Category: History

‘The prevalence of this prefix’, 1898

I very much like this explanation by Alexander Don, Presbyterian missionary to New Zealand’s Cantonese population, of the eternally perplexing question of the prefix ‘Ah’ in Chinese names.

Don spoke Cantonese and could read and write Chinese, having first studied in Guangzhou in the late 1870s. This piece comes from his account of a trip visiting Chinese communities around the Pacific in 1897 (Alexander Don, Under Six Flags: Being Notes on Chinese in Samoa, Hawaii, United States, British Columbia, Japan, and China, J. Wilkie & Co., Dunedin, 1898, pp. 11-12.)

‘AH’

Everyone has noticed the prevalence of this prefix to the names of Chinese abroad, and many are the attempts to explain. Generally it is supposed to represent our ‘Mr,’ but on one occasion a Supreme Court Judge gravely informed the jury and counsel that he had discovered it to mean ‘Bachelor’! In China it is used only to familiar friends, to close relatives, to inferiors, servants, and such. In the Colonies one finds the head of a large importing firm, known as ‘Ah ——,’ with ‘& Co.’ often attached. The nearest parallel to this in English usage would be to style the firm, Robert Wilson & Co., as ‘Bobby & Co.’ For the prefix ‘Ah’ has much the same force as our familiar and diminutive affix ‘y’ or ‘ie.’ For the Britons, James Brown, John Smith, and Thomas Jones, to be known among the Chinese in China as Jimmy, Johnnie, and Tommy—this is one with the Chinese Lee Wun, Chan Wing, and Wong Ping, bearing among us the names Ah Wun, Ah Wing, and Ah Ping. Their full names may be—probably are—Lee Yeong-Wun, Chan Shing-Wing, and Won Ping-Kwong. They would never be called Ah Lee, Ah Chan, nor Ah Wong; for these are surnames. Equally Ah Yeung-Wun, Ah Shing-Wing, &c., are not used, just as we do not call a boy Tommy Willie for Thomas William, but either Tommy or Willie separately. Chinese, not knowing the meaning of ‘Mr,’ say, when asked the meaning of ‘Ah,’—‘All the same Mr.’ And thinking that we have only names—not surnames—prefix ‘Ah’ indiscriminately. So I am sometimes called ‘Ah Don,’ and Mr Ings ‘Ah Joe.’

Jung Hei 鍾熙, Siu Lo 蕭露 and Lau Naam 劉南 with Alexander Don at Tuapeka, Otago, c. 1898–1903. National Library of New Zealand – original held by the Hocken Library (MS-1007-009/009).

‘All for a White Australia’, but…

In 1912, Henry Lawson published a short story titled ‘Ah Soon: A Chinese-Australian Story‘ in the Sydney magazine The Lone Hand. In ‘Ah Soon’, the (white) narrator tells a story of reciprocal kindness across two families and two generations.

Illustration by Harry J. Weston from The Lone Hand, 1 August 1912

The first kindness is from the narrator’s parents to Ah Soon, a Chinese gardener, when they lived at Lawson’s Creek near Mudgee many years earlier. They helped Ah Soon to hospital when his cart tipped over near their home, crushing him under its heavy load.

The second kindness is from Ah Soon’s son, Ah See, a vegetable hawker, to the narrator himself. It came in the form of a red envelope (with £6 inside), given quietly when the narrator had fallen on hard times as a writer in Sydney.

The narrator was initially unaware of the connection between him and Ah See, but:

Then it dawned on me—and I saw: [he] was Ah See, the son of old Ah Soon, and I was the son of my father and mother; and my father and mother had been good to Ah Soon, the father of Ah See; and Ah See had remembered. Besides, I had used to teach him … to write in those dim, half-forgotten days.

To me one of the most interesting parts of the story is its beginning, where the narrator articulates what seems to have been a not-uncommon attitude of white Australians towards their Chinese neighbours. He says:

I don’t know whether a story about a Chinaman would be popular or acceptable here and now; and, for the matter of that, I don’t care. I am anti-Chinese as far as Australia is concerned; in fact, I am all for a White Australia. But one may dislike, or even hate, a nation without hating or disliking an individual of that nation. One may be on friendly terms; even pals in a way.

In writing about Chinese Australians and the White Australia policy (and its antecedents), I sometimes wonder how to make sense of the complexities and contradictions. Few white Australians openly argued against the principle of a ‘White Australia’ – and it was certainly ever-present in the lives of Chinese Australians – yet there are many examples in the archives that suggest that maintaining ‘White Australia’ was not always the most important principle or ideology in the interactions of white Australians and Chinese.

Lawson’s narrative of Ah Soon and Ah See is just one story, and a fictional one at that, but as Amanda Rasmussen has suggested, examining small stories or particular episodes in history can show ‘that there was not always an automatic transference of the racial prejudice dominant in the national public discourse into people’s everyday exchanges’.

As a historian, I continue to be challenged in my efforts to write nuanced histories of Chinese Australia that recognise this dual history of exclusion and inclusion. Histories that aren’t just 血淚史 (histories of blood and tears). Histories that can acknowledge the moments of kindness and connection in amongst the discourses and systems of racism and discrimination.

Sources

Ah Soon: A Chinese-Australian Story‘, The Lone Hand, vol. 11, no. 64 (1 August 1912), pp. 324–28.

Amanda Rasmussen, ‘The Rise of Labor: A Chinese Australian Participates in Bendigo Local Politics at a Formative Moment, 1904–1905’, in Sophie Couchman and Kate Bagnall (eds), Chinese Australians: Politics, Engagement and Resistance, Brill, Leiden, 2015, pp. 174–202, here p. 177.

Ouyang Yu, ‘Lawson, Gunn and the “White Chinaman”: A Look at How Chinese are Made White in Henry Lawson and Mrs Aeneas Gunn’s Writings‘, LINQ (Literature in North Queensland), vol. 30, no. 2 (2003), pp. 10–23.

Looking for love (or a wife, at least)

 Wife Wanted.

AH KOW, Chinese Gardener, Binalong, got a nice house, and doing good trade. I want a nice, clean, quiet young woman—any country—for A WIFE. Any young woman that wants a good husband, please come and speak to me, or send answer to Post Office, Binalong. AH KOW.

This interesting advertisement by ‘Ah Kow’ of Binalong, in the southern tablelands of New South Wales, appeared in the Murrumburrah Signal on 7 May 1884.*

Binalong is a pretty village about 35 kilometres north-west of Yass. In the 1850s and 1860s it was an important staging post for the Cobb & Co. coach heading to the goldfields at Lambing Flat (Young), about 60 kilometres away.

Digitised historical newspapers don’t reveal much about the Chinese who were living at Binalong in the 1880s, when Ah Kow was resident there, even though it was said in 1883 that their numbers were ‘getting very numerous’ (Southern Argus, 18 January 1883, p. 2). The 1891 census recorded only 8 Chinese at Yass and 8 at Boorowa, although there were 46 at Young. In Binalong the Chinese seem mostly to have been working as gardeners.

What then of Ah Kow’s search for a wife? There don’t appear to be any other obvious reports about him in the papers – certainly none identified in Robyn Atherton’s book* or that I’ve spotted in Trove – and I can find no marriage or birth registrations that might suggest Ah Kow was lucky in love, either.

There is, however, a newspaper report of a woman named Annie Ah Kow who came before the Yass police court in June 1884 for being drunk and disorderly (Yass News, 28 June 1884, p. 2). Having been before the courts previously on charges of drunkenness, Annie Ah Kow doesn’t seem to fit with Ah Kow’s requirements for a ‘nice, clean, quiet young woman’. But perhaps Annie and Ah Kow had lived together then gone their separate ways, prompting Ah Kow to look for a different kind of woman to share his life?

Southern Argus (Goulburn, NSW), 28 June 1884, p. 2

The following year, a similar advertisement appeared in the same newspaper. This time it was ‘Ah How’ of Cootamundra who thought he’d try his luck by advertising for a wife. The Goulburn Evening Penny Post reported on the ad on 4 August 1885, saying:

A Chinaman Seeks a Wife.

The following curious advertisement appeared in the Murrumburrah Signal:—Matrimony.—Ah How, aged 30 years, would like to take a partner for life. The lady’s age is of no consequence—but he would prefer one between 15 and 50—and she may belong to any religion under the sun. She must, however, be a good housewife,—clean, able to wash, cook, &c., as well as sober in her habits. Apply by letter, to Ah How, Post Office, Cootamundra.

Cootamundra is about 70 kilometres from Binalong, with Murrumburrah being about half way between the two. Was Ah How inspired by Ah Kow’s ingenuity, or were they the same man?

