Chinese New Year in Sydney, 1910

On 5 February 1910, Sydney’s Daily Telegraph newspaper published this series of photographs of Sydney’s Chinese community to mark the upcoming Chinese New Year.

One hundred and six years later I’d like to say, ‘kung-hi far-tsoy’ everyone!


'Kung-hi far-tsoy sun-neen', Daily Telegraph, 5 February 1910, p. 15

‘KUNG-HI FAR-TSOY SUN-NEEN.’

This picture depicts a well-known Chinese merchant in Sydney and his Chinese family, awaiting guests in the reception hall of his residence. The lady, it will be noticed, has the small feet, ‘golden lillies’ as they are known in China. A few years ago no mandarin would dream of marrying a lady who possessed feet more than three or four inches long.

Thursday next will be the first day of the Chinese new year, and that is the occasion for ceremonial visits among Chinese. On the entrance of the visitor there is a general exchange of the season’s greeting: ‘Kung-hi Far-Tsoy Sun-neen.’


 

MAKING NEW YEAR PURCHASES.

The Chinese shops in Sydney are mostly of the general store type. This represents the interior of one of the principal shops in Campbell-street. On the shelves over the proprietor’s head are silks, satins, and other dress goods. Further along are Chinese shoes–with paper soles. On the extreme right are bags containing Chinese rice, while in the inner chamber are all kinds of Chinese groceries, fire-crackers, and even–sausages. The proprietor also sells Chinese josses and fire-crackers with which to frighten away evil spirits–which are said to be very active at this period.


'The ancestral altar in a Chinese house', Daily Telegraph, 5 February 1910, p. 15

THE ANCESTRAL ALTAR IN A CHINESE HOUSE.

It will be noticed that over the altar is a picture of Confucius. On the altar itself are offerings to the gods, in the form of fruit, rice, eggs, etc. On New Year’s Day various genuflexions and kow-tows have to be performed before this altar.


'Poultry for the new year', Daily Telegraph, 5 February 1910, p. 15

POULTRY FOR THE NEW YEAR.

There was great business being done in the ‘cook-shops,’ which are stalls open to the street, on which larded ducks, roast chicken, stewed fowls stuffed with chestnuts are offered for sale. That even a Chinese can appreciate a free advertisement is shown by the expression on the cook’s face.

Building a DIY Trove list exhibition

One of my projects over the summer has been to create a small online exhibition using Trove lists and a nifty online exhibition framework built by Tim Sherratt.

DIY Trove exhibition screenshot

The list feature in Trove allows registered users to create their own collections of items. They’re a handy thing if you’re researching a particular topic and want to organise the material that you’ve found in Trove, or even if you just want to go back to random stuff that you like. You can keep your Trove lists private, or make them public and share what you’ve found with others.

Tim, who until recently was part of the Trove management team, thought that it would be good to take that sharing to another level — so he’s created a framework that lets you use your Trove lists to create an online exhibition. You can read more about Tim’s thoughts on this process on his blog.

I was keen to give it a try, and decided to make a pictorial exhibition about the Chinese in New South Wales to 1940. I started by making nine lists in Trove, which would serve as topics in my exhibition. Gradually I added a selection of pictures, objects and illustrated newspapers articles to each of my lists. I gave each of my lists a short description and arranged the items in chronological order. Because I’ve included newspaper articles, it would be best if I took the time to correct the OCR text for each one, but I’m impatient and wanted to get onto building the exhibition itself.

Tim’s DIY Trove Exhibition is pretty straightforward to use, particularly if you have some experience (even very basic experience) with web publishing or coding. He’s written clear, step-by-step instructions. The process first involves getting yourself a GitHub account and a Trove API key, and then customising his code to make your exhibition. Customising the code might look scary, but if you follow the instructions carefully you should be okay! There are further ways that you can customise the exhibition — for example, I changed the fonts — but you don’t need to do anything more if you don’t want to.

Once you’ve made the exhibition, you can easily add or take away items, or change your list descriptions, or change the order items appear in a list. Simply make the change to your list in Trove and it will appear in your exhibition after refreshing your browser.

Here’s my exhibition:

The Chinese in New South Wales: A history in pictures to 1940

Hope you like it!

Willie Sheen – born at sea, died by drowning

With the long summer holidays upon us again, we’re back at our local pool every day for a couple of weeks of swimming lessons for the kids. I’ve had one reluctant swimmer, who for a good long time refused to get her face or hair wet, and one little fish, whose propensity for holding her breath underwater has been quite unnerving at times. Growing up in Australia, we teach our kids to swim because it’s fun and a good form of exercise. We also teach them to swim to keep them safe.

According to Kim Torney’s Babes in the Bush (Curtin University Books 2005, p. 13), the most frequent cause of accidental death of children in colonial Australia was drowning. One boy to meet this awful fate was William Sheen.

In April 1862, the body of 10-year-old Willie Sheen was found floating in a deep part of the Macquarie River near Bathurst. Dr George Busby, the Bathurst coroner, held an inquest into his death, but there was no suspicion of foul play and the coroner recorded a verdict of ‘found drowned’.

The inquest, as reported in the Bathurst Free Press and Mining Journal, revealed some interesting details about this young boy’s short life.

'In the background is seen part of the town of Bathurst, with the towers of the Protestant and Catholic Churches appearing beyond the plain; nearer, and crossing the bed of the Macquarie River, parties of eager pilgrims may be observed with their dray loads of tools and provisions, entering the town after their long and tedious journey across the mountain ranges.' (State Library of Victoria http://handle.slv.vic.gov.au/10381/136967)
‘In the background is seen part of the town of Bathurst, with the towers of the Protestant and Catholic Churches appearing beyond the plain; nearer, and crossing the bed of the Macquarie River, parties of eager pilgrims may be observed with their dray loads of tools and provisions, entering the town after their long and tedious journey across the mountain ranges.’ (State Library of Victoria http://handle.slv.vic.gov.au/10381/136967)

According to evidence given at the inquest, Willie was the son of a Chinese man and a European woman ‘of the name of Shean’, and he was said to have been born at sea between California and New South Wales (Bathurst Free Press, 5 April 1862, p. 2).

