Category: Resources

Finding your Chinese roots

For Australians whose Chinese ancestors arrived in the nineteenth and early twentieth centuries, tracing the family history back to China can be a real puzzle.

Whether you’re simply curious about your Chinese origins or are wanting to visit your ancestral village in China, there are two things you need to know – your Chinese ancestor’s name in Chinese characters and their village and county of origin.

Here you will find some suggestions for using Australian records to find these critical pieces of information.

You can also download a printable pdf of this post.

Chinese origins

Most Chinese who arrived in Australia in the nineteenth and early twentieth centuries came from the rural Pearl River Delta region of Guangdong province, south of the provincial capital of Guangzhou, north of Macau and inland from Hong Kong. A smaller number of Chinese migrants came from other parts of Guangdong province and from Fujian province (through the port of Xiamen, known historically as Amoy), as well as from other places such as Shanghai.

This post concentrates on Cantonese migrants who came from the Pearl River Delta.

Cantonese migrants came from a number of different areas in the Pearl River Delta, including:

  • Sam Yup (Sanyi, meaning the ‘three districts’): Namhoi (Nanhai), Poonyu (Panyu) and Shuntak (Shunde)
  • Heungshan (Xiangshan), later known as Chungshan (Zhongshan)
  • Tongkun (Dongguan)
  • Changshing, Tsengshing (Zengcheng)
  • Koyiu (Gaoyao) and Koming (Gaoming)
  • Sze Yup (Siyi, meaning the ‘four districts’): Sunwui (Xinhui), Sunning (Xinning) or Toishan (Taishan), Hoiping (Kaiping) and Yanping (Enping).

The Cantonese migrants spoke a range of dialects including: standard Cantonese, Cantonese variations such as Shekki dialect, Longdu (Zhongshan Min) dialect, Sze Yup dialects such as Taishanese, and Hakka. The earlier Amoy Chinese spoke Hokkien.

Source: Him Mark Lai Digital Archive, https://himmarklai.org/roots-program-lecture-notes/

The big stumbling block

To successfully track your family back to China you ideally need your ancestor’s name and their village and district of origin in Chinese characters. If your family migrated to Australia more recently and this information is known within the family, you have a tremendous advantage. If you don’t have this information, you will need to try and work it out from records available in Australia. This can be very tricky.

Until the twentieth century there was no standard way of romanising the various Chinese languages and dialects. Because of this, and because Chinese in Australia spoke different sorts of Cantonese, there is a lot of variation in how personal and place names are recorded in Australian English-language sources. Only rarely are Chinese characters to be found. The discrepancies in how Chinese names were written down in colonial Australia are not necessarily an indication of racist or uncaring attitudes toward the Chinese, but more a reflection of the fact that nobody, including the Chinese themselves, knew how to spell the names ‘properly’ in English.

Personal names

Chinese personal names usually comprise three characters, with one being the family name and two being the given name – for example, 鐔梅玲 Tam Moyling. A few Chinese family names comprise two characters (e.g. O’Young, Seeto), and sometimes a given name comprises only one character.

Although the characters remain the same, the pronunciation of a name changes depending of the dialect spoken. For example, the two-character surname 司徒 is pronounced Situ in Mandarin, Seeto in Cantonese and Soohoo in Sze Yup. The common family name 陳 is pronounced Chen in Mandarin, Chan/Chun in Cantonese, Chin in Hakka, and Tan in Hokkien.

Chinese personal names were recorded in many different ways in Australian records and, in the nineteenth and early twentieth centuries at least, rarely was a name written down ‘correctly’. A person’s name might have been recorded with multiple spelling variations – for example, one early Sydney resident was recorded as Man Sue Bach, Mum Shou Pac, John Ah Shue Bach, John A. Sue Bach, John Ah Sue and John a Shue.

Because of the different word order (surname first in Chinese but last in English), many Chinese given names came to be used as surnames in English – for example, Wong Chun Bun might became known as Jimmy Chun Bun and his children registered under the surname Bun.

Many, many Chinese personal names also include ‘Ah’ or ‘A’. This represents the character 阿, which is a prefix added to a given name as a familiar or informal form of address, much like adding ‘ie’ or ‘y’ to the end of a name in English (Ann to Annie, Tom to Tommy).

