Francis Ivor Fleming (1888-1968)

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Fleming served in the Royal Flying Corps in the Great War and then entered the Colonial Service. Molly Murphy remembers him as a grumpy old man who used to chase the kids on Nukulau. Fr. Bransfield thinks the kids may well have deserved to have been chased. Nukulau was originally a quarantine island, then a holiday island,[1] before it recently became a prison for the coup leaders. There may still have been a hospital on the island.

"Nukalau was a quarantine Island off Suva. In the 1900s all Indian indentured labourers would have to spend a month on this island before being let ashore on the mainland. There were frequent outbreaks of smallpox and typhoid and many deaths. These unfortunates were buried on the windward side of the island. The leeward side was more protected and had a deep water anchorage. Unfortunately the island was slowly eroded and bones could often be found on the beach, sometimes with gold jewelry."[2]

Fleming died of tuberculosis under the care of Dr. Murphy, bequeathing him a metal box filled with mementoes. Fleming considered some of the things in the box to be valuable and he asked Dr. Murphy to see that they were disposed of of properly. Dr. Murphy would bring the box out at parties from time to time to show the contents to his guests--perhaps to get their opinion of how to fulfill the dying man's request. Fleming was not probably just another patient in Murphy's sanitorium but (it seems) a friend of the Murphy family from their trips to Nukulau.

  1. Nukulau was controlled by the Colonial War Memorial Hospital, probably because of its prior use as a quarantine site.
  2. E-mail from Dr. Gerald Roy Murphy.

Biographical details

  • Born September 5, 1888.
  • Died spring of 1968.
  • 1916: Second Lieutenant, Royal Flying Corps Military Wing.
  • 1938: Deputy Comissioner in the GEIC. Stationed on Canton?
  • 1942: Relieved of duties on Canton; six months sick leave approved.
  • 1950s (?): caretaker on Nukulau on behalf of CWMH.

Contents of Francis Ivor Fleming's Box

Fiji04 001.jpg
Fiji04 002.jpg

Two Flags

  • Union Jack. Small repair sewn on it. Sterling. Reg. U.S. Patent Office . Fast Color--Double Warp All Wool Bunting. The name Annin Guarantees Quality. Pen or pencil mark: 6.20.
  • 128x80 cm. Two brass eyelets. Sewn out of different colors of fabric, not just one piece of cloth dyed or printed.
  • US Flag. 3'x5'. Two eyelets. Little strips of cloth through them to act as ties (?). 48 stars. Sewn out of different colors of fabric for the stripes. The stars are printed or dyed on one piece of cloth. No maker's label.

Everyone who remembered the dying man's box remembered the flags. Canton (Kanton) was divided jointly ruled by the U.S. and Great Britain. The Americans were there for the Pan Am station and the British were colonial officers. As the newspaper articles explained (see below--16/8/40), Fleming would raise the British flag for cocktail hour except on special occasions when he would raise and toast the American flag instead.

Negatives and slides

  • 1 roll of color film. 25 x 19mm exposures on 35mm film. Woman in garden, boats, etc. No identifying band on it.
  • 35mm film. Cermonial pictures. Looks like some kind of group in formation. Government building in Suva? Military barracks? Amphibious jeep. Woman being honored?
  • Leica camera. Film looks ruined. Notes say: 1938 From first loading stores on HMNZ "Wellington" at Suva wharf for Canton and landing Hull Is. Jack Jones, House, and drought-struck trees. Naval party ashore. Canton Island buildings. Self manning Farquhar and ANr??? Outside "office"
  • Leica camera. Canton Is. 1938-41. Fairy Tern. Unloading stores for US party. Calley gets haircut. Jimmy Kamakaiwi on wharf. Ah Leong radio op Dept of Interior USA. Shots of British government station. Some of gear inside. Two of Bunna. Langdale and helper put pont in water to go across east end of island. 1938
  • Half frame film: groups of women.
  • Slip: "To Users of 'Half Frame' 35mm Cameras" ...