References to Ah How, a gardener at Cootamundra, suggest that he was resident there by the mid-1880s. In September 1886 Willie Ah How applied to lease five acres for a garden in Cootamundra, which was granted in 1887 (Wagga Wagga Advertiser, 6 October 1887, p. 3). In 1893, he and three other Chinese were listed on the Municipal Roll for Cootamundra (Cootamundra Herald, 8 February 1893, p. 4). No obvious marriage or birth registrations appear under the name Ah How at Cootamundra or nearby, and Willie Ah How died intestate at Cootamundra in 1906 (Government Gazette, 30 May 1906, p. 3208).

Parker Street, Cootamundra, 1886 (Sydney Mail and New South Wales Advertiser, 4 September 1886, p. 495)

* Ah Kow’s advertisement is reproduced in Robyn Atherton, They Were More Than Just Gold Diggers: The Chinese of Murrumburrah and Surrounding Districts 1860s–1960s, second edition, Harden-Murrumburrah Historical Society Inc., Harden, NSW, 2011, p. 48.

Minnie Alloo of Dunedin and the Women’s Suffrage Petition

A post to mark International Women’s Day, 8 March 2018.

This year marks the 125th anniversary of women’s suffrage in New Zealand. In September 1893, New Zealand became the first self-governing country to grant the vote to adult women when it passed its Electoral Act 1893. Australia became the second in 1902, granting the vote to white women through the Commonwealth Franchise Act 1902.

South Australian Register, 20 September 1893, p. 5

In their campaign for voting rights, the women of New Zealand petitioned the New Zealand parliament in 1891, 1892 and 1893. The 13 petitions presented to parliament in 1893 were signed by nearly 32,000 women, almost a quarter of the country’s white adult female population.

The largest petition, presented to parliament in July 1893, contained the signatures of about 24,000 women. Among them were Minnie Alloo of MacLaggan Street, Dunedin, and M. Alloo, also of Dunedin, likely to be Minnie’s mother, Margaret.

M. Alloo’s signature on page 32 of the 1893 Women’s Suffrage Petition
Minnie Alloo’s signature on page 141 of the 1893 Women’s Suffrage Petition

The previous year three Alloo women of Dunedin, along with more than 17,000 others, had signed the 1892 suffrage petition: Mrs Alloo, A. Alloo (Agnes) and Lena Alloo (Helena).

When Minnie signed the 1893 petition she was only nineteen years old, two years short of ‘the age of twenty-one years and upwards’ as stated on the petition’s first page. Three years later, aged twenty-two and now resident in Hanover Street, Dunedin, Minnie appeared on the 1896 electoral roll, as did her unmarried sisters Helena (age 29) and Agnes (age 31).

***

Minnie Rose Alloo was born at Queenstown, New Zealand, in 1874.* She was the youngest daughter of Margaret Alloo née Peacock (b. 1840, Scotland) and John Alloo (陳三樂) (b. 1828, Canton, China), a Chinese interpreter.

Margaret and John had married in 1856 in Ballarat, Victoria. Their nine children were Thomas (1857), Elizabeth (1859), William (1861), Amelia (1863), Annie Agnes (1865) and Helena (1867), who were all born in Victoria, then Alfred (1871), Minnie Rose (1874) and Arthur (1876), all born at Queenstown.

Queenstown, Wakatipu, New Zealand, taken by William Hart, 1880 (Museum of New Zealand Te Papa Tongarewa)

The Alloo family moved from the Victorian goldfields to Otago in 1868. In Victoria, they had lived at Ballarat and Melbourne, where John Alloo had worked as an interpreter, police detective, storekeeper and restaurateur, running the famed ‘John Alloo’s Chinese Resturant’ in Ballarat in the 1850s. The restaurant was immortalised in sketches by S.T. Gill in 1855, and today visitors to Soveriegn Hill can visit its replica in the town’s main street. John Alloo was naturalised in Victoria in 1856.

In New Zealand, John Alloo worked as a constable-interpreter with the police force, first at Lawrence, then at Naseby, Clyde and Queenstown. In Naseby the Alloos owned the Ballarat Hotel, which they sold in 1870. John was discharged from the police force in October 1877 due to ill health, and the family moved to Dunedin.

‘Mount Ida Chronicle’, 5 November 1869, p. 2

In 1871 Margaret and John Alloo were said to ‘live together very happily — have a fine family of boys and girls, who are well educated, and speak and write English well.’

***

Unlike the activities of the men of the Alloo family (which I won’t go into further here), Minnie Alloo, her mother and sisters are harder to track in the historical record. Their names do appear in the Otago newspapers here and there, though. Margaret Alloo is mentioned at the Ballarat Hotel in 1870. The girls appear in school prize lists, particularly Elizabeth who became a student teacher in Queenstown in the late 1870s, teaching at the same school her younger siblings attended. Amelia made the news in 1881 when she was working as a dressmaker in Dunedin, and when she was sued for divorce in 1891. Mrs Alloo and the Misses Alloo also appear as passengers in shipping notices, such as in 1907 when a Miss Alloo, together with Minnie, her husband and daughter, travelled to Wellington.

Minnie Alloo married John Quane (b. 1879, Isle of Man) in Christchurch in 1904 (NZ BDM 1904/5207). They had 2 children: Irma (1905) and Maurice (1909) (NZ BDM 1905/20121, 1909/13828). The family migrated to the United States in 1914, and Minnie became a US citizen in 1940 when John was naturalized. Minnie Quane died in San Francisco, California in December 1948 at the age of seventy-four.*

Minnie and her family are listed on this passenger manifest for the Tahiti, from Wellington to San Francisco, July 1914. (Ancestry.com. California, Passenger and Crew Lists, 1882-1959. Original data: Selected Passenger and Crew Lists and Manifests. National Archives, Washington, D.C.)

Postscript

The Alloo family were not the only ones to leave the Victorian goldfields for Otago. Well-known Chinese New Zealanders Choie Sew Hoy and Chew Chong – who are both included in the Dictionary of NZ Biography – did likewise.

Another family that moved across the Tasman in the 1860s was that of my paternal great-grandmother, Florence Bellamy. Her parents, Mary Garrett Bellamy née Millar and John Thomas Bellamy – together with their three surviving children Mary Sarah Crawford (1857), William (1860) and Frances (1861) – left Victoria for Otago in about 1862 or 1863. Three more daughters, Hannah (1864), Eliza Crawford (1866) and Florence (1868), my great-grandmother, were born in Dunedin. Florence was largely raised by her sister Frances after their mother’s death in 1872. Florence Bellamy attended the Middle District School in Dunedin at the same time as the Alloo children.

*Minnie Alloo’s New Zealand birth was registered in 1874. Her California death certificates gives her date of birth as 16 November 1873 and John Quane’s US naturalization application gives it as 17 November 1874. I haven’t purchased a copy of her birth certificate to confirm the correct year of birth.

Further reading

Jenny Alloo, ‘Dispersing obscurity: The Alloo Family from Australia to New Zealand from 1868‘, Chinese in Australiasia and the Pacific: Old and New Migrations and Cultural Change conference, University of Otago, 1998

James Ng, ‘Chew Chong’, Dictionary of New Zealand Biography, https://teara.govt.nz/en/biographies/2c17/chew-chong

James Ng, ‘Sew Hoy, Charles’, Dictionary of New Zealand Biography, https://teara.govt.nz/en/biographies/2s14/sew-hoy-charles

James Ng, ‘The Otago Chinese goldminers: Factors that helped them survive’, in Rushing for Gold: Life and Commerce on the Goldfields of New Zealand and Australia, edited by Lloyd Carpenter and Lyndon Fraser, Otago University Press, Dunedin, 2016

Keir Reeves, ‘Tracking the dragon down under: Chinese cultural connections in gold rush Australia and Aotearoa, New Zealand’, Graduate Journal of Asia-Pacific Studies, vol. 3, no. 1 (2005), pp. 49–66, https://cdn.auckland.ac.nz/assets/arts/Departments/asian-studies/gjaps/docs-vol3/Reeves.pdf

Ken Oldis, The Chinawoman, Arcadia, Melbourne, 2008.

‘New Zealand women and the vote’, New Zealand History website, NZ Ministry for Culture and Heritage, https://nzhistory.govt.nz/politics/womens-suffrage

 

‘Kung he fat soy’, Otago, 1884

This year I’ll be heading to New Zealand, to the archives in Wellington and Dunedin, to research the history of Chinese naturalisation there. With that in mind, here’s a report from 1884 on Chinese New Year celebrations on the Otago goldfields. Happy New Year, or ‘kung he fat soy’ to you all!