Petition of Chinese residents of Melbourne, 1857. Source: PROV VPRS 1189/P0, unit 482, http://wiki.prov.vic.gov.au/index.php/Chinese_Language_Records_at_PROV

While sometimes confusing, romanised versions of personal and place names can tell us helpful things. For example, personal names written with a ‘sl’ or ‘shl’ or ‘thl’ sound at the beginning (like Dang Bown Sluey or Slit Schin) suggest that these people were likely to be from Taishan, as this sound is particular to Sze Yup sub-dialects rather than standard Cantonese.

Or, a woman’s name that includes a ‘See’ or ‘Shee’ (氏) usually gives her father’s family name and indicates that the woman was married – a bit like the term née. Ham See, for example, would be a married woman who was born into the Ham (鐔) family – Ham would be her father’s, not her husband’s, surname.

Emma Woo Louie has written on Chinese American names, much of which applies in the Australian context. Her book is Chinese American Names: Tradition and Transition (McFarland & Company, 2008). A preview of the book is available from Google Books. She has also published articles on the subject in the Chinese Historical Society of America’s journal Chinese America: History and Perspectives.

For more on overseas Chinese names see:

  • ‘Chinese names’ on the Chinese-Canadian Genealogy website: http://www.vpl.ca/ccg/Chinese_Names.html
  • Kate Bagnall, Golden Shadows on a White Land, PhD thesis, University of Sydney, 2006 – Section 4: Belonging (starts on
    196): http://ses.library.usyd.edu.au/bitstream/2123/1412/4/04sections3%264.pdf
  • Kate Bagnall, ‘The trouble with spelling Chinese names’, Tiger’s Mouth [blog], 12 February 2013: http://chineseaustralia.org/the-trouble-with-spelling-chinese-names/
  • Janis Wilton, Golden Threads: The Chinese in Regional New South Wales 1850–1950, New England Regional Art Museum, 2004
  • Jon Kehrer, ‘Who was “John Chinaman”’, The Ancestral Searcher, vol. 24, no. 4, December 2001, pp. 201–205
  • Jon Kehrer, ‘Honourable ancestors: My search for the Chinese connection’, The Ancestral Searcher, vol. 27, no. 4 December 2004, pp. 328–333
  • Gary Presland, ‘Some difficulties in researching Chinese ancestry’, in From Gold to Federation: Papers from the Fourth Victoria Family State Conference, ed. Noelle Oke, Penfolk Publishing, Melbourne, 2001.

Place names

The native place of many Chinese is recorded in Australian sources as Canton – which variably refers to the province of Guangdong or the capital city of Guangzhou. However, most migrants came from the rural counties outside the capital, rather than the city itself. Unfortunately if ‘Canton’ is all the information you can find about your ancestor’s origins you will probably not be able to progress your research much further.

More occasionally county, city, town or even village names are recorded: Sunning, Sun Wui, Heung Shan, Amoy, Shekki, Kongmoon, Lee Yuan, Chuk Sau Yuen or Bak Shek, for example. Sometimes it’s easy to identify these places, sometimes it’s not. The smaller the place, the harder it can be to identify, but the more useful it will be if you eventually work out where it is.

The trick is to be able to translate from the old romanised version of a place name to how it is known today. The Cantonese city known in Mandarin today as Jiangmen (江門), for instance, might have been written Quong Moon, Kong Mun, or Kongmoon.

There are several words that often appear as the last syllable in village names that it can be useful to recognise:

  • choon or toon – 村 cun, meaning ‘village’
    g. 南潮村 Nam Chew Toon
  • lee or lay – 里 li, meaning ‘village’
    g. 南勝里 Nam Sing Lay
  • yuen – 園 yuan, meaning ‘garden’
    g. 竹秀園 Chuk Sau Yuen.

You can use clues you find in other records, such as distance from a larger town or physical characteristics of the place, to help narrow down your search for your particular village. If you know your ancestor’s surname you can also cross-check village names with the surname. The following database of village names is useful for this purpose:

The ‘Location, location, location’ section of the Chinese Genealogy forum (http://siyigenealogy.proboards.com/) is an excellent place to read up how others have gone about identifying and locating their ancestral villages.

If your ancestor came from Taishan, Xinhui or Zhongshan counties, you might find relevant information in the material produced by a project undertaken by the Asian Library at the University of British Columbia that identified the village and town of origin of Chinese migrants to Canada. Many migrants to Australia came from the same places as those who went to Canada. See:

Australian sources to consult

The following records are places where you are more likely to find personal names and village origins in Chinese characters.