Jeff Glickman and Photek have scanned the negatives and made the images available on Photek's secondary website.

Dated Materials

  • July 10, 1916: Appointed Second Lieutenant, Special Reserve of Officers, Royal Flying Corps Military Wing.
  • 22/11/16 Graduation Certificate--Royal Flying Corps. Qualified for service.
  • 1/11/18 Temporary appointment as Lieutenant in Royal Air Force, from 1 April 1918.
  • Nov. 33 Souvenir card carried by Air-Australia to New Zealand. Faith in Australia (VH-UXX????) Seems to be signed.
  • October 1934 Two-shilling passport stamp.
  • 17/11/37 Photo of 10 men with the cornerstone of a lighthouse on Howland Island. "Sirs: This photograph shows the group present at the laying of the cornerstone of a lighthouse dedicated to the memory of Amelia Earhart on lonely Howland Island. The stone was laid by Dr. Ernest H. Gruening (fourth from right), director of the Division of Territories and Insular Possessions, Department of the Interior, on Nov. 17, 1937, when the Coast Guard Cutter Roger B. Taney visited the island. It was Howland Island that Amelia Earhart was heading for when she was forced down on her round-the-world-flight early last sumjmer. The lighthouse dedicated to this gallant flier will be a 20-foot structure to be completed sometime in January. The photograph was taken by H.H. Warner of the University of Hawaii and shows the blueprints of the lighthouse above the stone. John Warner. Honolulu, T.H."
  • In pen: R.B. Black, Esq. Capt. Coffin of Taney. Dr. Gruening. Black is "head man" in the Pacific Islands Occupation Scheme [The author probably meant the Phoenix Islands Settlement Scheme]. He was with Byrd in Antarctic.
  • 6 Photocopies of first day covers addressed to Mrs. FI FLeming, Canton Island
  • 7/12/38 Sir Harry Luke commissioned Fleming as a Deputy Commissioner for the Western Pacific with jurisdiction within the district of the Phoenix Islands in the Gilbert and Ellice Islands Colony.
  • Pages of a visitor's book for Canton Island, 1938--
  • Three first-day covers. 1938-1941.
  • 16/8/40 "Clipper Held Up by Slight Accident": "Canton has a British administrative officer, Mr. F.I. Fleming, who lives with his wife in a bungalow built of packing-cases. This is comfortable and home-like and on our way north we drank tea under a lonely Union Jack a quarter of a mile from a lot of Stars and Stripes."
  • 17/8/40 Newspaper article: "Clippers Direct to Australia." Talks about how Fleming would raise the Union Jack daily on Canton.
  • Undated manuscripts for five poems by Noel Coward (apparently in Coward's own hand).
  • 12/12/41 List of British subjects evacuated by Fleming from Canton Island after Pearl Harbor.
  • 13/9/45 From Colonial Secretary thanking him for acting as an Assistant Censor during the war years.
  • 19/3/45 10 shilling deposit to Carnegie Library in Suva, entitling Fleming to borrow from the library
  • 19/12/47 10 shilling deposit to Carnegie Library in Suva, entitling Fleming to borrow from the library
  • Undated (1959?): "Please see notes marked with a cross." Seems to be a reply for a request for a birth certificate.
  • 2/12/59 Certified copy of an entry of birth. 5/9/1888. Frances Ivor Fleming--a girl! Occupation of father: engine driver.
  • 26/1/68 From his sister: Lucy is dead. "I want to make the rest of your life happy. ... I know you have seen me but I don't have any knowledge of seeing you."
  • 29/1/68 From John G. Heffernan: "Your sister's plan to go out and bring you back is best. ... you have never met and you are both about to tie your future happiness in the same home."
  • 30/1/68 From his sister: "I can hardly believe after all that we'll spend our final years together."
  • 30/1/68 From Bank of New Zealand: 200 pounds sterling to Mrs. Durant. Balance 892.9.9.
  • 31/1/68 From Doc Murphy to "Caretaker Nukulau". Thanks for the booze. Some business "for Lucy's insertion" in the Fiji Times--probably a death notice of some kind.
Nukulau was Suva's holiday island and the place where the Fijians burned down an American shop, which in turn caused the Fijians to seek help from the British against the Americans in the 19th century. Regrettably to those who remember happier days, it is now a prison island for the rebels who led the most recent coup attempt.
  • 7.3.68 Notice of rate increase for radio telegrams to all ships.
  • 14/2/68 Letter from his sister. Says he should talk about Lucy and not bottle everything up.
  • 20/2/68 Letter from his sister: just got the bad news about the spots on his lungs. Upset.
  • 20/2/68 From sister: "I wonder whether you are now in Suva. I expect you'll be sad to leave your island after all these years. ... You may be sorry you did me out of a trip to Fiji."
  • 21/2/68 O.H.M.S. Crayon: "Rough inventory & key of quarters Nukulau." 1 sheet inside. Two columns of household goods.
  • 26/2/68 Letter from Fleming's sister inviting him home. Spots on his lungs. (He had TB, according to Bob Nairne.)
  • 26/2/68 Receipt for reply cable to his sister.
  • 26/2/68 Derrick Technical Institute thanks him for offer to donate radio equipment and hopes to follow up on the offer.
  • 27/2/68 From his sister about their house.
  • 28/2/68 Reservations for FI FLeming to travel to San Francisco and London, 28-30 May. Note attached from T. F. (Tom) French: "Frank, I send you this letter from Hunts so that you can keep it by you as a guide to your future movements. As I said the dates can be varied to suit you. I sent a letter to your old mate Noel C. and hope it reached him. See you soon." In red ink--Murphy's hand: "This is Noel Coward the well known playwright."
  • 6.3.68 From his sister: "So you are in hospital which I hope will do you good."
  • 19.3.68 Letter from his sister. "I'm glad Noel came to see you. It must have been nice to talk to him. Did it make a stir in the hospital?!!"
  • 19/3/68 Letter from his sister trying to calculate finances for living together.
  • Undated note--looks like a draft for a letter: "such short notice ... sick in hospital ... larger notice necessary turn assets cash ... Cannot work financial deals from sickbed. You decide about house. Cannot obtain cash while handicapped and weak in hospital."
  • 19/3/68 From Margaret E. Lucas: Parcel rec'd, no charge.
  • 19/3/68 From his sister: "End of May--or before--should be OK." Take your doctor's advice.

