This blog is written by Kate Bagnall. I’ve been interested in Australia’s historical connections to China since I first lived there more than fifteen years ago – when, by coincidence, I found myself living in the overseas Chinese homelands of the Pearl River Delta.

My historical research focuses on the lives of Australians of Chinese descent in both Australia and China, the administration of the White Australia Policy and the cultural heritage of Australia’s Chinese communities.

My doctoral research was the first major historical study of intimate relationships between Chinese men and white Australian women, while other of my work focuses on transnational Chinese Australian family and community histories.

I am further interested in using emerging technologies to uncover and understand the complex connections between China and Australia, particularly in tracing networks of clan and kinship over time and space.

My current projects include:

  • writing a book, with the working title White Women, Chinese Men, on the history of Chinese-European couples and their families in colonial New South Wales
  • co-editing (with Julia Martinez) a book on the history of Chinese Australian women
  • researching and writing about Ham Hop, the wife of Poon Gooey, and the history of other Chinese wives in Australia under exemption, 1900–1920
  • researching the 1908 High Court case Potter v. Minahan, which includes finding out about the history of the Chinese at Indigo, Victoria and its connections to Shiquli village, Xinhui
  • intermittently working on Invisible Australians: Living under the White Australia Policy with Tim Sherratt
  • slowly compiling ‘Threads of Kinship’, a database of Chinese marriages and births in New South Wales to 1918.

17 comments

  1. Michael La Burniy says:

    Dear Kate,

    I’m researching my uncle – Albert Lee born 10 SEP 1916 in Shekki, China. He is the son of Ruby and Len Boo Lee and arrived in Australia on 28 May 1933 for the second time.

    He was part owner of the Paradise Café and the Oriental Café. He eventually sold his share of the Paradise and became sole owner of the Oriental.

    I cannot find any more information on him. Does he have a wife? Children? Has he passed away? His death certificate and probate? He just seems to have disappeared along with his father Len Boo Lee.

    Len Boo Lee was born in Emmaville in 1890 and was a herbalist/café owner/opium dealer/tobacco farmer. He lived in Scone, Tingha, Killarney and Brisbane. He was married three times to Lottie Lington, Ruby Fay and Kathleen Ah Loy/Ah Bow. I believe that he died 29 APR 1960 (source Ruby Lee’s naturalisation documents).

    Can you help me find where he died please? His death certificate and probate? Again, he has disappeared. I know that he supposedly applied for a passport in March 1960 to leave the country alone in late April. Ruby states in her naturalisation documents that she is a widow and Len passed way 29 April 1960. Where did he die? How can I find this record?

    Kind regards,
    Mick La Burniy
    Grandson of Len Boo Lee and Kathleen Ah Loy

    • Kate Bagnall says:

      Hi Michael

      Re Len Boo Lee, from what you say I think it very likely that he died in China. If he died in Hong Kong you might be able to apply for a death certificate there. If he died in Guangdong, however, things might be more difficult. He would have been about 70 years old in 1960 and many Cantonese men returned from Australia to China in their old age ‘to die’. If he died in his ancestral village, you’d need to know where that was to be able to check if he was also buried there.

      As for your uncle Albert Lee, I presume you’ve checked all the usual places – BDMs, Trove newspapers, business directories, bankruptcy records, shipping lists, immigration and naturalisation records in NAA, etc?

      Good luck!

      Kate

  2. Geoff Scott says:

    Hello Kate
    I have been researching my family history and my great great grandmother was Harriet Glover ( Attwood) and she had 3 sisters married to Chinese men. Trove tells us she was an ‘habitue’ of the Chinese camps! Her husband Samuel Attwood had deserted Harriet before my great grandfather was born and a witness to the birth was a Chinese lady. I was doing a Google search and your site refers to Elizabeth Glover who was one of Harriet’s sisters but I cannot find the reference when I click into your site.
    I was interested to see what information you had about Elizabeth’s husband. As a matter of interest I am a volunteer at the Golden Dragon Museum here in Bendigo! I had volunteered before I found out the interesting facts about Harriet!
    Cheers
    Geoff

  3. Janene Collins says:

    Hi Kate, I’m guessing that you may have come across this family history book already http://trove.nla.gov.au/version/1488917. It’s about my great great grandparents George Ah Kin and Mary Higgins. I stumbled on your blog because I now live in Braidwood and was looking up the phone no. for Nomchongs electrics shop! Love the serendipity. All the best, Janene Collins.

  4. Lisa watson says:

    My great grandfather was called James ah chipp. He married Laura Louisa watson in 1888 in cobar nsw. He goes off the radar after he was at his daughter berthas wedding to Frederick Gilham in 1907. Any idea where to look. We only found out about our Chinese heritage at Christmas and are keen to know more.

  5. Angela Tang says:

    Dear Kate,

    I was wondering if you had done any search on Chinese immigrants in Darwin, NT?
    My dad recently passed away and this prompted me to start finding out my ancestral roots. My dad was born in Darwin and so was my grandfather. I have contacted the Darwin Chinese Assoc to see if they have any details of my great-grandfather, have yet to get a response from them.
    My great grandfather’s Chinese name was ??. In Chinese Pinyin its Deng Bing.
    On my grandfather’s death certificate its written as: Tang Bang.
    Occupation: Jeweller
    In my great Uncle’s death certificate, the nam was written as: Tang Ong Peang or Ong Peong.
    A few different phonetically translated versions.
    Could you kindly advise what ways could I find more information as to when he arrived in Darwin & other related materials?
    I would really appreciate your advise to point me into the right direction!