Gravestones

A headstone in Chinese often provides the person’s name and place of birth in China. See:

Chinese graves in the old Chiltern cemetery, Victoria

Birth, death and marriage records

You should obtain Australian marriage and death certificates for the original Chinese ancestor, as well as birth certificates for their children and death certificates if the children died young. Sometimes a Chinese groom or father will have signed his name in Chinese characters and the birthplace will be more specific than just ‘Canton’ or ‘China’.

Immigration, travel and alien registration records

Immigration and travel records, as well as alien registration records, might contain details of people’s place of origin and their name in Chinese. Twentieth-century travel documents issued to Chinese Australians under the Immigration Restriction Act and related records are held by the National Archives of Australia. ‘Aliens’ (people who were not British subjects) were required to register with the government from World War I. These records are also held by the National Archives and can contain Chinese signatures, information about place of birth and so on.

See:

Naturalisation records

Some Chinese migrants became naturalised British subjects in the colonial period, and their application forms and certificates can include details such as place of origin and their original signature in Chinese. Naturalisation applications, rejected applications and cancelled and confiscated naturalisation certificates are found in state archives and in the National Archives of Australia.

Chinese newspapers

From the 1890s, Australia’s Chinese communities had their own Chinese-language newspapers, including the Chinese Australian Herald and the Tung Wah Times. The Tung Wah Times has been indexed in English, which allows you to search without knowing Chinese. The index can be helpful in identifying articles that might include an ancestor’s name in Chinese.

The major early Australian Chinese-language newspapers are also available through the National Library of Australia’s discovery service, Trove. If you have located names in Chinese characters you can search the newspapers even if you only have basic Chinese language skills. See:

Chinese student records

In the early twentieth century, young Chinese were allowed to come to Australia to study. Most who came were the children or relatives of people already living here. These students were issued with special Chinese student passports that included their name and place of origin in Chinese characters as well as in English. Many of these passports are held in immigration files in the National Archives of Australia. On how you might be able to use these passports to identify your ancestor’s village of origin, see:

Application for a Chinese student passport for Wong Ching Hung, 1923. NAA: A1, 1927/2279, http://recordsearch.naa.gov.au/scripts/AutoSearch.asp?O=I&Number=1506455

Top 3 tips for Chinese Australian family history research

Here are my ‘top 3’ suggestions on where to start your Chinese Australian history.

(Note: these suggestions are most relevant for New South Wales, and for tracing Chinese ancestors who arrived in Australia from south China before World War II.)

Wedding of Elsie May Chinn and Kum Mow, Sydney, 1917 (Sun, 18 February 1917, p. 16, http://nla.gov.au/nla.news-article221962375)

Top 3 sources

Look here first!

  • Birth, death and marriage records – You can search for and purchase copies of BDM certificates through the NSW Registry of Births, Deaths and Marriages, or get transcriptions through an agent. If you can, get copies of more than just your direct ancestral line (e.g. birth certificates for your grandmother’s siblings as well as your grandmother), since certificates often contain different bits of information. Also see if you can find church or parish registers and family notices in the newspaper.
  • Trove digitised newspapers – Try searching Trove using variations of your ancestors’ names, limit your searches by state or to a particular newspaper, or search more generally using a term like ‘Chinese’ and the place they lived.
  • National Archives of Australia (NAA) – Search in RecordSearch using variations of your family members’ names. The NAA collection is vast, but here’s an example of what you might find.

Top 3 research tips

  • Researching your Chinese Australian family is largely like researching any other Australian family. Some of the records you consult might be different (e.g. immigration, naturalisation or alien registration files), but the principles are the same. Contact your local library, historical society or genealogical society for help.
  • Chinese names were written down in many different ways in Australian records. Few records give people’s real Chinese names. Keep a list of each different spelling of your ancestor’s name you find, to use in keyword or name searches.
  • To trace your Chinese family back to China, you need to know their real Chinese name (preferably in characters) and their home province and district (‘Canton, China’ isn’t enough). During your research be on the look out for anything written in Chinese characters and make a copy.