1968 diary

Jan 1:

Noel Coward
Les Avants
Sur Montreux

Jan 9: Denis agrees my idea of going U.K.

Jan 10: John Herrernan BOAC.

Jan 24: Burnt all diaries Canton onwards.

Feb 13: X-ray XXXX

Feb 14: Wrote sad news cancellation trip to Brambles advising my state of health.

Feb 28: Learn that Noel is in Suva for a fortnight. Phoned TF to contact Noel and tell him about me.

Feb 29: Visit from Noel at 3:30 PM with books and fruit. Long talk.

Mar 20: Sent cable explaining unable to transact financial deals from hospital bed

Mar 27: last entry--"Hair cut."

Undated letter in red ink from Murphy to Rupert Neelands, Christie's Auctioneers, in London. The two flags belonged to Fleming during his time on Canton. He flew the American flag on special occasions.) The real jewel in the box is the unpublished poetry of Noel Coward, a good friend of Fleming's--came to see him before he died in 1968.)

2/4/92 Christie's says the property is not of sufficient value to include in one of their sales.

The Poems

This is a transcription of the poems that Noel Coward wrote out for Fleming when they were on Canton Island. They have all been published in Coward's collected works.

Sonnet to a Hermit Crab

These lines are written to a Hermit Crab,
A singular amphibian recluse!
Your predatoriness has this excuse
That nature fashioned you to smash and grab;
To be content with neither stone nor slab
But to appropriate for your own use
The homes of others. What perverse, obtuse
Unkindly God designed a life so drab?
You have strong forward claws; a heart of steel
But when your stolen shell becomes too tight
On you must go, a larger one to find.
How sad to think that your Achilles heel
Lies in your mortifying, brownish-white,
Too vulnerable and too soft behind!