Chinese gold miners at Muddy Creek, Waikaia, on the Otago goldfields (National Library of New Zealand 1/2-019165-F)
Chinese Festivities

Thames Star, 6 February 1884

A Southern paper thus descants on the Chinese celebration of their New Year, on the Otago Goldfield:—Our Celestial fellow-citizens are at present holding high-holiday, the occasion being the advent of the New Year according to Mongolian calculations. The exact moment when another unit was added to the many thousands of Chinese chronology was at one o’clock on Monday morning, and was celebrated by a terrific discharge of fireworks in front of the store known by the sign of ‘Kwong Wy Kee,’ accompanied by a lavish consumption of incense tapers, the pouring out upon the ground libations of brandy, muttered incantations, genuflections and sundry other rites and ceremonies. The usual explanation of the pyrotechnic part of the performance as given by the Europeans who are supposed to know is, that ‘it is done to drive away the devil,’ though why his Sable Majesty should have any dread of what is supposed to be his own peculiar element is rather puzzling to Western minds. Probably the trite remark, ‘Chinaman no all the same Englishman,’ used by Chinamen themselves when reasoned with on some of their peculiarities, may apply to their respective Princes of Darkness. Today (Tuesday) banqueting will begin, and invitations will be extended to ‘Fan quees’ (Europeans) to partake of many a savory mess, flavoured with sauce and preserves, piquant enough to tickle the palate of the veriest epicure, or whet the appetite of tbe most fastidious alderman; nor will the flowing bowls of the brands ‘Tommyhawk,’ or J.D.K.Z., be wanting to wash it down withal. Joking apart, however undesirable John may be in some respects as a colonist, we needn’t grudge him his fun and festivity, and we may at this time wish him in all sincerity ‘kung he fat soy.’

2017 in review

Here are some of my 2017 highlights, and a monthly rundown of the many and varied things that occupied my time this year!

Archive research visits

  • HK PRO, March 2017
  • NAA Adelaide, June 2017
  • State Records NSW, December 2017
  • NAA Sydney, December 2017
  • NAA Canberra, December 2017

Publications

  • published ‘ “To his home at Jembaicumbene”: Women’s cross-cultural encounters on a colonial goldfield’, in Jacqueline Leckie, Angela McCarthy and Angela Wanhalla (eds), Migrant Cross-Cultural Encounters in Asia and the Pacific, Routledge, Abingdon & New York, 2017
  • published ‘A new perspective on Australia and China’ (review of Australians in Shanghai by Sophie Loy-Wilson), History Australia, vol. 14, no. 4, pp. 666–67, https://doi.org/10.1080/14490854.2017.1384344
  • published Chinese Australians and the Immigration Restriction Act in New South Wales: A guide to finding records, August 2017
  • submitted manuscript of Locating Chinese Women, edited collection with Julia Martínez, to HKU Press (editor has requested an extended introduction for international readership)
  • submitted ‘Potter v. Minahan: Chinese Australians and the intimacies of belonging in White Australia’ to History Australia (referees have requested major revisions)
  • checked final proofs of ‘Writing home from China: Charles Allen’s transnational childhood’, forthcoming (2017) in Paul Arthur (ed.), Migrant Lives: Australian Culture, Society and Identity, Anthem Press
  • checked copyedits of ‘The people inside’, forthcoming (2018) in Kevin Kee (ed.), Seeing the Past: Augmented Reality and Computer Vision in History, University of Michigan Press
  • accepted an invitation to contribute a chapter on ‘Searching for Chinese Australian homelands’ to Kate Darian-Smith and Paula Hamilton (eds), Remembering Migration: Oral Histories and Heritage, Palgrave Macmillan (forthcoming 2019)
With Selia Tan in the Chinese Camp at Sovereign Hill, June 2017 (it was really cold!)

Conferences presentations

  • ‘Naturalised Chinese in Colonial Australia’, Beyond the New Gold Mountain: CCAV 2017 Conference, RMIT, Melbourne, 24 June 2017
  • Naturalisation and Chinese Restriction in Colonial Australasia’, Australian Historical Association Conference, University of Newcastle, 4–7 July 2017
  • ‘Chinese women in colonial New South Wales: A case study approach’, International Conference on Chinese Women in World History, Institute for Modern History at Academia Sinica, Taipei, 11–14 July 2017
  • photographic exhibition on Chinese Australian women’s history, Feminist Research Network symposium, UOW, 25 September 2017
  • Australia and China: Before and Below the Nation’, keynote address, ‘Looking Back, Moving Forward: Symposium on the Future of Australia–China Relations’, China Studies Centre, University of Sydney, 24 October 2017
  • ‘Chinese restriction, naturalisation and mobility in colonial and post-Federation Australia’, Subjects and Aliens symposium, UOW, 28 November 2017
  • ‘Communication and collaboration in the digital age’, Related Histories: Studying the Family, National Library of Australia, 29 November 2017

Conference organisation

Talks and workshops

  • ‘Under the Southern Cross’ book project workshop, UTS, 18 February 2017
  • ‘Invited Workshop on Digital Humanities and ARC Linkage Projects’, UOW, 20 April 2017
  • Researching early Chinese Australian families‘ for Family History Month at the State Library of New South Wales, 30 August 2017
  • ‘Women and the records of White Australia’ in the House of Representatives chamber, Old Parliament House, as part of the ‘Real Face of White Australia’ transcribe-a-thon, 9 September 2017
  • ‘Researching early Chinese Australian families’ at the Deniliquin Family History Expo, 13–14 October 2017
  • ‘Early Chinese families in New South Wales’, Wollongong U3A, 23 October 2017

Public outreach

With Mei-fen Kuo, Julia Martínez and Sophie Loy-Wilson at the top of Taipei 101, July 2017 (it was really hot!)

Month by month

January

  • copyediting and compiling the manuscript of Locating Chinese Women (R)
  • admin tasks relating to the admission of my new UOW PhD student, Emma Bellino (R)
  • peer review of an article for LIMINA: A Journal of Historical and Cultural Studies (an online open access journal run by a postgraduate collective) (R)
  • feedback on a chapter of Meg Foster’s PhD thesis (about Chinese bushranger Sam Poo) (R)
  • admin tasks for the Hometown Heritage Tour (G&S)
  • two weeks’ holiday!

February

  • ongoing copyediting and compiling the manuscript of Locating Chinese Women (R)
  • HSI School meeting on 7 February 2017 (G&S)
  • CDI meeting on 7 February 2017, and worked on my ‘Performance Enhancement & Career Development Record’ for 2017 (G&S)
  • prepared and presented 45-minute lecture on ‘Doing History in the Digital Age’ to 95 high-school students for UOW Discovery Days on 10 February 2017 (G&S)
  • History discipline meeting on 10 February 2017 (G&S)
  • HDR supervision admin and meetings (R)
  • feedback on an ARC Discovery project application for UOW History colleagues (R)
  • attended ‘Under the Southern Cross’ book project workshop at UTS on 18 February 2017 (G&S)
  • attended welcome lunch for new HDR students at UOW on 22 February 2017 (G&S)
  • feedback on one article at the CASS WIP reading group on 23 February 2017 (R)
  • LHA Faculty Forum on 23 February 2017 (G&S)
  • admin tasks for the Hometown Heritage Tour (G&S)
  • admin tasks (Twitter and website) as Social Media Officer for UOW Colonial & Settler Studies (CASS) Network (G&S)

March

  • CASS 2017 planning meeting on 3 March 2017 (G&S)
  • attended CASS HDR welcome event on 3 March 2017 (G&S)
  • HDR supervision admin, meeting and correspondence (R)
  • completed my ‘Performance Enhancement & Career Development Record’ for 2017 (G&S)
  • ongoing copyediting and compiling the manuscript of Locating Chinese Women (R)
  • met with Claire Lowrie (UOW), Kerry Ross (UOW) and Tim Sherratt (University of Canberra) to organise the ARC Linkage Invited Workshop on Linkage Grants and Digital Humanities, 15 and 16 March 2017 (G&S)
  • admin tasks for the Hometown Heritage Tour (G&S)
  • fieldwork visits to Zhuhai Museum, Hong Kong-Macao Transient Fishermen Culture Exhibition Hall (Xiangzhou, Zhuhai), Yang Great Ancestral Hall (Beishan, Zhuhai), St. Michael’s Catholic Cemetery and Hong Kong Cemetery (Happy Valley, HK), Dr Sun Yat-Sen Museum (Central, HK), Hong Kong Museum of History, 19–22 March 2017 (R)
  • archival research in Hong Kong Public Records Office relating to the 1881 journey of the Glamis Castle, 23 March 2017 (R)
  • hosted Chinese Australian Hometown Heritage Tour to Hong Kong and Guangdong, 22–31 March 2017 (G&S)

April

  • post-tour admin and correspondence for the Hometown Heritage Tour (G&S)
  • provided advice and met with Who Do You Think You Are? researchers and producers about Hamilton/Ah Yott family of Jembaicumbene (G&S)
  • attended Tim Sherratt’s Digital Humanities Lecture and reception (co-organised by LHA and UOW Library) on 19 April 2017 (G&S)
  • co-organised, facilitated and spoke at the Invited Workshop on Digital Humanities and ARC Linkage Projects (sponsored by the UOW Centre for Critical Human Rights Research), UOW, 20 April 2017 (R)
  • ongoing copyediting and compiling the manuscript of Locating Chinese Women (R)
  • drafting of Introduction to Locating Chinese Women (R)
  • met twice with Alopi Latekefu and Harold Weldon (Australia–China Council) about commemoration of Australia-China Council 40th anniversary
  • HDR supervision meeting and correspondence (R)