Top 3 books

  • Janis Wilton, Golden Threads: The Chinese in Regional New South Wales, 1850-1950, New England Regional Art Museum in association with Powerhouse Publishing, Armidale, NSW, 2004
  • John Fitzgerald, Big White Lie: Chinese Australians in White Australia, University of New South Wales Press, Sydney, 2007
  • Shirley Fitzgerald, Red Tape, Gold Scissors: The Story of Sydney’s Chinese, revised edition, Halstead in association with the City of Sydney, Ultimo, NSW, 2008

Top 3 websites

  • Chinese Genealogy – a really helpful forum that’s especially useful for tracing your ancestral village
  • Chinese-Canadian Genealogy – the specifics are Canadian, but this site provides many ideas that can be applied to Australian research

The best laid plans — August 2014 edition

About six months ago I embarked on a new endeavour. I took a redundancy from the public service and began to spend my days at home — researching, writing, doing the washing, weeding the garden and wrangling kids. After twelve years in the public service — my entire grown-up working life — it has taken me a while to adjust. I was used to being a breadwinner, used to juggling the hectic demands of full-time work around my kids and my crazy need to keep up my historical pursuits in my ‘spare time’. So I’ve been feeling strangely guilty about the time I have, now that I don’t rush off to the office every day. I have done some occasional freelance work over the past couple of months and will need to get back to more paid work again in the new year — whether as a freelance editor/historian or back in an office job, I don’t know. For now though I have the rest of the year to get done the research and writing I’ve been bursting to do and couldn’t fit in before. No pressure, right?

So, overly ambitious as always, here’s what I plan to do between now and January:

  • manage the publication production of my first book, Chinese Australians: Politics, Engagement and Resistance, co-edited with Sophie Couchman, which we are about to send to the publisher, Brill (ongoing)
  • finish writing a chapter, tentatively titled ‘Writing home from China: Charles Allen’s transnational childhood’, for Paul Arthur’s edited collection Australian Culture and Identity: Transnational Perspectives in Life Writing, to be published by Anthem Press (by end of September)
  • sole parent for a couple of weeks while Tim attends conferences in Japan and London (September/October)
  • prepare two written papers, on ‘Early Chinese families in Australia’ and ‘Finding your Chinese roots’, for Congress 2015 Canberra (written papers need to be in four months before the conference!) (by end of November)
  • prepare my paper, ‘Everyday intimacies: women’s cross-cultural interactions on a colonial goldfield’, for the Migrant Cross-Cultural Encounters conference at the University of Otago in late November — I’m also going to stay on for a couple of extra days to meet with the folk from the Centre for Research on Colonial Culture (by late November)
  • organise, with Julia Martinez, a workshop on Chinese women in Australian history at the University of Wollongong in early December, as well as preparing my own workshop paper on the arrival of Chinese wives to Australia under the Immigration Restriction Act, 1902 to 1920
  • organise my three-week research trip to Hong Kong and Guangdong for January 2015 — I’ll spend two weeks based at the Overseas Chinese Culture Research Centre at Wuyi University in Jiangmen doing fieldwork in Xinhui and Kaiping and then a week of archival research in Hong Kong (the trip is supported by a Humanities Travelling Fellowship from the Australian Academy of the Humanities)
  • redevelop my website and blog a bit more than I have been (I’ve got a few half-written posts I’d really like to finish!).

Looking at this long list of things I’ve committed myself to doing, I’m also very aware that sitting in my inbox are quite a few emails from people hoping for some help with their family history research. I love hearing from people whose family stories intersect with my research interests and I regret that I’m not able to respond to them all in a timely manner — catch me on a bad day and your email might sit there for weeks or months, catch me on a good day and you’ll get a reply straight away! I do try to catch up, but if you’re one of those people waiting for a response from me, I hope you understand that sometimes a pressing deadline, or a request from my four-year-old to take her to the park, has to come first.

Tung Wah Newspaper Index

Over a decade ago one of the most useful tools for Chinese Australian history research was developed as part of the Chinese Heritage of Australian Federation project – an English-language index to two of Australia’s early Chinese-language newspapers, the Tung Wah Times and the Tung Wah News. For someone like me, whose Chinese reading comprehension skills were rudimentary at best, the index meant there was some practical way to find relevant material in the newspapers. Articles I located, for example, provided evidence of Chinese Australian attitudes towards intermarriage between Chinese men and non-Chinese women, something that was difficult to ascertain from other sources.

My best find was an article that related to a story I was told during fieldwork in Taishan in 2003. The story told of how foreign wives of Chinese men would give their husbands doses 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 within a particular time for the antidote. 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. The article in the Tung Wah News provided a second example of this same story, suggesting that it was an urban myth of sorts among the qiaoxiang villages.

Unfortunately, with time the Chinese Heritage of Australian Federation website, and the Tung Wah index with it, could no longer be maintained and it was archived by La Trobe University. The index lost functionality in this process, meaning that searches no longer worked and only a certain number of items in the index were browsable.

Which brings me to the point of this post.