Noel Coward
Canton Island 1941

Onward Christian Soldiers

Now we have it on impeccable authority
(Without a trace of irony or mirth)
That when the Day of Judgement come, the meek will take priority
And set about inheriting the earth.

For so far as I'm concerned
They can have it if they've earned
So dubious and thankless a reward.
For if all their moral sanctity and smug superiority
Can seriously gratify the Lord,
Let 'em have it--let 'em keep it
Let 'em plough it--let 'em reap it
Let 'em clean it up and polish it and garnish and sweep it
Let 'em face up to its puzzling complexities
And, to their gentle diffident dismay,
Discover what a crucible of hate and crime and sex it is.
And start re-organizing right away.
But when they begin to fail
It will be of small avail
For them to turn the other silly cheek
For the Lord will smile remotely on their worries and perplexities
And serve them damn well right for being meek.

Noel Coward,
Canton Island 1941

Open Letter to a Mayor

Dear Mr. Mayor, I feel myself impelled
By some strong impulse that will not be quelled
To ask you, just for once, to put aside
Your urban dignity, your civic pride
And answer me a question fair and square.
Now, Man to Man, or rather man to Mayor:
What evil circumstances; what witches' fire;
What aberration; what obscure desire;
What hidden complex in your early life
Caused you to choose quite such a horrid wife?
Were you ensnared? If so, with what? And how?
To what bleak magic did your spirit bow?
How could she, even in her younger years
Ever have _not_ bored everyone to tears?
How e'en when dandled on her mother's arm
Could she have shown the slightest sign of charm?
Could I but see in this her present mould
Some remnant of a beauty since grown old,
Could I imagine, in some vanished spring
This squat, unlissom figure gambolling,
Could I, for just one instant, find a trace
of erst-while kindness in that metal face
Then Mr Mayor I would have held my peace,
But as it is I find I cannot cease
To ponder, wonder, query, question, why?
(Considering the adequate supply
Of women amiable, of women kind
Of women clever, flexible of mind,
Of women glamorous, of women smart
Of women sensuous and warm of heart)
Why why why why dear Mayor did you select
A woman so determined to reject
All canvas of politeness, every grace,
A woman so determined to efface
From social life all pleasantness and tact,
A woman so unfitted to enact
A role quite obviously not designed
To suit a paltry soul, a meagre mind?
A role in fact of graciousness and charm
Of kindliness to strangers and of calm
Untroubled manners. Now Mr. Mayor I hate
So unequivocally to have to state
That she to whom you gave your honoured name,
With whom you proudly from the altar came
With whom you cheerfully agreed to share
The arduous travail of being Mayor,
This creature whose exaggerated sense
Of her importance, whose grotesque immense
Conviction that she's witty, worldly-wise
Unfailingly attractive in men's eyes,
Outspoken, frank, unmatched in repartee,
Bewilders me. What can the basis be
For these delusions? Is she stricken blind
Before her mirror? Has God been too kind
And cunningly contrived her inner ear
So that each time she speaks she cannot hear
The cliches and the antiquated quips
That fall with such assurance from her lips?
Oh, Mr. Mayer, forgive me if you can
Reply to me quite frankly, Mayor to man,
Why did you marry her? What bitter fate
Led you towards so sinister a mage?
What Syren's call; what shrill malignant voice
Lured you to such a miserable choice?
What devil's angel with dark wings outspread
Persuaded you to share your civic bed
With such a dull, unprepossessing, rude,
Unequalled Queen of social turpitude?
Why did you do it and thus let her loose
Upon the city? What was your excuse?
Answer me please, pray set my mind at ease
What did you do it for? Please tell me--please
With curiosity my mind's devoured
I am yours most sincerely, Noel Coward.