May

  • ongoing copyediting and compilation of the manuscript of Locating Chinese Women, including image requests and author revisions (R)
  • drafting of Introduction to Locating Chinese Women (R)
  • HDR supervision admin, meeting and correspondence (R)
  • DECRA budget and finance administration (R)
  • travel approvals and bookings for research/conference travel in June (Adelaide & Melbourne), July (Newcastle; Taiwan) and August (Byron Bay) (R)
  • filming for Who Do You Think You Are? episode at National Library of Australia, 21 May 2017 (G&S)
  • initial organisation for nationality & citizenship research symposium (G&S)
  • drafting conference paper for Chinese Women in World History conference in July (R)

June

  • CASS Work-in-Progress Reading Group, who reviewed my paper for Chinese Women in World History conference (R)
  • DECRA budget and finance administration (R)
  • finalised manuscript of Locating Chinese Women book and sent to publisher (R)
  • HDR supervision meetings and correspondence (R)
  • ongoing organisation for nationality & citizenship research symposium (G&S)
  • submitted written conference paper for Chinese Women in World History conference in July 2017 (R)
  • attended talk on ‘The UNESCO World Heritage diaolou towers of southern China and their Australian links’ by Dr Selia Tan from Wuyi University at State Library of New South Wales, 16 June 2017 (R)
  • research visit to National Archives of Australia in Adelaide, 20 June 2017 (R)
  • presented a paper, ‘Naturalised Chinese in Colonial Australia’, at the Beyond the New Gold Mountain: CCAV 2017 Conference, RMIT, Melbourne, 24 June 2017 (R)
  • reviewed an article for the New Zealand Journal of History (R)

July

  • attended and presented a paper at the Australian Historical Association Conference, University of Newcastle, 4–7 July 2017 – my paper, ‘Naturalisation and Chinese Restriction in Colonial Australasia’, was in a panel on ‘Reluctant entanglement: Resistance to migrations’ with Jayne Persian (USQ) and Melanie Burkett (Macquarie University) (R)
  • attended and presented a paper at the International Conference on Chinese Women in World History, Institute for Modern History at Academia Sinica, Taipei, 11–14 July 2017 – my paper was titled ‘Chinese women in colonial New South Wales: A case study approach’
  • wrote and submitted my ‘Potter v. Minahan: Chinese Australians and the intimacies of belonging in White Australia’ article for a forthcoming Colonial Formations special issue of History Australia (R)
  • met with visiting University of Bristol PhD student, Vivian Kong, who is working with the Hong Kong History Project (R)
  • HDR supervision meetings and correspondence (R)
  • DECRA budget and finance administration (R)

August

  • reviewed the final copyedited version of my ‘Writing home from China’ chapter about Charles Allen (R)
  • had handover meeting with my research assistant Dr Karen Schamberger following the end of her contract (R)
  • met with Elaine van Kempen, literary executor for Eric Rolls, regarding his books on Chinese Australian history, Sojourners and Citizens (R)
  • presented a talk on using primary sources to HIST281 Hands-on History students at the University of Wollongong on 22 August 2017 (G&S)
  • delivered a one-hour lecture on ‘Doing history in the digital age’ for HIST355 Making History at the University of Wollongong on 29 August 2017 (G&S)
  • presented a talk on ‘Researching early Chinese Australian families‘ to about 25 people at the State Library of New South Wales on 30 August 2017 as part of Family History Month (G&S)
  • HDR supervision meetings and correspondence (R)
  • prepared a strategy document for the UOW Colonial and Settler Studies Network website, blog and Twitter account; refreshed the CASS website design and content; met with the CASS RA to handover website and blog management (G&S)
  • organisation for the ‘Real Face of White Australia’ transcribe-a-thon to be held at the Museum of Australian Democracy, Canberra, in September (G&S)
  • organisation for mini-exhibition on Chinese Australian women to be held during the Feminist Research Network symposium at UOW in September 2017 (R)
  • planning and organisation for second Chinese Australian Hometown Heritage Tour, to be held in January 2018 (G&S)
  • DECRA budget and finance administration (R)
  • sick for a week

September

  • media interview with Siobhan Heanue from ABC News Canberra, broadcast on ABC TV evening news and ABC News 24 late news on 3 September 2017 (G&S)
  • quoted in ‘White Australia Policy: Documents reveal personal stories of life under Immigration Restriction Act‘, ABC Online, 4 September 2017 (G&S)
  • with Associate Professor Tim Sherratt from the University of Canberra and his students, ran the ‘Real Face of White Australia’ transcribe-a-thon weekend at the Museum of Australian Democracy, Canberra, 9–10 September 2017 (G&S)
  • presented a talk on ‘Women and the records of White Australia’ in the House of Representatives chamber, Old Parliament House, as part of the ‘Real Face of White Australia’ transcribe-a-thon, 9 September 2017 (R)
  • held a Chinese Australian family history drop-in session with Dr Sophie Couchman at the Museum of Australian Democracy, Canberra, 10 September 2017 (G&S)
  • photographic exhibition and presentation on Chinese Australian women – Feminist Research Network symposium, 25 September 2017 at UOW (R)
  • HDR supervision meetings and correspondence (R)
  • DECRA budget and finance administration (R)
  • CASS blog admin, including publishing a blog post by Virginia Marshall (G&S)
  • planning and organisation for the 2018 Hometown Heritage Tour (G&S)
  • planning and organisation for the Subjects and Aliens symposium (R)

October

  • on leave for a week for school holidays
  • HDR supervision meetings and correspondence (R)
  • DECRA budget and finance administration (R)
  • attended the Deniliquin Family History Expo and presented a talk on ‘Researching early Chinese Australian families’, 13–14 October 2017
  • presented a lecture to the Wollongong U3A on ‘Early Chinese families in New South Wales’, 23 October 2017 (G&S)
  • wrote and presented the keynote address at the Sydney University China Studies Centre symposium, ‘Looking Back, Moving Forward: Symposium on the Future of Australia–China Relations’, 24 October 2017 – my keynote was titled ‘Australia and China: Before and Below the Nation’ and was publicised as part of the Sydney Ideas lecture series (R)
  • organisation and admin tasks for the 2018 Hometown Heritage Tour (G&S)
  • planning and organisation for the Subjects and Aliens symposium (R)

November

  • correspondence about image copyright for my ‘Writing home from China’ book chapter (R)
  • CASS blog admin, including publishing a blog post by Adam Barker (G&S)
  • convened Subjects and Aliens, the CASS 2017 symposium, on 28 November 2017 (R)
  • presented a paper, ‘Chinese restriction, naturalisation and mobility in colonial and post-Federation Australia’, at the Subjects and Aliens symposium, 28 November 2017 (R)
  • presented a paper at Related Histories: Studying the Family, held at the National Library of Australia, 29 November 2017 – my paper was titled ‘Communication and collaboration in the digital age’ (R)
  • HDR supervision meetings and correspondence (R)
  • DECRA budget and finance administration (R)
  • admin tasks and correspondence for the 2018 Hometown Heritage Tour (G&S)
  • prepared my contribution to the Australian Government’s 45 Years, 45 Stories website, to celebrate 45 years of Australia–PRC relations, published 24 November 2017 (G&S)
  • drafted a blog post for Trove highlighting the use of historical newspapers and the NSW Government Gazette (G&S)

December

  • admin following the Subjects and Aliens symposium (R)
  • CASS blog admin, including publishing an event review by Emma Bellino (G&S)
  • HDR supervision meetings and correspondence (R)
  • DECRA budget and finance administration (R)
  • oragnisation and correspondence for the 2018 Hometown Heritage Tour (G&S)
  • research on Chinese naturalisation (Colonial Secretary’s correspondence) at State Records NSW, 5–7 December 2017 (R)
  • met with my research assistant Dr Naomi Parry, 5 December 2017 (R)
  • met with Penny Stannard from State Records NSW about Chinese Australian family research, 5 December 2017 (G&S)
  • met with University of Queensland PhD candidate Natalie Fong to discuss her research on Chinese women in the NT, 14 December 2017 (G&S)
  • research at NAA Canberra, 14 December 2017 (R)
  • research at NAA Sydney, 20 December 2017 (R)
  • two weeks’ holiday before and after Christmas!

As a Level B Research Fellow at the University of Wollongong, I am required to meet ‘Level 2’ for Research and ‘Level 1’ for Governance & Service according to the UOW Academic Performance Framework. I am 0.8FTE, working 28 hours per week (80% Research, 20% Governance & Service).

(R) = Research
(G&S) = Governance & Service

Communication and collaboration in the digital age

This is the paper that I presented at the Related Histories: Studying the Family conference, held at the National Library of Australia on 29 November 2017.