Thanks to the hard work of Sophie Couchman and Tim Sherratt, the Tung Wah Newspaper Index has been redeveloped and a sparkly new version is now up and running. The index can be searched or browsed, as you’d expect. But Tim has also made sure the index includes Linked Open Data and a basic API and has made the code and data available on Github.

Happy hunting, everyone!

Birth certificate registers

In October 1913 Secretary of the Department of External Affairs, Atlee Hunt, sent a circular to the state Customs departments asking if they kept records of Chinese Australians who used their birth certificates as identity papers when travelling overseas.

Queensland already kept such a register, and Hunt felt that:

Such a register is very desirable to enable a check to be kept on persons claiming admission to Australia on birth certificates, as it is an easy matter for a number of copies of the same certificate to be obtained, and the experience of the past shows that in some instances several Chinese have attempted, sometimes successfully, to land on copies of the same certificate. (NAA: A1, 1913/20069)

An example of the early difficulties that both Chinese Australians and government officials had with using birth certificates as identification can be found in the case of Fred Hong See (see NAA: BP342/1, 13021/357/1903). Fred was born in Sydney in 1885 to Chinese parents who, when he was very young, took their son back to China. Fred’s father later died and, in 1903, Fred returned to live with other relatives in Sydney. When he arrived, Customs officer J.T.T. Donohoe doubted his identity and would not allow him to land. Donohoe’s suspicions were based on the fact that Fred could not speak any English and his feeling that Fred looked older than the age stated on the birth certificate he presented.

Fred was quickly sent on his way back to China, and it was only through the threat of legal action by his well-respected relatives in Sydney and their payment of a deposit of £100 that Fred was permitted to stop at Brisbane for re-examination. With evidence provided by Fred’s relatives, the Brisbane Collector of Customs, W.H. Irving, was satisfied that he was, in fact, telling the truth. After Atlee Hunt’s approval, Fred was allowed to stay.

This is the copy of Fred Hong See’s birth certificate that he presented to officials on his return to Australia in 1903. It can be found with other correspondence about the case in NAA: BP342/1, 13021/357/1903.

In the decade after the introduction of the Immigration Restriction Act, the processes for its administration continued to be refined and tightened, primarily to prevent the fraudulent entry of Chinese into Australia. Hunt’s request for the keeping of birth certificate registers came about from a concern that ‘as other channels of fraudulent entry are being blocked, the Chinese will make a determined effort to utilize birth certificates to that end.’

His Customs circular of 1913 set out the details that Customs officers should record to enable correct identification on a person’s return to Australia:

  • name
  • number of birth certificate
  • date of issue
  • date of birth
  • where born
  • date of departure from Australia
  • remarks concerning departure
  • date of return
  • by whom examined, landed or rejected
  • general remarks

The Collectors of Customs responded thus:

  • Victoria reported that had been keeping a register from the beginning of the year (1913), but without the level of detail requested.
  • New South Wales had not been keeping records, but was now ordering a book for the purpose.
  • Western Australia had no special register, but would immediately open one.
  • South Australia said they had not had any need for a register, as there had been no cases of Chinese being admitted on birth certificates there.
  • Tasmania would begin keeping a record, but had only had four cases to date.
  • And the Northern Territory had been keeping record of Chinese arriving on birth certificates since 1911.

It became the practice for birth certificates to be endorsed by Customs officials on a person’s departure. This usually included taking a handprint and attaching a photograph, as well as recording the details in a register. Some people also went through the formality of applying for a CEDT.

The two remaining registers

To my knowledge, only two of the birth certificate registers still exist, those for Queensland and New South Wales. The Queensland register is held in the Brisbane office of the National Archives, and a digital copy is available through RecordSearch:

The first volume, of 16 double pages, has suffered flood damage and can be difficult to read in parts. The second volume, which has 23 double pages, is much more legible. A sample page from the second volume is shown below – this is a left-hand page, with the remainder of the details about each person completed on the corresponding right-hand page.

The single register for New South Wales, held in the National Archives’ Sydney office, is more substantial than those for Queensland, demonstrating the greater amount of travel that occurred from Sydney. The register contains around 150 double pages and includes an alphabetical index at the front. The entries date from 1904 to 1962; those before 1913 were presumably copied from records elsewhere. It is also fragile and difficult to read in places, but it has recently also been digitised and made available through RecordSearch:

The page reproduced below is a left-hand page, with further details about the travels of each person available on the corresponding right-hand page.

Making use of the registers

These registers are valuable sources of information about Chinese Australian families in Queensland and New South Wales, and can provide missing pieces of information for people who did not apply for CEDTs when they travelled overseas (which many Australian-born Chinese did not).