If he was aged 10 in 1862, baby Willie and his parents would have arrived in Sydney in about 1852, some of the earliest ‘American’ arrivals to the NSW goldfields. The NSW gold rushes had began after Edward Hargraves and his assistants discovered the first payable gold near Bathurst in 1851, and Hargraves himself had recently returned from California.

Chinese miners in California (Robert B. Honeyman, Jr. Collection of Early Californian and Western American Pictorial Material, UC Berkeley, Bancroft Library,http://cdn.calisphere.org/data/13030/pj/hb6k4004pj/files/hb6k4004pj-FID3.jpg)
Chinese miners in California (Robert B. Honeyman, Jr. Collection of Early Californian and Western American Pictorial Material, UC Berkeley, Bancroft Library, BANC PIC 1963.002:1399–B)

At the time of his death in 1862 Willie Sheen was living with a cousin of his father’s, a storekeeper, in Howick Street, Bathurst. Their store would have been one of the number of Chinese homes and businesses – stores, boarding houses, gambling shops – located there. By the mid 1870s the area was well-known as a ‘Chinese quarter’ or ‘Chinatown’ (Maitland Mercury and Hunter River General Advertiser , 1 September 1877, p. 7Bathurst Free Press and Mining Journal, 20 April 1886, p. 2).

Juanita Kwok, a PhD candidate at Charles Sturt University, is currently researching the Chinese history of Bathurst, from the 1850s to the 1950s.

Unfortunately Willie Sheen’s death certificate (NSW BDM 2463/1862) provides only a few more details. His father’s name was given as ‘A Chou’, a ‘Chinaman’, and his mother’s name was recorded as ‘Supposed Sheen’, the absence of detail suggesting that her son had probably not seen her for quite some time.

The first NSW Certificate of Domicile, 1902

Five years ago I began an as-yet-uncompleted series of blogposts about the various iterations of the Certificate of Domicile and the Certificate Exempting from the Dictation Test.

In the first post I wrote about the first Certificate of Domicile held in record series NAA: ST84/1, ‘Certificates of Domicile and Certificates of Exemption from Dictation Test, chronological series’. The certificate, no. 1903/1, was issued to a man named Ah Shooey on the last day of 1902.

The reason I didn’t write about the very first Certificate of Domicile issued in New South Wales was because it is held in a different series, NAA: SP11/6. I’ve written a bit about SP11/6 before — it’s an odd collections of Customs files that includes a bound volume with the earliest Certificates of Domicile, and the volume isn’t digitised.

On a more recent visit to the archives in Sydney, I therefore photographed the first certificate, which was issued a month after the Immigration Restriction Act came into force in January 1901. It can be found in NAA: SP11/6, Box 3.


The first NSW Certificate of Domicile was issued to 38-year-old Yau Foon (or Yaw Foon or Yow Foon?) on 3 February 1902 by NSW Collector of Customs Nicholas Lockyer. On the certificate ‘No. 1’ is handwritten in clear red letters at the top.

Yau Foon is described as being 5 foot 5 1/2 inches tall (without boots), of medium build, with dark hair and brown eyes. He had a small scar on the back of his right wrist. There is no space on the certificate for details such as nationality or birthplace.

Two photographs are attached to the front of the certificate, one showing Yau Foon front on, one side on. The photographs clearly show Yau Foon’s queue, wound and pinned to the top of his head. Note that on this earliest version of the Certificate of Domicile there appears to be specific spaces for two photographs.

The certificate is marked in red as being cancelled, which would have happened when Yau Foon returned from his trip to China. Customs officer Bragg has written that Yau Foon arrived on the S.S. Chingtu on 5 May 1904.

SP11/6, Box 3 - Yau Foon's Certificate of Domicile

Launch of ‘The Chungking Legation’ exhibition and book

The Chungking Legation: Australia’s Diplomatic Mission in Wartime China — exhibition on during December 2015 and January 2016 at the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade in Canberra:

Main Foyer
R.G. Casey Building
John McEwen Crescent
Barton ACT 0221 Australia

Chungking Legation books on display at the exhibition
(Photo by Jonathan O’Donnell)

Over 2015 I have been working with the Chinese Museum in Melbourne and the Australian Consulate-General in Chengdu, China, on an exhibition and book titled The Chungking Legation: Australia’s Diplomatic Mission in Wartime China. They tell the story of Australia’s third overseas legation, which operated in Chungking (Chongqing) between 1941 and 1946. The Australian version of the exhibition and the book were launched on 7 December 2015 at the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade in Canberra.

Nancy Gordon (Australian Consul-General in Chengdu), Jean Chen (Chinese Museum), Sophie Couchman (Chinese Museum) and Kate Bagnall
Nancy Gordon (Australian Consul-General in Chengdu), Jean Chen (Chinese Museum), Sophie Couchman (Chinese Museum) and Kate Bagnall at the launch, 7 December 2015 (Photo by Jonathan O’Donnell)

We initially developed the exhibition for display in China and it was launched there in March 2015 by Australia’s Governor-General, Sir Peter Cosgrove. After first being displayed in the Old Australian Legation Building in Chongqing, the exhibition has since been on show at the Chongqing Intercontinental Hotel, the Chongqing Municipal Library and the Three Gorges Museum in Chongqing.

I spoke at the Canberra launch, following speeches by the Secretary of DFAT, Peter Varghese, and the Chinese Ambassador, Ma Zhaoxu. Here’s what I said.