If you’re interested in knowing more, Caitlin Adams from Macquarie University has written a review of the Related Histories conference.

Abstract

Since the 1990s, the field of Chinese Australian history has been characterised by the active participation of family and community researchers alongside academic historians, museum curators and heritage professionals. Over the same period, digital technologies have changed the ways that we communicate and how we do historical research. In this paper I consider questions of communication and collaboration between academic and family historians in the digital age, based on my work in Chinese Australian history. Working with family historians and descendants over the past two decades has shaped my practice as an academic historian, in particular in thinking about who I write for and why. In the paper I will discuss some of the ways I have made my work accessible and actively engaged with family historians, particularly in the digital realm, and contemplate the benefits and challenges of doing so as an academic historian today.

Introduction

My contribution to this panel on ‘family history and the digital revolution’ is going to be something of a personal reflection based on my participation in the field of Chinese Australian history over the past two decades – a period that both starts and ends with me in the academy. Then, twenty years or so ago, I was a PhD student at the University of Sydney. Now, I’m an ARC DECRA Research Fellow at the University of Wollongong.

In between, there was a good decade or so in which I held no academic position or affiliation. I worked at the National Archives for about seven years, then in editing and publishing in the public service here in Canberra, and then as a freelance editor and historian-for-hire, completing projects for AIATSIS and DFAT among others. All the while I maintained my scholarly research practice as best I could around this paid work and family life. I wrote papers, presented at academic conferences, and published in peer-reviewed journals and edited collections. In 2016 I was awarded a DECRA fellowship, and so I now find myself back in academia.

In the two decades in which I have been a historian, digital technologies have radically changed the ways that we do history – as academic, community or family historians. These technologies affect every aspect of historical practice – most obviously in the ways that we find and access archival and library collections online, but also in how we can interact with, analyse and understand those collections; and in how we can present and communicate our work.

Digital history – ‘gathering, preserving and presenting the past on the web’ as Dan Cohen and Roy Rosenzweig described it – democratises history by inviting and encouraging the participation of non-academic audiences. It makes historical knowledge more accessible to the public and multiplies the number of people who participate in making history. It also facilitates investigation, curiosity, participation and connection building around historical knowledge and historical collections.

One thing that has struck me after moving back into academia last year has been the reaction of my university colleagues to my use of the web and my outwards focus as a historian – the fact that I blog and I tweet, that I make time to give talks and workshops to family historians and other non-academic audiences, and that I would rather my work be accessible than locked behind the paywall of a ‘prestigious’ international journal.

In my paper today I would therefore like to reflect on how I think working with family historians and descendants over the past two decades has shaped my practice as an academic historian, and consider how digital technologies have created opportunities for communication and collaboration. I’ll discuss three examples: first, publishing my work online; second, running a heritage study tour to China; and third, developing an online archival transcription project.

Researching Chinese Australian family life

Working in field of Chinese Australian history, people often ask whether I have Chinese heritage – not an unreasonable question considering that much of my work has focused on mixed-race Chinese-European families. The short answer to that question is ‘no’, but there is one family connection that I do quite like to highlight.

My paternal great grandparents, Harry Bagnall and Florence Bellamy (both migrants to New South Wales – he from Dudley in England and she from Dunedin in New Zealand), were pioneers in the sport of cycling in Sydney in the 1890s. In 1892, Florence was one of four women elected as honorary members of the Sydney Bicycle Club, ‘in consideration of their being the first ladies in Australia to take up the pastime of cycling’ (Evening News, 21 May 1892, p. 5). Florence met Harry through their mutual interest in cycling. He was an active member of League of Wheelman and competed professionally in the mid-1890s.

Another migrant to New South Wales, one who had arrived a good three decades before my great grandparents, was also involved in the League of Wheelman, and that was Sydney merchant Quong Tart. Cycle club meetings were held in his tea rooms in King Street and Quong Tart was for some years a starter at League of Wheelman races. Margaret Tart’s biography of her late husband, published in 1911, includes a photograph of Quong Tart and my great grandfather officiating at a race meeting together. That is my historical family connection to Chinese Australian history!

My interest in Chinese Australian history therefore did not come from my own family history, but it did emerge out of personal experience.

Twenty years ago, in 1997, after finishing Honours in History at Sydney University, I went to teach English in China for a year, in the small coastal city of Zhuhai, just across the border from Macau and an hour by ferry from Hong Kong. Zhuhai is in the Pearl River Delta region of Guangdong province, and it was from the Pearl River Delta, through Hong Kong, that most Chinese immigrants came to Australia in the nineteenth and early twentieth centuries.

Having fallen in love with the language, culture and history of south China, when I returned to Australia to begin my PhD, I sought a topic that might combine this new love with my existing love of Australian women’s history. And so, under the supervision of Penny Russell, I began researching the history of Chinese families in colonial New South Wales.

What I found when I began that research was that the existing scholarship on the Chinese in Australia, including works written by academic historians, discounted the existence of Chinese families in colonial Australia – in part because of the small numbers of Chinese women who migrated at that time, and in part because of the assumption that white Australian women and Chinese men didn’t form families together. Failing to critically examine their sources, scholars repeated and compounded colonial thinking about the sexual, social and family lives of the Chinese in Australia.

They perpetuated myths and stereotypes about the scarcity of ‘real’ families, about the ‘immorality’ and ‘vice’ that resulted from this, and about the tragedy and moral failings of white women who formed intimate relationships with Chinese men. It wasn’t just white Australian historians who did this either. C.F. Yong, author of one of the earliest major histories on the Chinese in Australia, accepted the idea of widespread Chinese immorality in the colonies caused by a lack of family life, and gave credence to the idea that the Chinese were frequent ‘seducers’ of white girls. (I’ve explored this more in my 2011 article on ‘Rewriting the history of Chinese families in 19th-century Australia‘.)

After mining the footnotes of these earlier historians for sources – this was well before the days of Trove, remember! – it was pretty clear why they had this impression of Chinese Australian family life. The government reports and inquiries, parliamentary debates, and articles from the metropolitan daily press they cited spoke about ‘the Chinese’ as an anonymous group, rarely mentioning individual Chinese, other than those of wealth and community standing like Quong Tart or Louis Ah Mouy.

These sources did, however, mention here and there a Chinese man with a European wife, or a European woman living with a Chinese man, or the presence of Chinese-European children. So I went looking for material about these families elsewhere – in published local and community histories, in the collections of local history and family history societies, in birth and marriage records, and in immigration records. I also sought to make contact with descendants.

For me as a young historian, contact with descendants and family historians was important for a number of reasons.

The first, simply, was to try and locate names and biographical information about the Chinese-European families who were the focus of my study. I wanted to know who these people were, where they lived, how they met, and what their lives were like – research that is remarkably hard to do without a name.

The second, where I already knew names and had some information from the archives, was to form a more rounded picture of their lives, to understand more about them than the official record might tell.

Over time, a third reason emerged, and that was to be able to share what I knew and what I had uncovered in the archives, both about their families in particular and more generally about Chinese Australian family life. While many of the family historians I met had done the most extensive, fastidious research – as they do – Chinese ancestors were often a puzzle. Many had not known of their Chinese ancestry before digging into the family history, and I began to be able to provide a broader understanding of the context of their ancestors’ lives in both Australia and south China.

The questions that family historians asked me also pushed me to find answers. I’ll give you one example.

About 18 months into my PhD I made contact with a lady named Marlene from Lane Cove whose great-grandmother, Harriet Bourke, had married Thomas Ah Cue in Forbes in 1881. One of their daughters, Susan, born in Forbes in 1882, married a Chinese man named John Lee in 1899. Among the family documents Marlene had located was the 1915 naturalisation certificate of Susan Lee, and she asked me why Susan, who was born in New South Wales and was therefore a British subject by birth, had taken out naturalisation. At the time, I didn’t really know the answer, but it prompted me to find out. And I’m pleased to say that I now have a PhD student, Emma Bellino, who is writing her thesis on the topic of marital denaturalisation, focusing on Australian women who married non-European aliens in the early 20th century.

At the same time as making contact with these family historians, I found a community of researchers working in the field of Chinese Australian history whose backgrounds stretched across academic history, archaeology, heritage, the GLAM sector, and community and family history.

This community of researchers provided me with models of how good, scholarly history could take different forms and be presented for different audiences – I’m thinking here of the Golden Threads project run by Janis Wilton at UNE and the Chinese Heritage of Australian Federation project run by John Fitzgerald, then at La Trobe. Among their outputs, these two projects produced websites with publicly accessible databases and other online resources. Although time has not served these project websites well – the Golden Threads website no longer exists except in Pandora and the Internet Archive, and the CHAF website exists in a semi-functional ‘archived’ form hosted by the La Trobe University Library – they were both exemplary Australian digital history projects of their time.