Having them digitised is great, especially for those of us who can’t easily get to the Brisbane or Sydney reading rooms – but what would be even more useful is if the information contained in the registers was in a form that could be searched and sorted. I’m working on a bigger project relating to Chinese families in New South Wales, based around a database of information sourced from marriage and birth records up to 1918. I’m part-way into transcribing relevant details from the published BDM indexes with 1000 entries (out of an estimated 3000–4000) in the database so far!

The information found in the birth certificate registers obviously relates very strongly to this, so I have another crazy plan to also transcribe the information held in the Sydney register. It’s not going to be a quick job – and it’s one that could easily be shared since the New South Wales register is online. So, if you happen to have some spare time and don’t mind deciphering old handwriting, I’d love to hear from you!

An indecipherable name and Rev. Dr Fullerton’s marriage shop

Some recent research I’ve been doing into an Anglo-Chinese family living in Sydney in the 1870s–1880s led me to both an interesting problem and an interesting discovery. I undertook this research for someone else, so I won’t mention any names here – lets just call our couple ‘J’ (the husband) and ‘R’ (the wife).

The problem was thus: the copy of the couple’s marriage registration provided by NSW Registry of Births Deaths & Marriages includes a Chinese signature for ‘J’ the groom, but it is completely indecipherable. So indecipherable, in fact, that it is even difficult to make an educated guess as to what the name might be. Finding a Chinese ancestor’s Chinese signature is one of those Eureka moments, so finding out that no one can make sense of it is rather disappointing.

I began to wonder, therefore, if the original parish marriage register might provide some clues. All the information on the marriage registration is in the same handwriting, so I thought it might be possible that the details, including the ‘signatures’, had been written in by someone else (who could not write Chinese). This had been the case with another later marriage in the same family – by checking a copy of the original church register I was able to see the (English) signatures of the bride and groom and witnesses.

Many early parish registers for Sydney and New South Wales have been microfilmed by the Society of Australian Genealogists – my local copies are in the National Library. Starting out with great hope, in the end I could not locate the appropriate register among the microfilms. This did, however, lead me to my interesting discovery.

My couple, ‘J’ and ‘R’, were married in 1874 by the Rev. Dr James Fullerton LLD, a Presbyterian minister in Sydney during the middle decades of the 19th century. Fullerton was a somewhat controversial figure who was reputed to run a ‘marriage shop’ out of his home – many of his marriages were performed there rather than in his church. In 1851, he was tried in the Supreme Court for ‘illegal solemnization of marriage’. Fullerton was known not to ask too many questions, and on the registrations of marriages he officiated, the personal details are often scanty and incorrect. For my couple, only minimal details are given and the bride’s age has been stated as being 21 (the age of consent) – she was actually only 17.

The original church registers maintained by Rev. James Fullerton up to 1873 are held by the Uniting Church Archives NSW/ACT, those from 1874 are held by the Presbyterian Church’s Ferguson Memorial Library in Surry Hills. Thanks to archivists at both those institutions, I now know that Fullerton’s original register can shine no more light on the Chinese name of my groom ‘J’. It just says that the groom signed ‘in Chinese’. Alas.

In my research into Fullerton, though, and in thinking about the circumstances in which my 17-year-old Irish-Australian bride came to marry her Chinese husband, I came across a fascinating article from 1873 with information about another marriage Fullerton performed between a young white woman and a Chinese man. It’s quite long, but I’ll copy it here because it is a rather cute account of how things might have been. From the Sydney Morning Herald, 11 April 1873, it details a case heard in the Court of Quarter Sessions in Sydney:

KEEPING A BROTHEL

A Chinaman from Canton, calling himself ‘Charles Tuckland,’ was charged with keeping a brothel.