Seventy-five years ago, give or take a few months, the Australian Government announced its decision to appoint a Minister to China. The news was met warmly by the Chinese Consul-General in Melbourne, Dr C.J. Pao, who commented that:

The tie between the youngest and oldest nations of the Pacific was a great contribution to the united democratic front without which human decency and world order could never be achieved.

In due course, Sir Frederic Eggleston embarked for Chungking and his Chinese counterpart, Dr Hsu Mo, arrived to head the new Chinese Legation in Canberra.

The Australian press reported on these events with some interest. Indeed, they were quite fascinated by the Chinese Legation party of 23 who arrived in Australia in September 1941. Ten children and six women were among their number, including three women who were university graduates – intelligent, educated, sophisticated women emblematic of a modern China.

The Australian press was also interested in the practical logistics of setting up a diplomatic mission in a war-torn country occupied by a common enemy. Chungking was cut off from its usual transport routes to the east, the only land route being the notorious and dangerous Burma Road.

Officers in the Department of External Affairs had to consider every possible aspect of Legation work and life as they made arrangements – from finding suitable office space and living quarters to transporting office equipment, personal luggage, provisions and household commodities, even vehicles. These mundane arrangements had to be sorted out before any real diplomatic work could begin. As one newspaper headline plainly stated: ‘Minister to take food with him – must find house in Chinese capital, then furnish it’.

Suitable staff to accompany Sir Frederic was another question. The government decided it would be unfair to ask an ‘Australian girl’ to go to ‘much-bombed Chungking’ as a typist, no matter what salary was offered. ‘It [was] no job for a woman,’ they said.

But as you will see when you look around the exhibition, this line didn’t hold for long and women, both Australian and Chinese, took on roles in the Chungking Legation. In the exhibition we feature Maris King, who was plucked from the departmental typing pool in 1943 and went on to have a notable diplomatic career. Other women we know who worked in the Legation during those early years were Sylvia Westwood, Alison Waller and Rosemarie Hsia. One little girl, Lynne Westwood, age 7, also lived at the Legation, although a later Chancery report, from 1945, noted that ‘Chungking is not a place to bring young children to’.

The exhibition features the stories of the Legation staff, including Charles Lee and Maris King
The exhibition features the stories of the Legation staff, including Charles Lee and Maris King (Photo by Jonathan O’Donnell)

One of the joys in researching this exhibition and book has been glimpsing into the everyday lives of the Legation staff and learning something of the extraordinary conditions under which they worked. The Legation records, held by the National Archives, document the Australians’ diplomatic work at the highest levels – in fostering good relationships with Chinese leaders like Chiang Kai-shek and K.C. Wu, for example. But they also reveal the everyday bread-and-butter work of the Legation – issuing permits for travel to Australia, writing despatches, negotiating trade arrangements, and assisting Australians in distress, including those who had been interned by the Japanese.

The Australians were well-known and liked in Chungking, on good terms with Chinese government officials and other foreign representatives alike. Reading through the archives and listening to the wonderful collection of oral histories held by the National Library, you get a real sense of who the Australians were, and what they brought to the remarkably cosmopolitan life of wartime Chungking. In true Australian style, for example, they referred to their distinguished Minister as ‘The Egg’.

The personalities and personal histories of the Australians in Chungking meant they didn’t always get on with each other (and there were some real clashes), but these same characteristics made the Australians a unique bunch – from Eggleston’s intellect and integrity to Charles Lee’s easy friendships within all ranks of the Chinese government to Maris King’s sense of adventure and lust for life.

Sophie Couchman, Kate Bagnall, Jean Chen and Chinese Ambassador Ma Zhaoxu (Photo by Jonathan O'Donnell)
Sophie Couchman, Kate Bagnall, Jean Chen and Chinese Ambassador Ma Zhaoxu (Photo by Jonathan O’Donnell)

And so, just as the Legation’s work was a team effort, I’d like to finish by thanking the team I’ve worked with in developing the exhibition and book, particularly Nancy Gordon and Brodie Burns-Williamson and the staff in the Australian Consulate in Chengdu, and Jean Chen and Sophie Couchman from the Chinese Museum in Melbourne.

In 1941, on his appointment as Minister to China, Sir Frederic stated that ‘it would be no small task to interpret Chinese culture to Australia and Australian culture to China’. Seven decades later things have changed somewhat, but I trust that the work we’ve done together on the exhibition, and the work we do separately as diplomats, consular staff, curators and historians, continues to strengthen the relationship between Australia and China and continues to build on our sense of mutual understanding.

Sources

1941 ‘AUSTRALIAN MINISTER FOR CHINA.’, Northern Star (Lismore, NSW : 1876 – 1954), 14 May, p. 5, viewed 2 December, 2015, http://nla.gov.au/nla.news-article98600046.
1941 ‘FROM CHUNGKING.’, The Sydney Morning Herald (NSW : 1842 – 1954), 15 September, p. 4, viewed 2 December, 2015, http://nla.gov.au/nla.news-article17741783.
1941 ‘MINISTER TO TAKE FOOD WITH HIM’, Examiner (Launceston, Tas. : 1900 – 1954), 10 July, p. 1. (LATE NEWS EDITION), viewed 02 Dec 2015, http://nla.gov.au/nla.news-article52455150.
1941 ‘TOO DANGEROUS!’, The Mercury (Hobart, Tas. : 1860 – 1954), 10 July, p. 3. , viewed 02 Dec 2015, http://nla.gov.au/nla.news-article25870604.
NAA: A989, 1943/80/4/3.
1941 ‘SIR F. EGGLESTON’, The Canberra Times (ACT : 1926 – 1995), 8 July, p. 2. , viewed 02 Dec 2015, http://nla.gov.au/nla.news-article2593999.

Hometown Heritage Tour survey results

Earlier in the year I conducted a survey of people who had registered their interest in my Chinese Australian Hometown Heritage Tour. I received 40 responses, which is great! Feedback I’ve received so far about the tour is very positive, and I look forward to putting together a tour that hopefully fulfils what most people would like to get out of it.