In this Chinese Australian history community I also found my good friend and collaborator, Sophie Couchman. One of our first joint enterprises, along with a couple of other history postgrads, was the creation of the online Journal of Chinese Australia. The journal only lasted two issues, in 2005 and 2006, but I think our aim for the journal still epitomises the approach that Sophie and I take in our work. We hoped the journal would provide ‘access to research and resources on the history and culture of Chinese people in Australia’ and be ‘a place for family and community researchers, historians and students to share their ideas and questions’.

For the rest of my time I’d briefly like to share with you three more recent examples of how I have engaged with family historians in both the digital and non-digital worlds.

Being present on the web

Making my work available online has had a profound effect on my interactions with family historians and the research community more broadly.

I decided when I finished my PhD in 2006 to make my thesis accessible online through the University of Sydney’s online respository, and a couple of years later, in August 2008, I started a blog, giving myself a visible presence online. More recently again, in March 2009, I began using Twitter, which I use ‘professionally’ rather than ‘personally’, although there’s quite a deal of overlap between the two. Where possible, too, I now either publish my ‘academic’ work in open access publications or negotiate to be able to put a copy of my final article or chapter online through my website. I want my work to be read by the people I write it for – and many of them don’t have access to scholarly journal databases or university libraries or have the money to buy $150 books published by international presses.

One of the most common ways that people have found my work is when they Google their family name as part of their family history research. My thesis includes stories about many families, and has two appendixes – one of Chinese-European marriages in colonial New South Wales, and one of Chinese-European families who travelled to and from China before 1930. It therefore includes lots of names, although as I am continually discovering, there are still many, many families I have never heard of!

As I mentioned before, many of the descendants who contact me were previously unaware of their Chinese heritage, and are at a loss about how to start researching. I’ve had some really lovely emails from people telling me what a help my thesis and blog have been in providing them with a place to start to understand the Chinese part of their family. For example, I received an email from a lady named Heather in 2013, who wrote:

I am so grateful that this part of our history has been researched and brought to light … I am so touched to finally feel that I might be about to discover something from a heritage that has been hidden and denied. It was all generations ago and my family has almost no stories or clues, and yet … to read about the experiences of similar families is exciting and promises a connection that has felt lost until now … Knowing [your thesis] exists is somehow something I find comforting, and I wanted to reach out and say thank you.

That is the sort of thing that really makes my heart glow as a historian!

Some of these contacts have helped me solve puzzles too. The story of Pauline Ah Hee is one example.

One of the groups of Chinese-European children I wrote about in my thesis were children who were in state care or adopted. Among them was a beautiful child named Pauline Ah Hee, born Dubbo in 1893, who was adopted by James and Fanny Choy Hing in Sydney. Based on a Customs file held in the National Archives in Sydney I wrote about Pauline in my thesis, pondering about her role in her adopted family. James and Fanny had children of their own, and I wondered why and in what circumstances they had taken Pauline into their family. In 2011, I got to know Howard, whose wife is the granddaughter of James Choy Hing and the niece of Pauline Ah Hee. Howard had heard me speaking on our local ABC radio here in Canberra and looked up my thesis online. My mention of Pauline and the Choy Hing family spurred him on to research that part of the family history, and in time he shared with me what he had uncovered about Pauline’s life. Howard told me that after her adoption Pauline was raised as a true daughter of the family, living as part of the wealthy Choy household in Hong Kong after the family’s return there.

Chinese Australian Hometown Heritage Tour

When I went to live in China in 1997 it was by lucky coincidence that the city I lived in, Zhuhai, was in the heart of the ancestral homelands of Australia’s early Chinese migrants. At that time, Zhuhai was still very much a Cantonese city – some of the city’s residents are from families that had lived in the area for generations, while many others had migrated from districts around Pearl River Delta after Zhuhai became a Special Economic Zone in the early 1980s.

Thanks to the friendships I made that year, I was welcomed into family homes and taken on visits to ancestral villages in the countryside, I celebrated traditional festivals like Chinese New Year and Qingming and took part in significant family events like weddings, new baby celebrations (满月 múhn yuht) and a funeral. The history, culture and language of the Pearl River Delta districts are very special and I feel really privileged to have been able to experience life there in the way that I have.

So, as I came and went from China in the years that followed – on holiday, to study, to do research – and as I spent time here with Chinese Australian family historians, I realised that many Australian descendants wanted to go and visit their Chinese ancestral homes, but didn’t know how to go about it, particularly because they spoke no Chinese. For many, too, there was insufficient information to trace their Chinese ancestor back to a particular place, other than the ubiquitous Canton.

So this year, after many years of quietly plotting in my own mind and a couple of years of serious organising, Sophie Couchman and I led our first Chinese Australian Hometown Heritage Tour to Hong Kong and Guangdong. The tour ran for ten days, beginning and ending in Hong Kong. In China proper, we visited museums, heritage sites and ‘Australian’ villages in six Pearl River Delta counties. Our sixteen guests came from New South Wales, Victoria, Queensland, Tasmania and New Zealand, and most were descended from early Cantonese migrants to Australia. During the tour we visited a number of their ancestral villages, something that was very special for us all. We also ate a tremendous amount of excellent food, including the best egg tarts I think any of us have ever had.

Since the tour Sophie and I have been heartened by the participants’ responses to the experience. One participant, Jenny, has, for example, just given a conference paper – her first – about her Chinese ancestor, Ah Chin, at the Dragon Tails conference in Bendigo this past weekend. In her conference abstract Jenny wrote:

Until this year, I tended to think of him as ‘the Chinese guy’. When I travelled to China with the other Chinese descendants … my attitude changed. Suddenly, he was a real person, my ancestor, my great-great grandfather, and loving husband to Sarah and father to six children.

Another participant from our 2017 tour is even coming back to join us for our next tour in January 2018. We’re also really pleased that two of the participants in our upcoming tour in January are PhD students whose doctoral research draws on their own Chinese Australian family history, in Darwin and country Victoria. For me, it’s really exciting to see the possibilities that these personal experiences in the ancestral homelands in Guangdong might bring to a new generation of Australian histories.

Real Face of White Australia

One of the most significant sources for writing Chinese Australian history are the many thousands of Customs and Immigration files about Chinese Australians held by the National Archives of Australia. These records were created in the administration of the Immigration Restriction Act and include, among other things, about 40,000 identification documents called Certificates of Domicile and Certificates Exempting from the Dictation Test, which date from the turn of the 20th century to the 1950s.

Since the early 2000s, the National Archives has undertaken substantial arrangement and description and digitisation work on various of these record series, meaning that they are a lot easier to find and access than when I first looked at them as a PhD student twenty years ago. Individual records across multiple record series can, for example, now be easily located using a name-based keyword search in the National Archives’ collection database, RecordSearch, and digitised copied viewed online.

This year I have been working with University of Canberra historian Tim Sherratt and his digital cultural heritage students on an online project, called the Real Face of White Australia, that aims to transcribe data from these identification documents. Like the Hometown Heritage Tour, this project has had a long germination – from my various low-tech efforts at extracting personal data from the certificates to Tim’s very high-tech use of facial detection technology in his creation of the Real Face of White Australia experimental browser in 2012.

The transcription website that Tim has built uses the power of crowdsourcing to extract structured data – like names and biographical information – from the documents, data that can then be used for future research. As the project progresses Tim will release the data online so that anyone can use it, not just us. I’d encourage you to have a go at transcribing – it’s pretty fun!

There is a lot more that I could say about the project, but I will focus on two things with a family history perspective.

To launch the project, we held a transcribe-a-thon weekend at the Museum of Australian Democracy at Old Parliament House, where we and Tim’s students and members of the public sat and transcribed all weekend. Being an online project, though, it wasn’t just those of us physically in the building who took part in the weekend’s activities. One of our China tour participants set up his own mini transcribe-a-thon at home in Melbourne, where he and his family sat around the dining table working away at transcibing the records on the Saturday night. He is now also working with Sophie Couchman on developing a similar transcription project for a significant set of Chinese immigration registers held in the Melbourne office of the National Archives.

My final example is something that I, as a mum, think is probably the best thing to have come out of the whole project. Tim and my seven-year-old daughter, Emily, really got into transcribing the records during the transcribe-a-thon, and in the records she came across the photograph of a little Chinese Australian girl named Dolly Denson from 1909. Emily was so taken by Dolly’s picture that she wanted to find out more about her, so together we did some more research and, over the last school holidays, she wrote a blog post about her discoveries (using her nom de plume, Parker). Since the post went live on my blog, three of little Dolly Denson’s relatives – two of her nieces and a grand niece – have written lovely comments in response. How good is that?

Conclusion

Engaging with family historians and descendants over the past two decades had given me a very concrete sense of why I do what I do as a historian. Yes, I’m a historian because I love being a historian – like many of us, I may well be my happiest when I’m buried in the archives – but I’ve also kept being a historian through those lean years when it wasn’t what I was paid to do because I feel like my research makes a difference to people.