The case was proved for the Crown by a Pagan Chinaman from Canton, names Lau Hawk, who deposed that the house was a brothel, and that he had married his wife Ellen Jones (a young woman aged 19 years, and a native of Sydney) out of his, prisoner’s disorderly house. Lau Hawk’s marriage was celebrated by the Rev. Dr. Fullerton, on the 23rd of January last. The marriage certificate was produced in Court. The witness, Lau Hawk, was sworn, at his own request, by blowing out a match, “not being a Christian.” Law Hawk [sic] swore that Tuckland’s house was a Chinese house of ill-fame, mostly frequented by Chinaman, but that degraded white men sometimes went there. Constable Michael H. Fox also gave evidence as to the extremely disreputable character of the house. A night-watchman, named Brennan, likewise gave similar evidence. This man had been complained to about Tuckland’s house by the people in the neighbourhood. The witness had seen Chinese men and white women – mostly very young – in couples in every room in the house – all smoking opium. The women were white women, and one of them was the woman Ellen Jones or Ellen Hawk. The white prostitutes and the Chinamen used to make a practice of smoking opium together. Brennan had seen the men smoking opium there, and passing on their opium pipes to the young women in whose company they were. Joe Hong, a Chinaman, gave the like evidence. For the defence, Mrs. Hawk (wife of Lau Hawk), gave the prisoner’s house a good character. She said she was drunk with spirits (not opium) when she was married to Lau Hawk. She went with Lau Hawk to Dr. Fullerton’s, to be married to Lau Hawk on an evening at twenty minuted to 10 o’clock. She swore that she was not then married to Lau Hawk, because they were told ‘it was then too late,’ but she did get married to him at the same place on the following morning, and was drunk at the time. Lau Hawk swore that they were married at night. Mrs. Lau Hawk’s bridesmaid was a girl called Emma Jones; one who passes as her sister, and who was living with Ellen Jones at Tuckland’s, but was not related to her. His Honor, in the course of his remarks said that the circumstances of this case were most extraordinary, and would, he trusted, be reported by the Press.

The prisoner’s defence was that his house was a ‘welly good house, and not bad at all.’ He sold opium for people to come and smoke it, and the young women waited on his customers.

The jury, without retiring, returned a verdict of guilty.

Sentence: To be imprisoned in Darlinghurst gaol and there kept to hard labour for six calendar months.

The opium merchant fluently expressed his astonishment at the result of the trial in Chinese, and was promptly removed from the Court in the midst of his disagreeable surprise.

(See the article online: http://nla.gov.au/nla.news-article13321835.)

Back to school

With school going back this week, here’s an article from the Sydney Morning Herald in 1911 about the Anglo-Chinese and Chinese pupils at the Waterloo public school in Sydney.

It mentions a recently arrived Chinese boy, son of a local butcher – one of hundreds of Chinese-born children of men living in Australia who came to Australia in the early decades of the 20th century to attend school. Most of the children who came were boys. Some, like the boy mentioned in the article, had no English at all. Others had already attended English school in China (this was a later requirement of their being allowed into Australia to study).

The National Archives of Australia holds files on the Chinese students in series A1. You can search for them in RecordSearch using a name, or keywords like ‘Chinese student’, ‘student passport’. A number of them are already digitised, so you can see what sorts of things are in them.

The files generally contain a Chinese student passport, which has a photograph and details in both Chinese and English – including name, date and place of birth, school attended, person responsible for the student. There are also usually school reports and other correspondence about the student’s time in Australia.

Willie Wahlook Lee's Chinese student passport, 1923

The image above is from the Chinese student passport of Willie Wahlook Lee, who attended the Crown Street Public School in Sydney between 1923 and 1926. It is found in NAA: A1, 1923/28341 and the whole file is digitised.

Sometimes the student was allowed to remain in Australia beyond the term of their studies, in which case the file will include more information. It may also then not appear in a search in A1 under ‘student passport’ – in such cases a search by name is more likely to get results. The National Archives might also hold other records, such as those created by the Collectors of Customs in the states, about the students.

The files can be a useful way of finding information about the Chinese name and origin (in characters) of people or families already living in Australia.

Chinese children – At public schools –Waterloo teachers’ troubles

During his visit to the Waterloo Public School on Friday Mr. Beeby (Minister for Education) was struck with the number of enrolled children who had English mothers and Chinese fathers. Surrounding the school are numerous Chinese dwellings. Some of the inhabitants have brought out their wives from China, but others are living with Englishwomen, and the offspring of the latter, the schoolmaster states, prove to be some of the brightest and most intelligent children in the school. In their home life and surroundings these children have a splendid opportunity of learning the Chinese as well as the English language, but in nearly every case they turn from the Chinese, and openly express a desire to become apt pupils in English.

The teachers in the same school have amongst their pupils one or two full-blooded Chinese children, and the headmaster has a problem to solve in trying to impart knowledge to these.