One of the survey respondents asked why I was interested in running the tour. Over the past 20-odd years I’ve had contact with many Australians who know little or nothing about their Chinese heritage, often because the social stigma of racial mixing in the era of White Australia resulted in deliberate ‘forgetting’ and hiding of non-European heritage. Others know more, but have never been to China before. The time I’ve been lucky enough to spend in Guangdong has helped me to better understand the historical lives of those who migrated to Australia, the culture and landscape they came from, and the social worlds they inhabited. I’m hoping that the tour will provide others with the same sort of experience and understanding. I also love to travel, and especially love travelling in the weird and wonderful world of south China!

I’m very aware that the itinerary I’m planning, which includes Zhongshan and the Sze Yup counties of Xinhui, Kaiping and Taishan, leaves out some major hometown districts such as Dongguan and Zengcheng in Guangdong and Xiamen (Amoy) in Fujian province. The tour destinations reflect the areas in which I’ve spent most time and where I have contacts. The first tour in March 2016 will be a bit of an experiment, and if things go well I hope to offer more tours in the future (if the demand exists!).

Here’s a summary of the results of the survey. I’ll be working with this in mind as I put together a firm itinerary and program of activities in the next few months.

You can still subscribe for updates about the tour.

What is the main reason for your interest in the tour?
Seventy-five per cent of respondents were descended from a Chinese migrant to Australia or New Zealand, with a further 15 per cent related to someone descended from a Chinese migrant to Australia or New Zealand.

Have you been to mainland China before?
Respondents were divided into three main groups: 45 per cent had lived or travelled in mainland China, 30 per cent had never been to mainland China or Hong Kong, and 25 per cent had been to Hong Kong but not to the mainland.

The tour is currently planned for March 2016, with a possible second tour in November 2016. Which date would suit you best?
Either or both dates suited all respondents. One respondent requested that the tour take place during school holidays, but due to the differences in Australian school holiday dates between the states this may not be possible.

The tour is planned to last 10 days, starting and finishing in Hong Kong. Transfers (ferry, private minibus), accommodation and most meals would be included, as well as entry to sites, talks and workshops. How much would you expect to pay?
Almost 40 per cent respondents felt that between $2000 and $2500 would be the expected cost for the tour, including land transfers, accommodation, most meals, site entry, talks and workshops. Almost equal numbers said they would be prepared to pay up to $3000 or over $3000.

How do you feel about the quality and price of the tour?
Nearly 80 per cent of respondents stated that they would prefer ‘comfortable accommodation, meals and transport at a reasonable cost’, with almost 20 per cent stating that they would prefer basic standards to keep costs as low as possible.

How do you feel about meals and eating on the tour?
Most respondents said that they would like to try local foods and specialities, including eating at street stalls or markets. A smaller number said that they would like to eat local foods, but only in restaurants that met Australian standards. One indicated that they had dietary restrictions.

Would you join the tour by yourself or as part of a group?
Most respondents indicated that they would travel as part of a couple, with friends or family (over 60 per cent). Almost 40 per cent said that they would be travelling alone. I will give the option of sharing accommodation with someone of the same gender, or of paying a single supplement.

What is your level of interest in possible tour destinations and activities?
The most popular activity suggestions were:

  • visiting ancestral villages of early Chinese who migrated to Australia (100 per cent of respondents said ‘definite yes’ or ‘sounds good’)
  • visiting World Heritage-listed diaolou in Kaiping (85 per cent of respondents said ‘definite yes’ or ‘sounds good’)
  • visiting other heritage sites with connections to overseas migration (95 per cent of respondents said ‘definite yes’ or ‘sounds good’)
  • visiting overseas Chinese history museums (over 90 per cent of respondents said ‘definite yes’ or ‘sounds good’)
  • hearing expert talks on overseas Chinese history and heritage (over 95 per cent of respondents said ‘definite yes’ or ‘sounds good’)
  • eating local foods, such as dim sum and cakes (over 95 per cent of respondents said ‘definite yes’ or ‘sounds good’)
  • doing independent activities, such as free time to explore a town or city by yourself (over 80 per cent of respondents said ‘definitely yes’ or ‘ sounds good’)
  • taking evening shopping walks (80 per cent said ‘definitely yes’ or ‘sounds good’).

Other activities were a bit less popular (with between 70 and 80 per cent of respondents who said ‘definitely yes’ or ‘sounds good’): visiting general history museums, introduction to Cantonese language, village cooking classes and village cultural performances.

The least popular activity suggestion was cycling through the countryside between heritage sites (60 per cent of respondents said ‘take it or leave it’ or ‘not interested at all’).

Is there a particular ancestral village or county in Guangdong you would like to visit?
Thirty per cent of respondents said they had a particular village or town they wanted to visit, while nearly 40 per cent said they knew of the county they wanted to visit but not a particular village. The places respondents listed included: Shekki (Zhongshan), Zhuhai, Hoiping (Kaiping), Sunwui (Xinhui), Taishan, Jiangmen, and Amoy. Over 30 per cent didn’t have a particular place they wanted to visit.

Book launch for ‘Chinese Australians’, Melbourne, 24 April 2015

Cover of 'Chinese Australians'Everyone is warmly invited to the launch of Chinese Australians: Politics, Engagement and Resistance, edited by Sophie Couchman and me.

Bringing together contributions from eleven key scholars in Chinese Australian history, the book explores how Chinese Australians have influenced the communities in which they lived on a civic or individual level. Focusing on the motivations and aspirations of their subjects, the authors draw on biography, world history, case law, newspapers and immigration case files to investigate the political worlds of Chinese Australians in the nineteenth and early twentieth centuries.

The book will be launched by Ms Nancy Gordon, Australian Consul-General in Chengdu, China.

