Malcolm Fleming was born in Thames, the second son of Andrew and Eliza Ann Fleming nee Kerr. Andrew was an auctioneer. Malcolm was educated at the Thames High School and then the Thames School of Mines where he passed exams in assaying, mining surveying and chemistry. Upon leaving the School of Mines he began prospecting throughout the Thames districts and worked in various mines gaining practical experience. In 1890 he took over an old mine at Karangahake which was said to have been worked out. He erected a five-head stamp battery on the property and it soon yielded 10 ounces to the ton. He eventually sold this to the New Zealand Exploration Company and took up another gold field in the area on which he discovered some very large reefs. This was also sold on the New Zealand Exploration Company and Malcolm then opened up prospective mines under contract to the owners.
Around 1896 Malcolm Fleming bought the 987 acre Block 17 property at the top of No 4 Road, Te Puke. The property then became known as Fleming's Freehold. On the 6 January 1897 the Bay of Plenty Times reported that “We are pleased to learn that a development company with a working capital of £5000 has been formed to operate on Fleming's Freehold”. The search for gold was to be done by contract and work was to start immediately.
A company was then formed to work the property which was known to have gold deposits on it. The company was known as the Te Puke Gold Reefs Ltd and great excitement was felt in Te Puke and in the wider Tauranga district. The capital needed was £20,000 in 160,000 shares which was to be raised locally and on the London stock exchange. In August 1897 it was reported that:'
Rumour hath it that another rich patch has been found in the drive on Fleming's Freehold, but confirmation is difficult to obtain as no visitors are permitted to enter the workings and the manager will vouchsafe no information'.
By October 1897 it was reported that:
'…the drive on the reef to the north is now about 40ft in length, and that to the south about 100ft. Good ore was met with the whole way'.
Unfortunately the outbreak of war in South Africa in October 1899 put paid to any future development and the Bay of Plenty Times of the 10 January 1900 noted that the Te Puke Gold Reefs Company, which was being financed and underwritten by London banks, received notification that the 'whole matter is rescinded owing to the unsettled outlook in South Africa'. The shareholders plan to form a syndicate to continue with the gold mining but it was not until 1907 that a syndicate led by John Hessey was formed to supervise the re-opening of the gold mine at Fleming's. John Hessey said that:
'If the work warrants it a battery will be erected and extensive development pushed on. At present, prospects are of the brightest and everyone in the Tauranga and Te Puke districts can rest assured that the mine has at last fallen into most capable hands'.
However the property was sold and in September 1909 George Muir and his family took up Flemings Freehold which he purchased from Te Puke Gold Reefs Ltd. George employed an experienced prospector from Waihi, Robert Worth to investigate the property. Worth investigated Fleming's Reef without finding anything of importance but after finding a discovery of payable quartz on the east side of the farm, he started prospecting on a low spur just above and struck a reef 107 feet in. This reef, two feet in width, carried a gold value of £5 per ton. A further 85 feet in, this reef joined another reef, about five feet wide. This was named Muir's Reef. The gold mine started in the 1920s and lasted until 1928. During this time 43,000 ounces of gold was extracted.
In April 1961 work was underway again at Fleming's Reef when bulldozers were used to strip off the top of the reef in preparation for it being worked as a quarry for metal chips. An Auckland contractor, Brian Lyall, had suggested that the blasted quartz (when crushed) would make better metal chips than any other rock as quartz is one of the hardest rocks. As the reef is right alongside the road, the question of access did not arise and by October a quarry plant near the corner of No 3 and 4 Roads was in production and more than 300 yards of quartz chips a day were taken to the crusher by a fleet of six trucks. It was noted that if gold was found in economic quantities, the reef could be re-worked. In 2009, there is still talk of the gold reef being reworked.
In May 1897 Malcolm had married Sarah Bertha Maunsell, the daughter of the Rev. George Maunsell and his wife Elizabeth May nee Keatinge, and granddaughter of missionary Rev. Robert Maunsell and his wife Susan Cherry nee Pigott who had come to New Zealand in 1836.
Malcolm and Susan went on to have nine children and the family became members of the Israelite House of David, a religious sect founded in 1903 at Benton Harbour on the shores of Lake Michigan. Pastors from the sect soon made converts from the Northern American continent, Australia, New Zealand, United Kingdom and into Europe and by 1916 the sect had 1000 members. In 1916 Susan Fleming and children Emily, George, Arthur, Robert, Elizabeth, Richard and Bertha arrived in Canada on board the Niagara bound for Michigan. They were followed in July 1920 by Malcolm Fleming, listed as pastor on the passenger list, also of the Niagara. By the US Federal Census of 1930 the family were living at Benton Harbor. Malcolm was a mining engineer and Susan a music teacher. The sect was known for their long hair and their practice of celibacy. In 2009 only seven members of the sect remain, all in their seventies or eighties.
Susan Fleming returned home to New Zealand and died in 1961 in Panmure. She is buried in the Maunsell family plot at Purewa Cemetery. Malcolm died in Hood River, Oregon in 1945.
1. The Cyclopedia of New Zealand: Industrial, Descriptive, Historical, Biographical: Facts, Figures, Illustrations, (Wellington, Cyclopedia Co., 1897-1908) - Auckland Province - Mining. Fogarty, Robert S.
2. The Righteous Remnant - The House of David (Kent State University Press: April 1989).
3. The Bay of Plenty Times
4. The Israelite House of David - A Brief History
5. New Zealand Electronic Text Centre