Sunday, March 20, 2011

A goodbye, for now, to Henry Fleming

I have so loved researching Henry Fleming, who lived at No. 2, Charles Street, Berkeley Square, London, in 1871.

But it's time to say goodbye, at least for now, because I want to move on down the street.

Here are a few things I'll mention before leaving.

1. Henry's mother, Catherine, was the daughter of a famous, or infamous, Irish Protestant leader, John Hunter Gowan II (aka Hunter Gowan). One of her half-brothers was Ogle Gowan, who started the Orange Lodge in Canada.

2. Henry's father was Captain Valentine Fleming, from Tuam, County Galway, in Ireland. He was a captain in the British 9th Regiment of Foot. He was Catherine's second husband, and died in 1824 when his four children were roughly aged 10 to 14. I have a copy of his will.

3. All three Fleming brothers, James, Valentine, and Henry, were apparently educated in Ireland, possibly all at Trinity College, Dublin, and all three were lawyers, though Henry didn't continue with the practice very long.

4. Although I have traced each of the brothers, I don't know what happened to their mother and their sister, Emma.

5. A James Fleming, who had a brother named Henry, both of Dublin, petitioned the House of Lords in the late 1820s to claim the title "Baron of Slane". I think this may have been the brothers, before they moved from Ireland to London. They did not succeed.

6. James became a QC, Chancellor of the Palatinate of Durham, and an official for the West Indies. His wife was Julia Mary Canning, and I suspect she had a reasonably impressive pedigree herself. Their children all had the middle name "Francis", except the eldest, who was named "Francis" as his first name.

7. Henry's nephew, James's son Francis Fleming had a distinguished career in the foreign service, and was variously governor of Antigua, and a senior official (possibly also governor) of Hong Kong, Sierra Leone, and Mauritius.

8.  Another nephew from the same family, Baldwyn Francis Fleming, followed his uncle Henry into the Poor Law Board and then the Local Government Board. My first impression is that he was a good civil servant who cared about the people he was responsible for.

9. Henry's brother, Valentine, became Sir Valentine, and was the Chief Justice of Tasmania for some time, before returning to England where eventually he died in retirement in Surrey.

10. Henry had kind of a double life: civil servant and socialite. As a civil servant, he was described in none-too-glowing terms, varying from boring through to incompetent, depending upon who was saying it, and when in his career they were commenting. I have yet to see a comment describing him as dynamic and indispensable, and yet he was a top-level official for decades.

11. In his social life, Henry knew everyone, and it is in this capacity that the real interest lies. He mingled with lords, ladies, writers, members of Parliament, Prime Ministers Disraeli and Palmerston, and probably Gladstone too, and his role was to spread strategically-placed gossip. This is the part of Henry Fleming's life most deserving of scholarly study.

I have collected a number of links to references to Henry Fleming. Though I haven't seen any one work devoted to the man himself, it is rather surprising just how many 19th century Londoners mention him in their own memoirs and accounts of the day.

He died in 1876, still employed by the Local Government Board, still living at No. 2, Charles Street, Berkeley Square, and on the same day as Lady Stanley, thus departing life in the same manner as he had lived it: in the penumbra of the upper class.

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