Coincidentally held the day before Anzac Day, the launch is also a great opportunity to see the Chinese Museum’s exhibition Chinese Anzacs: Chinese Australians and World War One.

When: Friday, 24 April 2015 at 11.00am
Where: Chinese Museum, 22 Cohen Place, Melbourne (behind Her Majesty’s Theatre)
RSVP: 22 April 2015 to curator@chinesemuseum.com.au or 03 9662 2888

Books will be available for purchase on the day at a discounted rate. For more information about the book, see www.brill.com/products/book/chinese-australians.

Sophie and I look forward to seeing you there.

Foreign wives and second marriages: a Chinese perspective

While in Hong Kong I’ve been reading, and really enjoying, Huifeng Shen’s book China’s Left-Behind Wives (NUS Press, Singapore, 2012). The book tells the story of women who stayed in China while their husbands migrated from Fujian province to Southeast Asia between the 1930s and 1950s.

Shen interviewed a number of these left-behind wives, all in their 80s or older, and their oral history testimonies provide a poignant insight into some of the most intimate aspects of their lives — the sorts of things that I struggle to uncover in my own research. Although the women in Shen’s book are from Fujian not Guangdong, and their husbands migrated to Southeast Asia not Australia, her work rings very true with what I know of the lives of wives of Chinese men in Australia. One of the most fascinating things for me, who approaches the subject from an Australian perspective, is seeing the Chinese side of story, particularly where it comes to the question of first and second marriages.

My research has uncovered the unhappiness that many Australian wives felt on discovering that their Chinese husbands had wives, and sometimes children, in China, and the difficulties Australian wives faced when they travelled to China with their husbands. Shen’s research shows that overseas marriages and overseas families created unhappiness, and hardships, for Chinese wives too. Shen notes that — as the result of often long-term separation from their husbands and feelings of fear, jealousy, hurt and betrayal — ‘many fankeshen [left-behind wives] hated the second wives of their husbands, especially the fanpo [‘barbarian’ foreign women], even if they never met them’ (Shen 2012, p. 100).

Some years ago, when I was in a ‘Cuban’ village in southwest Taishan, I was told a story about foreign wives. The story went that foreign wives of Chinese men would give their husbands a dose of poison before they made a return visit to China, a poison that could be reversed only if the man returned overseas to his foreign wife for the antidote within a particular time. My informant stated that this was the cause of the death of his uncle, who had been a laundryman in Cuba in the 1920s and was known to have had a Cuban wife.

I thought this might have been a local fable until I came across an article in the Tung Wah News from 1899 that told a similar story.

I was very interested then to read in China’s Left-Behind Wives that the emigrant communities of Quanzhou, Fujian, also ‘believed that fanpo sometimes … cast spells or hexes on the male migrants who married them’ (Shen 2012, p. 101 n. 58). Furthermore:

Wives who visited their husbands overseas were very careful when they met an overseas wife, believing that the woman might cast spells that would make them sick or insane, or cause them to die. Wives were particularly wary of food and drink provided by an overseas wife, suspecting something harmful might have been added. Hong Q [a left-behind wife interviewed by Shen] said she experienced stomach pain after eating with her husband when she visited him in the Philippines. She did not eat any food prepared by the overseas wife, but she believed that the woman put a spell on her by touching her hand three times (Shen 2012, pp. 100-101).

I came across China’s Left-Behind Wives by accident in the bookshop here in Tsim Sha Tsui, but I’d suggest you seek it out a bit more proactively. As Shen notes in her conclusion, ‘the story of the left-behind wives is not merely an appendix to male migration history but a subject worthy of study in its own right, and an integral part of the history of women, the history of migration, and the history of China’ (Shen 2012, p. 216). Here, here.

An Australian shovel in Shiquli, Xinhui — research trip update IV

The village of Shiquli in Luokeng, Xinhui (新會區羅坑鎮和平村石渠里) sits at the heart of one of my ongoing research projects. Victorian-born James Minahan (1876-?) spent more than twenty-five years in Shiquli, from the age of about five to thirty-one, when he returned to Australia. Arrested as a prohibited immigrant after failing the Dictation Test on his arrival in early 1908, his case proceeded to the High Court (Potter v. Minahan 1908) and he was eventually granted permission to stay in Australia. Whether he did or not I still don’t know, even after exhausting every lead I have found in the archives in Australia and now visiting Shiquli for a third time.

A two-storey white building with front balconies and a pointed roof
Shiquli’s ancestral hall and primary school, built in 1935, is in great need of repair
A group of people standing in front of old grey-brick houses
Australian huaqiao houses in Shiquli

While I might not yet have uncovered James Minahan’s fate, I have discovered that the tiny village of Shiquli sent dozens of men to Australia from the 1860s into the twentieth century. The earliest were gold-miners, with some becoming storekeepers, but many in later years were simply gardeners. While I was in Shiquli last Saturday, we found a poignant piece of material heritage that reflects this history.

An old grey-brick house
The house of Chen Zhidian, built around 1948 when he returned to Shiquli from Australia
Two small brick buildings, one with bright blue doors
The shed (with blue doors) adjacent to Chen Zhidian’s house where we uncovered a treasure

Stashed away in a shed next to one of the few huaqiao houses in the village — the house of Chen Zhidian 陳稙典 (pronounced Tsun Zek Din in Xinhui dialect), built on his return to the village in 1948 (22°27’08.14″N 112°55’47.93″E) — was an old shovel that was said to have been brought back from Australia many years before. Once the dirt and a bit of the rust was cleaned off, I could just make out the words SAVAGE and SYDNEY underneath an insignia of a six-pointed star in a circle. Bingo!