    Thanks very much!

    Angela

    • Natalie Fong says:

      Hi Angela,

      My name is Natalie Fong and I am researching the early Chinese merchants in the NT as part of a PhD, including my great-grandfather and yours. I could possibly help you find out more about your great-grandfather.

      Please feel free to contact me.

      Natalie

  6. Joanne Tapiolas says:

    Hi Kate

    A few years back you had an article about a Sydney minister who officiated mixed marriages together with details about the church’s name and I think how to access their archives. I think he married people “off the grid” and I wanted to pursue a mixed marriage: Chen Ah Yeen who married Sarah Sheehey 25 August 1866 Sydney according to a birth registration but there is no match for a marriage in NSW Births Deaths and Marriages.

    Any guidance or assistance in pointing me in the right direction is appreciated.

    Sincerely
    Joanne Tapiolas

  7. Chrissie Minahan says:

    Hi Kate,

    My late father-in-law James Francis Minahan was also fascinated with Potter v Minahan case because of the similarity of name.

    I would be interested to know more about Winifred’s family background to see if she is a relation.

    Good luck with the book.

    Kind regards

    Chrissie

    • Kate says:

      Hi Chrissie,

      Thanks for getting in touch. I think I’ve probably come across and had to disregard records about your later father-in-law in my search for materials about my James Francis Kitchen Minahan. I’ve sent you an email with more information about Winifred Minahan. It’s been tricky to track down her family as they appear using many variations of the family name: Minahan, Minehan, Mineham, Minaham, Monaghan and Monahagn.

      Cheers,
      Kate

  8. prue dawson says:

    Hi Kate,

    I am trying to find out more about my grandmother Alice Mow Fung, Pauline Rule wrote a paper about the 5 sisters. Do you have a contact for her.

    Cheers

    Prue

  9. Pamela Nicholls says:

    Hello Kate

    For the past decade, I have researching our hitherto unknown family. The most amazing finding was a G+++ grandfather from Amoy, China who was working on the Victorian Goldfields initially in Barkers Creek, and later in Specimen’s Creek.

    We are fortunate to have both his marriage certificates: the first dated 4 January, 1858, Castlemaine to Emily Charlotte Bass in with his beautiful Chinese signature which I am told is HOU Sin, Victorian Marriage Registration #1081. Emily died in 1862.

    The second 13 September, 1862 in Eaglehawk Presbyterian Manse to Margaret Mowbray Black with his Anglicized name James OSEEN.

    Three children were born to the latter marriage: Margaret Mowbray Oseen 1864, Harriet Oseen 1866 & James Oseen 1868-1874.

    HOU Sin aka James Oseen died in 16 November 1868. We have his death certificate.

    We understand his father was Georgy Oseen and his mother Harriet James.

    In 1872 Margaret Mowbray Black Oseen remarried Samuel Crossley in Specimen Hill.

    Harriet Oseen married Thomas Vinton Nicholls, elder son of Thomas Odgers Nicholls and Mary Searle Nicholls.

    Margaret Mowbray married William Edward Holmes. Their daughter Margaret Mowbray Holmes married Frederick Searle Nicholls, youngest son of Thomas Odgers Nicholls & Mary Searle Nicholls, younger brother of Thomas Vincton Nicholls.

    I have looked at Campbells Creek cemetery, with no success.

    Best Wishes
    Pamela Nicholls

  10. Trish JAMIESON says:

    I was very interested to find your site, and learn that you found yourself living in the overseas Chinese homelands of the Pearl River Delta.

    My Great Grandfather, Yett Soo War Way Lee came from this area.

    He was born on the 6th of August 1852. Kiang San Village, Tung Kun County, Guang Dong Province (Jingshan Xiang in Dongguan County, China).

    He migrated to Australia in 1874. I see you have the New Year’s card he wrote.

    Do you know this place? I would love to learn more about my Great Grandfather’s family in China. I have folders of information on his life in Australia, and have been very involved in many projects here in Adelaide.

    Regards TRISH

  11. Diane Jennings says:

    Hello Kate
    For years now I have researched my Family’s heritage in the hope of finding information on my Grandfather’s two brothers and sister. Joseph, William and Caroline Wong). My Great grandfather was Pow Wong a gold miner from Linton Victoria, he married Elizabeth Glover and had four children the youngest, Victor James was my grandfather. My grandfather was raised by his Aunt, another Glover sister (Catherine) who also married a Chinese man (Yean). Both Elizabeth and Pow Wong are buried in the Linton Cemetery.

    I posted an article on the Ballarat Genealogy Society Web site a few years ago and only now recieved an email advising me to contact you.

    I have looked through you web site but was unable to find any information regarding my own family connectoins. I would really appreciate your assistance if you have any information I ask that you please contact me.

    Regards
    Diane Jennings

  12. Lorraine Purcell says:

    Hi Kate,
    I am currently collecting material about the goldfields of NSW around Hill End & Tambaroora Sofala etc. In our researches we have come across some interesting material relating to the Chinese and have one document in particular which has lots of Chinese names in it written in Chinese script. We also have the Census material from 1891 where the enumerator has anglicized the names as well. As we have no expertise in Chinese are you able to suggest who we may contact to get a translation of the names etc. We are happy for any Chinese Australian Family History group to have access to the material for their own use as well. I can be contacted at heatgg@yahoo.com.au – many thanks.
    Lorraine Converer, Hill End & Tambaroora Gathering Group

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