In the world of academic history I hope my work shifts our understanding of the place of Chinese Australians and Australia–China relations in the broader narrative of Australian history. In the world of family history, I hope that my work contributes to people’s understanding of their own family histories and how their ancestors lives fit into the bigger story of both Australian and Chinese history. These family stories are not always easy ones to uncover or understand, and they can be very emotional to research – but they are important and they deserve to be told.

Although this session was about ‘family history and the digital revolution’, you can see from my examples that my engagement with family historians is not all about being digital – the tangible and the face to face are still important. In my experience though, there are many positive things about working online, not least of which is the fact that it scales up the possibilities for participation, communication and collaboration between academic historians and family historians.

‘Conversion and perversion’, 1839

Mary Rapley from Shipley, Sussex, arrived in Sydney at the end of August 1838. A ‘nursery girl’ by calling, she had been convicted of shoplifting at the Sussex Quarter Sessions on 7 January and sentenced to seven years. Mary was one of 172 female convicts to arrive on the John Renwick, having left the Downs, off the Kent coast, in late May.

‘Shipping intelligence’, The Colonist, 29 August 1838, p. 2

Mary was single, Protestant and aged twenty-four. She could read but not write. Mary’s convict indent described her as being 4 foot 10 1/2 inches tall, with brown hair and hazel eyes. Her complexion was ‘fair, ruddy and freckled’, and she was missing one of her front upper teeth.

Mary became an assigned servant to James Henry, in Cumberland Street in the Rocks, but within a year of her arrival in New South Wales she had married. Her new husband, James Tim (or Jim), aged 27 in 1839, was Chinese – one of a very small number of Chinese men in the colony at the time.

In late July 1839, Mary and James’s marriage banns were published at the Scots Church, Sydney, where they were wed by the Rev. William McIntyre on Friday, 9 August. Neither Mary and nor James could sign their name, and so made their mark in the marriage register with an X. Mary’s employer, James Henry, had consented to her marriage, but the couple had not applied for permission from the Governor, which was usually required if either the bride or groom were still serving their sentence.

Marriage banns of Mary Rapley and James Tim, Scots Church, Sydney, July 1839

It seems that married life did not suit Mary, as at the end of September she found herself before police captain Joseph Innes facing an accusation of having run away from her husband. James claimed that Mary had left him after twenty-five days to live with another man. The case was reported in the colonial press under the headline ‘Conversion and Perversion‘:

Yesterday a Chinese gentleman named James Tame, appeared before Captain Innes at the Police-office, to complain of his wife, an English woman, whose maiden name had been Mary Rapsey, for running from his protection to that of another person. Upon stepping into the witness box, Mr Tame stated himself to be a Chinese catechist in his own coountry, that he was of the Roman Catholic persuasion, and was converted by the Portuguese. He said that he read the bible and believed that he read, but would rather be sworn on a saucer which was the way he had been accustomed to. He had been married by agreement with the prisoner, who had been an assigned servant to a person named James Henry, in Cumberland-street. They were married by the Rev. Mr McIntyre, and had been united but twenty-five days when the lady left her lord for the protection of another. Captain Innes said, that this case required investigation as he could not understand how permission had been obtained for the marriage, and he conveived that there had been some irregularity in the matter. The prisoner was remanded until enquiry should be made.

So many interesting things to think about in their story! When and why had James come to New South Wales? Was he from Macau? If he was a Catholic catechist in his own country, what did he do in Sydney? How had he and Mary met? In what circumstances had they married? Who was Mary’s paramour and was she compelled to return to her husband?

I have had trouble finding any further reference to Mary or her Chinese husband after this hearing before Captain Innes in September 1839. All the references to the surname ‘Rapley’ (or similar) I located in the convict indexes at State Records NSW are to Mary’s uncle, Daniel Rapley, who was sent to New South Wales in 1818. I also didn’t find any references to the surname Jim or Tim or Tame (or similar). And I can find no further Trove or BDM references either.

Any clues or further information would be very welcome!

Sources

‘Conversion and perversion’, The Australian, 24 September 1839, p. 2, <http://nla.gov.au/nla.news-article36861109>.

‘News of the day’, Sydney Monitor and Commercial Advertiser, 27 September 1839, p. 2 (morning edition), <http://nla.gov.au/nla.news-article32165693>.

NSW BDM 526/1839 V1839526 73A, marriage of James Jim and Mary Rapley, Scots Church, Sydney.

‘Shipping intelligence’, The Colonist, 29 August 1838, p. 2, <http://nla.gov.au/nla.news-article31721608>.

SRNSW, Reel 735, 4/2436.95.

SRNSW, Reel 908, Shelf X641, NRS 12189, Annotated Printed Indents (John Renwick, arr. 31 August 1838).

SRNSW, Reel 5027, NRS 12937, Registers of Baptisms, Marriages and Burials, 1787–1856, vol. 73.

‘How I found Dolly Denson’ by Parker Bagnall

This guest post was written by Parker Bagnall, aged seven. Parker attended our Real Face of White Australia transcribe-a-thon weekend at Old Parliament House on 9–10 September 2017, and became interested in the photograph of a little girl, Dolly Denson, that she found when transcribing. You can see more photographs of the Denson family in NAA: ST84/1, 1909/23/71-80.

My mum and dad made a website called the Real Face of White Australia.

On this website you transcribe. I’ll explain what transcribing is. Transcribing is when you take words from old immigration documents and type them out. On the old documents there are pictures of the person who owns the certificate. When I was transcribing I came across a two year old girl called Dolly. She was very cute and had chubby cheeks. My mum helped me find more about Dolly from the archives.

Me transcribing at Old Parliament House.

Dolly was born in Sydney 1907. That was 110 years ago. Dolly died probably at least 20 or 30 years ago, but my mum said it would have been interesting to meet someone who you were studying. Dolly’s mum’s name was Jang See and her dad’s name was Mew Denson. She had six siblings – five sisters, one brother. Her oldest sister, Mary, was born in China in 1895. The rest of her siblings were born in Sydney. There names were William, Amy, Ivy, Ruby, Mabel. Ruby died when she was a baby.

Photos of Dolly Denson and her mum’s handprint (NAA: ST84/1, 1909/23/71-80).

In 1909 the family went on a trip to China. The ship they travelled on was called the Eastern. Before they left they got identification documents called CERTIFICATE EXEMPTING FROM DICTATION TEST. These are the documents I was transcribing.🇨🇳 Dolly was too little to have her own certificate, so she’s on the back of her mum’s certificate.

Transcribing is fun but tricky. It’s tricky because the old handwriting is a bit hard to read. The writing is very curly, some letters are weird. The more you do it the easier it gets. There’s also some funny things on the certificates. One funny thing is they measure height in boots.

Some weird curly writing (NAA: ST84/1, 1909/23/71-80).

Thank you for reading this.
You can try transcribing yourself.
http://transcribe.realfaceofwhiteaustralia.net
By Parker Bagnall.

2017 Chinese Australian Hometown Heritage Tour

In March 2017, we – Kate Bagnall and Sophie Couchman – hosted our inaugural Chinese Australian Hometown Heritage Tour to Hong Kong and Guangdong. The tour ran for ten days, from 22 March to 31 March 2017, and visited Hong Kong, Jiangmen, Kaiping, Taishan, Xinhui, Zhongshan and Zhuhai.

We were joined on the tour by sixteen guests, from New South Wales, the ACT, Victoria, Queensland, Tasmania and New Zealand – most of whom were descended from early Cantonese migrants to Australia. The tour was guided by Stony Xiao from China Adventure Tours, with arrangements and bookings coordinated by Active Travel in Canberra.

For the Chinese characters for names of places we visited on the tour, see this glossary of place names in Chinese (pdf, 1.7MB).