Men standing around looking at an old shovel
Look! A shovel from Australia!
Close-up of the rusty handle of the old shovel
But can we read what is says on the handle?
A man crouched over cleaning a shovel with a rag
Let’s give it a bit of a clean and see…
Detailed close-up of a rusty shovel handle
Aha! A star and the words SAVAGE and SYDNEY

The shovel has now been acquired by the fine gentlemen of the Kong Chew Chan Clan Culture Research Association (岡州陳氏文化研究會), with whom I was visiting the village, who plan to treasure it appropriately. I promised to find out what I could about the shovel’s origins, so this post is a brief outline of what I’ve been able to find out online from China (honestly, what would we do without Trove?).

IMG_5961
Longman Chen, Director of the Xinhui Foreign and Overseas Chinese Affairs Bureau, and Chen Ruihuai, head of Shiquli village, with the shovel
Five men and one woman in front of a large rock with the Chinese characters for Shiquli etched into it
Me with members of the Kong Chew Chan Clan Culture Research Association at the entrance to Shiquli

W. Savage & Co., the manufacturers of the shovel, were originally based in Newcastle, New South Wales. In 1926, a notice was published in Sydney’s Daily Commercial News that a new company, W. Savage & Co., had been registered to acquire the business of W. Savage & Co. at Newcastle. The company were wholesale and retail storekeepers, general merchants, ironmongers and engineers (Daily Commercial News, 12 January 1926). In the late 1920s the company was the Newcastle agent for a range of building and hardware products and machinery, including:

W. Savage & Co.’s involvement in shovel manufacturing began in mid-1928 when they set up a new factory at their premises in Parry Street, Cook’s Hill, Newcastle (Newcastle Sun, 2 July 1928).

A Mr Gaythwaite, ‘an experienced shovel-maker from Cumberland, England’ had, a number of years earlier, come up with a new design for a shovel which he patented under the name ‘Gaylac’. The shovel had corrugations on either side of the handle that were said to strengthen the shovel across the back of the blade and counteract leverage stress. Gaythwaite began manufacturing the shovels in partnership with a Mr Black in around 1926, just in their spare time, and distributing them in the Cessnock and Kurri Kurri districts in the Hunter Valley.

The shovels proved very popular and so Gaythwaite and Black went into partnership with W. Savage & Co. By 1929 ‘Gaylac-Star’ shovels featured prominently in W. Savage & Co.’s advertising (Newcastle Sun, 5 August 1929).

Black and white advertisement from a newspaper
Advertisement for W. Savage & Co., Newcastle Sun, 5 August 1929

The shovels were made in Australia from entirely Australian materials — the billets were made by BHP and rolled by Lysaght’s into sheets from which the shovels were cut. They were then pressed into shape with a machine, tempered in an oil bath, and set and balanced by hand.

By the end of 1931, W. Savage & Co. was based in Sydney. In December that year they were in court arguing over the rent they could charge for the commercial premises they still owned in Parry Street, Newcastle (Newcastle Morning Herald, 23 December 1931). These premises had been for sale in mid-1930 and it seems likely that this was when W. Savage & Co. relocated to Sydney. The business was one of several in Parry Street that were broken into in August 1929 (Newcastle Sun, 24 August 1929), at which time a safe in the W. Savage & Co. offices was blown open and cash and a cheque were stolen.

W. Savage & Co.’s move to Sydney came around the time of the Great Depression (1929-1932), and it seems that it was after the difficult times of the depression that things took off. There aren’t any advertisements or articles about the company in the newspapers between 1929 and 1932.

In 1932 council granted permission for W. Savage & Co. to erect a new brick factory to manufacture shovels in George Street, Erskineville (Sydney Morning Herald, 6 December 1932).

In 1934 and 1935, Savage & Co. appeared before the Industrial Commission in a dispute over wages for two ironmongers they employed to manufacture shovels using a ‘specialised process’ (Sydney Morning Herald27 September 192426 February 1935, 27 February 1935).

By the mid-1930s, the shovels were no longer being advertised as ‘Gaylac-Star’ shovels, but simply as ‘Star’ shovels, part of an expanding range of ‘Star’ products that included forks, scoops and spades. Their high quality was said to come from ‘years of experience in the heat treatment of the best quality Steels — the usage of first grade Handles — and the employment of highly skilled artisans’ (Newcastle Morning Herald, 12 October 1935).

Black and white advertisement with pictures of two shovels
Advertisement for Star shovels, Newcastle Morning Herald, 12 October 1935

In 1940 a fire broke out in the George Street factory caused by a burst oil pipe leading to the furnace. Twelve employees escaped from the fire, but overhead pulleys and other machinery were damaged (Sydney Morning Herald, 18 October 1940).

Export manifests show that W. Savage & Co. were exporting their shovels in the 1930s and 1940s to places as diverse as Papeete, Calcutta and Suva (Daily Commercial News, 25 January 193612 June 1946, 30 December 1948).

Advertisements from newspapers around Australia show that Star shovels were sold in Western Australia, Tasmania, Victoria, New South Wales, Queensland and the Northern Territory from the early 1930s to the early 1950s (Western Mail, 16 November 1939Mercury, 3 September 1942; Argus, 2 August 1932Northern Star, 20 August 1951; Central Queensland Herald, 1 September 1938Queensland Times, 11 April 1953; Northern Standard, 15 April 1938).

Black and white advertisement for tools with seven pictures of shovels and forks
Advertisement for Star tools, Central Queensland Herald, 12 January 1939

The National Museum of Australia in Canberra has a Star shovel in its collection. It is part of the Claude Dunshea collection (who seems to have been a miner, judging from other items of his in the museum’s collection). The museum’s shovel has a very short handle, while the one in Shiquli has a long handle as shown in the 1930s advertisements.

Ham Hop and the Poons of Yueshan — research trip update III

For the first ten years of her married life, Ham Hop lived the life of a gum saan po (金山婆 jinshanpo), a Gold Mountain wife. Soon after they had married in Hong Kong in 1900, Ham Hop’s husband returned to Australia where he was a produce merchant in Victoria. Exactly where and how Ham Hop spent the years between 1900 and 1910 is not clear, but in June 1910 her husband returned with permission to bring her to live with him in Australia for six months.