Canton Island 1941

Canton Island

Accept this testimonial from one
Who's travelled far, who's travelled fairly wide.
Who's sought for many an island in the Sun
And breasted many a changing tropic tide.
Who, in the varied course of his career,
Has journeyed North and South and West and East
Sharing with pleasure, not unmixed with fear,
The diverse habitats of man and beast.
This testimonial need not be scorned
Folly dismissed or casually ignored
Especially as he who writes was warned
That here on Canton Island he'd be bored.
Bored! On this self sufficient coral reef
Bored with this fascinating personnel?
Bored with this luxury beyond belief
Of this irrelevant and strange hotel?
Where every meal provides a different thrill
Of gay anticipation; where each dish,
No matter how it is listed on the bill
Tastes doggedly of oranges or fish.
Where modern science has so deftly brought
Refrigeration to the finest art
That even a red snapper freshly caught
Smells unmistakeably of apple tart.
Where all the bedrooms are equipped with showers
With, written on the faucets, Cold and Hot.
So that the passengers can pass the hours
Endeavoring to find out which is what.
Where, when you find your bed has not been made
Little avails your anger or your sorrow
Swiftly you learn to let emotion fade
Then ring the bell and _wait_ for a Chamorro
(Chammorros! Children of the Southern Seas
Natives of Guam, incapable of crime,
Uncertain, coy, but striving hard to please.
So vague, so blissfully unaware of time
How have they guessed, these innocents abroad
That service in a Democratic state
Has, in its nonchalance, its own reward.
They also serve who only ring and wait).
Who could be bored when each new day brings forth
Some psychological or comic twist.
Rain from the West; a cyclone from the North;
A new bug for the Entomologist;
A clipper zooming down out of the night,
Disgorging passengers of different sorts:
Elderly bankers blinking at the light,
Ladies in strained, abbreviated shorts
Fat men and thin men, quiet men and loud,
Out of the sky them come to rest below.
Then when they've fed and slept, unshaven, cowed
At crack of dawn into the sky they go.
What sort of man is he who on this dot,
This speck in the Pacific; this remote
Arena full of plot and counterplot,
Could not be interested, could fail to note
The vital dramas, comedies, burlesques,
The loves, the hates, the ceaseless interplay;
The posturings, the human arabesques
Performed interminably day by day?
Who if he's human would not almost swoon
With pleasure as he dives from off the dock
Into the limpid depths of the lagoon
And meets an eel advancing round a rock?
Where is the witless fool who could deny
The fun of swimming gently in the dark
And finding later that which bruised his thigh
Was just a sting ray or a six-foot shark?
The man who could be bored in this strange place
The man unable to appreciate
The anguished look on everybody's face
When told the North-bound _isn't_ late.
The man too unreceptive and too slow
To be responsive to the vibrant beat,
The pulse, the Life-force, throbbing full below
The surface of this coral bound retreat.
Dear God, that man I would not care to know
Dear God, that man I would not wish to meet.

Noel Coward

Bread and Butter Letter

Canton Island
March 16, 1941

Dear Lordee, Dear Jack, How delightful it's been
To have stayed in this lovely hotel.
The food was delicious. God, what a 'cuisine'!
(The drink was delicious as well.)
The beds were so soft and the weather so fine,
The water so fresh in the showers,
The service indeed was completely divine
I could go on about it for hours.
And as for these wonderful movies we saw
(You didn't because you were busy
Remember you left us just outside the door
complaining you felt a bit dizzy?)
And as for the time when the plane was delayed
What fun we all had with the flight crew.
I'm glad that they only drank iced lemonade
For Clippers can't fly with a tight crew.
I'll always look back on our halcyon days
And a sigh of regret I shall utter
When I think of the many and various ways
You managed to flavour the butter!
Dear Lordee, Dear Jack, when I get to New York
I'll discuss the whole thing with Ward Morehouse
For the Waldorf, in spite of the way people talk
Compared with this place is a whorehouse.
So thank you dear Lordee and thank you dear Jack
With my head and my heart and my soul.
This is but 'Au Revoir' for I'm bound to come back
your affi-'Stop Over'-Noel.