality, retaining his faculties to a wonderful degree until four months ago, when gangrene developed in one of his legs, and his death then became a question to short time only.  His brain was very active almost to the last, his hearing perfect, and his sight but slightly impaired of late years.  He use to relate how second sight came to him some years ago, and after that his vision was so good that even a few months before his death he could distinguish the figure of a man half a mile away.  Twelve months ago when standing at the door of his house he could recognize a buggy passing along the road quite half a mile distant.  He attributed his long life to inherited vitality and took no special care of himself, eating and drinking anything, yet he could move about with comparative ease, and was able to come to Wangaratta by train last year.  He was a heavy smoker in his early years, but during an attack of illness, when he was about 80 - his first and only illness until four months ago - he gave up the habit, not because he believed it was doing him harm, but in order to show possession of will power.  " My earliest recollection was seeing my grandfather, who was a soldier, on his arrival home after the Battle of Waterloo in June 1815",  This is how the late Mr. Fleming answered a question put to him a year ago regarding his early memories and in that momentous year he was five and a half years old.  He had a mind full of reminiscences, but like many old people they were of personalities rather than of incidents, for he had lived a comparatively quiet life.  Lack of education was a great draw-back to him, for he was not born "in the purple" and in  his boy-hood days, schooling was for the well-to-do only.  But though he never learnt to write with any facility he acquired the knowledge to read in later years, and was possessed of much intelligence.  Blessed with a genial nature, he always took the best out of life, and even when past the century he was brisk in repartee and a capital conversationalist.  The late Mr. Fleming was born in Galloway, Scotland in January 1810, and was descendant from wonderful stock, his grandmother living to the age of 105, while his mother died in Victoria when in her 90th year.  
The second ship to bring emigrants from England to Australia, was the sailing vessel " William Stewart"  and on May 15th, 1842, there was landed at Port Melbourne amongst the passengers on that initial voyage a family party comprising father, mother, three sons and three daughters.  William Finlay Fleming, then a man of 37 years, was one of those sons, who having no fixed occupation in Galloway had joined his parents and other members of the family in their expedition to Australia, which was then but slightly known in the Old country, Melbourne was only in its infancy, and while some of the family secured employment there, the son William set off for the country in search of work on some of the stations,  His first job was at Burnbank, or Lexton, as the place is now called, and Mr. Anderson gave him work as barman in his hotel.  The house was the rendezvous of men from the stations, and others, rough characters many of them, and Mr. Fleming's first insight into Colonial life was not pleasing to one who had been reared amongst the staid population of the town of Galloway.  The duties of a barman were not of the mild character associated with the position of to-day, and there was much drinking and consequent riotousness.  Three months sufficed for Mr. Fleming, but he had signed an agreement to remain for 12 months, and it was only by pretending drunkenness at the suggestion of a station overseer that he managed to get a discharge, for he was in need of him on the station of Mr. Allan Cameron, on the Wimmera, and Mr. Fleming remained there for three months during the shearing.   He had saved 90 pounds by this time, and decided on a trip to Melbourne to rejoin his relatives.  In company with two other station hands he started off and stayed for a night at a hotel at Fiery Creek, but in the morning he found that his companions had robbed him and hurried away, he followed them as fast as he could but they reached Geelong, 60 miles away, in advance and he never saw them again, though he had the satisfaction of learning that both were imprisoned, one of them for a big robbery.  The Lodden tribe of black fellows were wild in those early times and Mr. Fleming was an eye-witness of one startling incident during his walk to Geelong, a black fellow being engaged in roasting a lubra on a pile of burning wood.  This was a portion of Magill/s station and the process was being calmly watched by a couple of of dozen men of the tribe, the woman having been adjudged guilty of some serious offence.  His money gone, Mr. Fleming reached Melbourne from Geelong with difficulty, but he at once got to work again, being engaged with a gang of navvies cutting down the hill in Bourke Street, as the streets were only then being formed.  A few months later he secured the position of Town Herdsman, his duties being the care of cows and horses that were turned into the bush to graze.  They de pastured round about Footscray and Flemington mainly but those localities were not thus known in those days, and were covered with ti tree scrub.  The racecourse was on Batmans' Hill near where Spencer Street railway station is now situated.  Mr. Fleming did well as herdsman, and with his savings decided to start butchering but two years later he was compelled to abandon the business and went back to the Clunes district, where he got an engagement as shepherd on the station of Mr. Donald Cameron, a brother of a former employer.  Here he spent several years, and became a valued man, dealing with stock or droving them from the station to a depot at Footscray./  It was at Clunes in the year 1851 that Mr. Fleming's marriage and the discovery of gold synchronized, and in 1853, a team of bullocks was bought for the purpose of carrying goods from Melbourne to the gold fields at Castlemaine and other places,  The young wife accompanied her husband on several trips.  Later on they settled at Creswick, where Mr. Fleming went prospecting on his own account, but with poor results, though he secured a 36 ounce nugget on one occasion.  Engine diving at the Albion mine and butchering were other occupations he followed for several years, and altogether he spent 18 years at Creswick.  In 1870 Mr. Fleming received another call to the lonely life of the station, and he and his wife and three children went to Campbell's Willoora station, near Hay, where the husband was engaged as boundary rider.  Mrs. Fleming and the children returned to Castlemaine, but after a few months Mr. Fleming joined them, and eventually they removed to Kotupna, where Mr. Fleming selected a block of 173 acres of land.,  Here he and his wife reared a family of 13 children, but their thrift and industry were poorly rewarded, as floods caused them serious losses and robbed them of the independence which was surely the due of this fine old pair of pioneers,  The last remaining results of their many years of labour were sadly reduced by some dispensation, which was beyond their control, and eleven years ago they again changed their residence.  One of their sons, Mr. John Fleming had previously settled at Edi, and the old couple decided to make their last home near him, hence at Edi, came the end of this remarkable old man.  Of the Galloway family, who came to Melbourne in 1842, a daughter, Mrs Stokes, of Sydney, is now the only survivor, and she is 87 years of age,  She visited her distinguished old relative a few months ago.  Deceased's wife, who has cared for her husband with great affection and whose family testify to her excellent motherly instincts, survives at the age of 84 and is still well preserved.  The surviving members of the old couple's family are - Messrs William James (Morang), Donald ( Whitfield), Moses (Wyalong), John K (Edi), Mrs R. Thompson and Mrs T. Tuckett (Melbourne), Mrs, C, Worrall (Camperdown), Mrs, S.J. Lawrence (Whitfield).  Deceased had more than 70 grandchildren, and 16 great grand children,  The remains of deceased were interred in the Edi cemetery on Wednesday afternoon.  Mr. T Laidler conducted the funeral, and Mr. Donaldson, of the Presbyterian Church officiated at the grave.


  1. Haha! He did indeed sound like an interesting personality!

    1. I often wonder Lisa if he didn't perhaps write his own obits lol