The Poon Gooey family, 1913
Ham Hop, her husband Poon Gooey and their two daughters just before the left Australia, 1913 (National Archives of Australia: A1, 1913/9139)

When they arrived in Melbourne in November 1910, Ham Hop was already about two months pregnant and so with the birth of her daughter falling at around the time she was meant to leave Australia, permission was granted for her to remain further, but just temporarily. Over the next two years, her exemption certificate was extended a total of five times (including because of a second pregnancy and the birth of another daughter), until she finally left Australia for good in May 1913.

Ham Hop’s case is one of the most-cited examples of the injustice and unfairness of the White Australia Policy in the early decades of the twentieth century — except mostly Ham Hop’s name doesn’t appear in such discussions. If she is referred to directly, it’s mostly as Mrs Poon Gooey or Poon Gooey’s wife, and her story is known as the Poon Gooey case. Yet this case is framed around some of the most personal and intimate of moments in a woman’s life — her betrothal and marriage, her reunion with her migrant husband, her pregnancies, the births of her daughters, her post-natal health, breastfeeding and the health of her newborn daughters. In the article I’m writing about the case I want to make her the centre of the story, not her husband, not the bureaucrats, not the law, not public opinion.

Records in Australia tell us only so much about the lives of Chinese who lived in Australia. In the case of Ham Hop, they tell us quite a lot about the three years that she was in Victoria, but what of the years before, when as a young woman she lived far apart from her husband, and of the years after. Snippets about Poon Gooey in Australian newspapers suggest that the family did go back to the village for a time at least, even though he seems to have been working in Shanghai in the mid-1920s. Ever-hopeful of research miracles, I decided to see what, if anything, I could find out in China. And so here I am.

Regular readers will know that I’ve been thinking about Ham Hop and Poon Gooey for quite some time now. Having first identified a name that I’m satisfied to call her, other than Mrs Poon Gooey, and establishing that her husband was from Kaiping, the next thing was to identify his home village.

Why his, I hear you ask, and not hers? Because it will be near impossible to identify where Ham Hop was from and even if I did, the likelihood of anyone there knowing anything about a woman who married out of their village more than a century ago is less than zero. In Australian records she is Ham Hop or Ham See or Hop Poon Gooey or Hope Poon Gooey. My best guess is that she was from Kaiping or maybe Taishan or Heshan, that her surname was Tan (譚) and her given name He (合), pronounced hup in Kaiping dialect.

There was more to go on to identify Poon Gooey’s origins — a passenger list that listed Poon Gooey’s origins as ‘Hoiping’, other Poons in Victoria from Kaiping, and student passports of Poon boys (held in the National Archives) that named the villages they came from — and using the various village databases I narrowed it down to a few particular villages. The villages are in Kaiping city, Yueshan town, Qiaotou village (開平市月山鎮橋頭村). I thought possibly, just possibly, someone in one of them might know something about what happened to Poon Gooey and his family after they returned to China one hundred and two years ago.

Jiayiyuan farm and guesthouse, Kaiping

In Kaiping I’m staying at an organic farm, Jiayiyuan (嘉頤圓), and Selia Tan and her husband joined me here for breakfast (congee, roasted sweet potatoes, corn on the cob, choy sum, a type of steamed cake called faat tay and fresh hot soy milk) before we set out for the villages. It was a good thing breakfast was so sustaining because it was afternoon tea time before we stopped for a break.

We hadn’t made any contact with the villages before turning up, so after turning off the main road we just drove until we spotted the gate of one of the villages I’d identified from the village databases, Zhongheli (中和里).

Old gate at the entrance to Zhongheli village, Kaiping
Painted decorations on the old village gate, Zhongheli village, Kaiping

Just turning up like this isn’t the most effective use of time if you have a really strict schedule and definitely want to contact relatives or see a particular family home while you’re in a village, but I think it’s more enjoyable to be able to wander at will, at least for a first visit. Getting the officials from the local Overseas Chinese Bureau involved takes away a lot of one’s freedom (my visit yesterday to Shiquli in Xinhui is a delightful but exhausting case in point — more on that in another blog post).

Abandoned houses in Zhongheli village, Kaiping
Altar in an abandoned house in Zhongheli village, Kaiping

Many of the houses in Zhongheli village looked like huaqiao houses, and most of them weren’t being lived in. We spoke to one lady who said that she’d married into the village more than 40 years ago and had never seen anyone return to visit these houses.

Handwritten copy of one branch of the Poon genealogy, Zhongheli village, Kaiping

Another man said that he’d be able to help us see a copy of the Poon genealogy and eventually we ended up in house of a very lovely older lady inspecting the copy of the genealogy her father-in-law had written out by hand many years ago. Unfortunately it was a copy of their direct branch only, and we didn’t find Poon Gooey’s name. From the dates of others listed in the genealogy, Poon Gooey is likely to have been of the 18th or 19th generation.

Winter rice fields with Zhaolongli village in the distance, Kaiping

It turns out that there are eleven little villages (里 li) in the larger village (村 cun) of Qiaotou, all home to people of the surname Poon/Pan (潘). As people returned from overseas, they would find a new bit of land and build a new huaqiao village. Then as those villages became abandoned again when people moved to Hong Kong or went back overseas, more new villages would be built by those people remaining in the area when they needed more housing.

Entrance gate to Zhaolongli village, Kaiping

So, armed with directions for another of the Australian Poon villages I’d identified, we set off again. From the records I’d seen in Australia, I reckoned that this village, Zhaolongli (肇龍里), was most likely to be where Poon Gooey was from (or perhaps where he built a house on returning from Australia in the 1910s). The layout and architecture in the village marks it very clearly as a huaqiao village and from the village entrance we could see a diaolou (碉樓) and the roofs of several yanglou (洋樓) poking out above the roofs of the other houses.