Day 1: Hong Kong 香港

Wednesday, 22 March 2017

Day 2: Hong Kong 香港

Thursday, 23 March 2017
  • Morning at leisure
  • Afternoon walking tour of old Pokfulam village, including the Tung Wah Coffin Home, with Jason Wordie – the tour introduced the history of Hong Kong and some its of overseas Chinese connections
  • Dinner at Gold Mui Seafood Stall restaurant in Tsim Sha Tsui, with a talk by Dr Catherine Ladds (Hong Kong Baptist University) on the history of Eurasians in Hong Kong and treaty-port China
  • Accommodation at Stanford Hillview Hotel, Tsim Sha Tsui
The group outside Douglas Castle, now University Hall at the University of Hong Kong, on our Pokfulam walking tour (photo: Jonathan O’Donnell)

Day 3: Hong Kong 香港 – Jiangmen 江門

Friday, 24 March 2017
  • Ferry to Jiangmen (3 hours) – arriving in Guangdong by river boat we got a sense of the way overseas Chinese travelled in the 19th century and early 20th century
  • Lunch at Wuyi Kitchen restaurant in the Yucca Hotel mall in Jiangmen – where we got our first taste of local Jiangmen cuisine
  • Visit to the Wuyi Overseas Chinese Museum with Dr Selia Tan from Wuyi University – in this bilingual museum we were introduced to the broader history of overseas migration from the Wuyi (previously Siyi or See Yup) area of Guangdong, including migration to Australia
  • Visit to the Overseas Chinese Culture Research Centre at Wuyi University – where Dr Selia Tan told us about ongoing research at Wuyi University on overseas Chinese history
  • Dinner at leisure – most of us ate in one of the restaurants in the glossy shopping mall attached to the Yucca Hotel
  • Accommodation at Yucca Hotel, Jiangmen
At the Wuyi Overseas Chinese Museum in Jiangmen (photo: Kate Bagnall)

Day 4: Jiangmen 江門 – Kaiping 開平

Saturday, 25 March 2017
  • Visit to Cangdong village, Tangkou, Kaiping led by Dr Selia Tan – the Cangdong Heritage Education Centre, run by Selia, is working with local villagers to restore and revitalise the village of Cangdong; Cangdong is the ancestral village of Sydney-born Chinese revolutionary James Ah See or Tse Tsan-tai
  • Lunch at Cangdong village – lunch was a traditional village meal prepared by women from Cangdong in the communal kitchen, which we ate sitting in one of the restored ancestral halls
  • Visit to Li Yuan mansions and garden – built as a private home by Chinese American Xie Weili in the 1920s and 1930s, Li Yuan’s residences and garden were restored in the early 2000s and opened as a tourist site, which now also features a museum
  • Cultural activities at Cangdong village – we listened to performances of traditional folk music, watched calligraphy, paper flower-making and toy-making, and sampled some traditional Cangdong village sweets
  • Dinner at Lingzhiyuan restaurant in Tangkou, Kaiping – Lingzhiyuan’s menu is based around the lingzhi mushroom (Ganoderma lucidum), a ‘magic fungus’ formerly credited with miraculous powers and considered a symbol of good luck!
  • Accommodation at Pan Tower International Hotel, Kaiping
View from the top of the diaolou (watchtower) in Cangdong village, Kaiping (photo: Jonathan O’Donnell)

Day 5: Kaiping 開平

Sunday, 26 March 2017
  • Visit to Fengcai Tang (Yee Ancestral Hall) in Dihai with Dr Selia Tan – Fengcai Tang, now the site of a secondary school, is a magnificent example of the Western-influenced Chinese architecture of the early 20th century; one of our tour guests is a descendent of the Yee clan from Dihai, so it was an extra-special visit for her
  • Visit to Chikan town – a riverside market town built with overseas remittances mainly in 1920s to 1930s
  • Visit to Zili village – a magnificent example of the Kaiping’s tower mansions, which have been inscribed on the UNESCO World Heritage list
  • Lunch at Youzhiming restaurant in the countryside in Sanbu, Kaiping – Youzhiming specialises the local Kaiping delicacy, goose!
  • Visit to a cluster of Poon villages in Qiaotou, Yueshan, Kaiping – Kate has been researching one of the Poon families from Victoria, so brought everyone to visit the Poon ancestral villages; one of our tour members is a descendent of the Poon clan, most likely from this same cluster of villages
  • Afternoon tea in the market town of Yueshan – Yueshan is renowned for its streetside stalls, selling a range of afternoon tea treats each day from three o’clock; we enjoyed chatting, and resting our legs, while munching down freshly baked egg tarts and other delights
  • Visit Longtian village in Lechong, Kaiping – we visited the ancestral home of the mother of one of our tour guests
  • Dinner at leisure in Kaiping city
  • Accommodation at the Pan Tower International Hotel, Kaiping
  • And yes, this was a super busy day!
Diaolou (watchtowers) in the World Heritage listed village of Zili, Kaiping (photo: Kate Bagnall)

Day 6: Kaiping 開平 – Taishan 台山

Monday, 27 March 2017
  • Visit to Meijia Dayuan (Moy Family Compound), in Duanfen, Taishan – an interesting example of a market square built by overseas Chinese, perhaps best known today as the set for the 2010 action comedy film, Let the Bullets Fly
  • Visit to Longtengli, Shandi, Duanfen – here we saw the sadly delapidated home of famous Sydney merchant, Quong Tart, which he built for his parents in the late nineteenth century
  • Lunch at Qianmanyuan restaurant – this charming private restaurant is located in the grounds of the Taishan Library, surrounded by its own vegetable garden (arguably the most delicious meal of the trip!)
  • Visit to Taishan No. 1 Middle School – Taishanese people overseas contributed greatly to education in their home county and many of the school buildings were funded by overseas Chinese contributions, particularly from Canada
  • Free afternoon and evening in Taicheng (Taishan city) – the old part of the city, with narrow streets, shop houses, two historic churches and old-style shops is fun to explore
  • Accommodation at Taishan Gaoye Hotel, Taicheng
Stalls selling snacks and local products at the Mei Family Compound, Dingjiang, Taishan (photo: Kate Bagnall)

Day 7: Taishan 台山 – Xinhui 新會 – Zhongshan 中山

Tuesday, 28 March 2017
  • Visit to the Xinhui Fan Palm Museum – Xinhui is known for its fan palm trees, and the museum gave an interesting insight into some of the local crafts made using fan palms
  • Lunch at Yutai Temple, Guifeng Mountain Park, Xinhui – here we had the opportunity to visit a Buddhist temple, located at the top of a lush mountain park, and sample the temple’s vegetarian cuisine
  • Visit to Shiquli village, Luokeng town, Xinhui – Kate has been researching the Australian connections of Shiquli; the first men from Shiquli arrived in Victoria in the 1850s and migration continued up to the 1950s
  • Visit to Chen Chong village, Luokeng town, Xinhui – the grave of a man from this village is one of the few Chinese headstones in the Old Chiltern Cemetery in Victoria
  • Dinner at Shiqilao restaurant in Zhongshan – a fabulously kitsch (!) restaurant specialising in local Zhongshan cuisine
  • Accommodation at Sheraton Hotel, Zhongshan
The group outside the rundown 1920s school in Shiquli village, Luokeng, Xinhui (photo: Jonathan O’Donnell)

Day 8: Zhongshan 中山

Wednesday, 29 March 2017
  • Morning yumcha at Rongguang Guoyan Hotel, Zhongshan – a traditional Cantonese breakfast of tea and dimsum
  • Visit to the Xiangshan Commercial Culture Museum, Zhongshan – a museum dedicated to telling the story of the town of Shekki (now part of Zhongshan city), where the top floor highlights the Cantonese history of the ‘Big Four’ department stores of Nanjing Lu, Shanghai, all of which were started by Cantonese Australians from Shekki
  • Free time to have lunch, wander and explore around the Sunwen West Road pedestrian walking street, the historic heart of Shekki where there are shops, restaurants, a hillside park, temple, more museums and lots of interesting little backstreets to explore
  • Dinner at Time 1912 restaurant, Sanxi village, Zhongshan – Sanxi is a historic village tucked away in the centre of Zhongshan city, and has been converted into heritage zone with restaurants and galleries and a nice little pub
  • After dinner some of us took the opportunity to do admire the lights along the river and do some night-time shopping along Sunwen West Road
  • Accommodation at Sheraton Hotel, Zhongshan
Evening view over the Shiqi River, Zhongshan, looking north (photo: Kate Bagnall)

Day 9: Zhongshan 中山 – Zhuhai 珠海

Thursday, 30 March 2017
  • Visit to the Museum of the Former Residence of Sun Yat-sen and the Zhongshan Folklore Culture Museum in Cuiheng – we saw Sun Yat-sen’s ancestral home and village houses furnished to show how they would have looked at different points in the 19th and 20th centuries
  • Lunch at the Shi Shen seafood restaurant, Tangjiawan, Zhuhai
  • Visit to Waisha village, Tangjiawan, Zhuhai – we saw the home and ancestral hall of Choy Hing and Choy Chong of the Dah Sun Company department store, as well as the primary school they built; one of our tour members has been researching the Choy family history (his wife’s family) and made valuable connections with local officials
  • Dinner at De Yue Fang restaurant, Xiangzhou, Zhuhai – here we experienced some of the splendour and spectacle of modern China at a famous local seafood restaurant for our final night together; De Yue Fang is in a ‘boat’ off Yeli Island, with a view over the lightshow at the new Zhuhai Opera House
  • Accommodation at Guangdong Hotel, Gongbei
Exploring Choy family history in Waisha village, Tangjiawan, Zhuhai (photo: Kate Bagnall)

Day 10: Zhuhai 珠海 – Hong Kong 香港

Friday, 31 March 2017
  • Breakfast in the revolving restaurant atop the Guangdong Hotel – alas, we only got glimpses of the view through the fog and misty rain!
  • Ferry to Hong Kong (1 hour) – a leisurely return by boat that gave us time to reflect on the trip and say farewell to other tour members before going our separate ways
View over Gongbei, Zhuhai, from the top of the Guangdong Hotel (photo: Kate Bagnall)