Village residents descended from Australian huaqiao, with Selia Tan, Zhaolongli village, Kaiping

We spoke to three gorgeous old men (with fantastic gold false teeth!) who told us that many, many people from Zhaolongli were Australian, but that their houses now mostly sat empty. In fact, they said, their grandfathers or great-grandfathers had all been in Australia, but they had no idea when they went or where they went to. They also told us that the village’s ancestral hall had been destroyed during the Cultural Revolution, and all that remained was one of the front pillars.

Laneway between houses, Zhaolongli village, Kaiping

The village is set out very neatly, facing onto a pond, with front and back gates (門 men) on either side. The houses are lined up in a grid pattern, with a lane way between each two houses, for light and air and for circulation. Huaqiao villages like this, built in the 1910s, 1920s and 1930s, were usually built in a very orderly pattern, with a building code that regulated the size of the houses and their layout.

Abandoned yanglou in Zhaolongli village, Kaiping — note the tree growing out of the front wall
The largest of the yanglou in Zhaolongli village, Kaiping — it is two separate houses within the same building
Diaolou in Zhaolongli village, Kaiping

At the very back of Zhaolongli, backing onto the hill, are four yanglou. While most of the other houses are single storey, the yanglou are much taller — three or four storeys. The yanglou are all abandoned and already fallen into disrepair, but once they would have been truly beautiful. And sitting high on the hill, the view from the upper floors and roof would have been lovely. One of the houses is in particularly bad repair, as trees (figs, maybe) are growing in the walls and the roots are creating large cracks separating the front wall from the side walls. The Zhaolongli diaolou sits outside the back gate of the village. Its door was firmly shut so we didn’t go in.

The front row of houses in Nanjiangli village, Kaiping
River at the front of Nanjiangli village, Kaiping

The third village I had identified was Nanjiangli (南江里), which is situated right next to Zhaolongli, although the road into the village comes in from a different direction. Nanjiangli, as the name suggests, is on the banks of a small and rather pretty river. It is smaller than Zhaolongli, but laid out on a similar grid pattern (although there is a lane way between each house, not every two houses as in Zhaolongli). Many of the houses in Nanjiangli, those towards the back of the village, have two storeys. At the back of the village is one smallish yanglou (three storeys).

Stone marking the back of Nanjiangli village, Kaiping — such stones were used as shrines to ask for protection of the village’s women and children, something that was particularly necessary in huaqiao villages

Few of the houses in Nanjiangli are lived in — we counted about half a dozen — but there were some people around, including two elderly men cutting bamboo for firewood. They each had a radio, one playing Cantonese opera and the other playing a story. They didn’t know of any particular connection the village had to Australia, saying that people had gone to Hong Kong — but it’s likely that they were thinking of later generations, from the 1930s and after, and it’s possible that earlier generations had been in Australia (actually, I know they were from the student passport records).

Diaolou in Nanjiangli village, Kaiping
View over the village and river from the top of the diaolou, Nanjiangli village, Kaiping

Nanjiangli’s dialou is located outside the village gates, on a small hill. As we were clambering about through the bushes to take photographs, a man told us that it was open and that we should climb up to have a look. So we did. The stairs inside are concrete, narrow but sturdy. The diaolou, like many, is being used now for storing firewood and hay. We had hoped to be able to see over the roofs of Nanjiangli village from the top of the diaolou, but the view over the houses themselves was obscured by a beautiful grove of bamboo.

Rice fields, Zhaolongli village, Kaiping

No one in these Poon villages could tell me anything directly about Poon Gooey and his family, but the visit was definitely worthwhile. I’m confident now to say that Poon Gooey was from Qiaotou village, Yueshan town in Kaiping, and I think my initial feeling about Zhaolongli was probably right.

Putting the pieces together, I suspect that their life after leaving Australia went something like this. In 1913, they probably went back to Kaiping, perhaps built a house, then lost all the money they had brought back from Australia after a bandit attack (from their appearance, Selia Tan thought the two diaolou we saw would have been built in the 1920s, so they perhaps weren’t there when the bandits attacked Poon Gooey). Poon Gooey then returned to Australia to set the family’s finances back on track, coming and going between Victoria and China between 1914 and 1918, when he left Australia for the last time. In 1925, Poon Gooey was definitely in Shanghai, so it seems likely that the family were among the many Cantonese who moved to Shanghai around this time. From there, who knows.

Another satisfying thing about the visit is that I’ve worked out Poon Gooey’s name. In an early immigration document, his name is written as 潘如, while the Tung Wah Times wrote it as 潘巍. From the Cantonese and Mandarin the family name makes some sense being transliterated as Poon (pun in Cantonese, pan in Mandarin) and other common spelling variations I’ve seen in Australian records include Pon and Pong. In Kaiping dialect it is pronounced more like pwun, where the vowel sounds is like the ‘oo’ in book.

But the characters for Poon Gooey’s given name were either 如, which is pronounced yuh in Cantonese and ru in Mandarin, or 巍, pronounced ngaih in Cantonese and wei in Mandarin. Neither of these sounds much like Gooey. But, when pronounced in Kaiping dialect, the two characters sound more alike — 如 is pronounced nguey and 巍 pronounced ngai.

I think the proper characters for his name are therefore 潘如 (Pwun Nguey), since it sounds most similar to Poon Gooey and is the name written on a document Poon Gooey himself used when travelling to Australia in around 1900.

Christian church in Yueshan town, Kaiping — the church is still in use today

To finish off our visit to Yueshan, we went to the market town where there is a Christian church. Poon Gooey was a Christian, and fluent in English when he went to Australia in the 1890s. Other Poons in Australia were also Christian. I wonder whether the Poon Gooey family worshipped in this congregation sometimes?