A Chinese boy of 14 years was presented to Mr. Beeby on Friday as an example of what the teaching staff had to content with. He is a fine sturdy boy, with intelligent features, and arrived from China two months ago. He is the son of a local Chinese butcher, and, like his mother and father, is unable to speak a word of English. But he proudly takes his place daily in the school among the infants of six and seven years, and the headmistress of the department is trying hard to impart to him the rudiments of English. The teacher told the Minister on Friday that the boy could not speak a word of English, ‘and of course, I can’t speak Chinese,’ she added. The Minister was interested, but puzzled. However, the headmistress of the infants is going to solve the problem herself. She writes words of two or three letters on the board, and the pupil copies them into his exercise book, and does it too in a very neat way: but he cannot read what he has written. The teachers hope that by mixing in with the other children the newcomer from China will gradually pick up the English language.

Sydney Morning Herald, 5 June 1911

US Army topographic maps of Guangdong

The Perry-Castañeda Library Map Collection at the University of Texas, has a great collection of online maps of China, both current and historical.

One of the real treasures is the China – Topographic Maps [Scale 1:250,000] (China Series) U.S. Army Map Service, Series L500, dating from 1954. Using a map of the whole of China as a guide, you can click to bring up very detailed maps of particular regions. Place names are given in modified Wade-Giles with some Chinese characters (and it’s kinda fun spotting familiar places – a detail map of Macau, for instance, points past the Portas do Cerco to ‘Chi-Ta 5 km’, which would be Jida, now a bustling and ever-growing part of Zhuhai city).

The Chung Shan map (NF-49/8 on the big plan, and warning, it’s a big file: 6.4mb), shows the western part of the Pearl River Delta, from Kaiping in the west to the border with Hong Kong in the east, from Panyu in the north to Macau in the south. You can see the level of detail provided on the map below.

The maps that are likely to be useful for those interested in Chinese Australian history are the following:

The other very cool thing about these maps is that they correspond to the map references in the Chinese Villages Database. So, for instance, the villages database gives the map reference ‘GQ 4394’ for Shek Kay Chun in Chung Shan (Shiqi in Zhongshan). This means you have to look for the area marked as GQ, find line no. 4 and go in 3/10 of the way to line no. 5, then find line 9 and go 4/10 of the way to line no. 0. A somewhat daggy illustration of how to do this is below (click on the image to get the full-size version). There you can see, circled in blue is Shekki.

What you can find in Police Gazettes

I have just dragged myself away from the library, where I could well have become seriously lost in the Police Gazettes. These addictive volumes contain all manner of information about criminal and policing matters and are particularly interesting in what they reveal, often in minute detail, about the things people did, what stuff they had, where they lived and who they knew. Of course, to be included people mostly had to be either a criminal, wanted by the police, a victim of crime, a missing person or the like (although others do get a mention for various reasons).

Many of the Police Gazettes have been copied and are available on CD as searchable PDF documents. (You can find more about these on the Archive CD Books website – just search for ‘police gazette’). This is very handy, and a little bit of keyword searching in random volumes could well occupy many a happy hour.

Here’s a few ‘Chinese’ things.

Theft

From Victoria Police Gazette, 16 September 1909, p. 363

JAMES CHIN YOUNG, cabinetmaker, 300 Exhibition-street, Melbourne, reports stolen from his dwelling, on the 14th inst., 2 carpenters’ planes, “Louey Won, maker,” stamped on end, one about 16 inches long and the other about 6 or 7 inches long; a 56-lb bag of rice, bag made of Chinese straw, “F.K., No. 1, Melbourne,” on it and some Chinese characters; an English-Chinese dictionary, with “James Chin Young” stamped inside, 9 by 6 inches; a gent’s black silk umbrella, crook handle, opens with a spring; and a Chinese bangle. Value £6. Entrance was effected through the back window.–O.6759. 15th September, 1909.

From Victoria Police Gazette, 2 September 1910, p. 414

AH HOW, gardener, Albert-street, Brunswick East, reports stolen from his dwelling, on the 26th or 27th inst., a small round alarm clock, “Ah How” on back, and in Chinese letters “Louie How”; a blue jumper; a pair of cotton pyjamas; a cotton singlet; a pillow slip; a butcher’s knife; a corkscrew; a tin opener; a gent’s umbrella, crooked handle; 2 photos. of complainant’s garden; and some celery and lettuce seed. Value £3. Entrance was effected by breaking the glass in a window.–O.5805. 29th August, 1910.

Desertion

From Victoria Police Gazette, 13 October 1910, p. 472

YEN MEE LANG TIP is charged, on warrant, issued at the instance of his wife, Ethel Theresa Lang Tip, green-grocer, Korumburra, with deserting his six children, at Korumburra, ont he 17th ult. Description:–Half-caste Chinese, 34 years of age, 5 feet 10 inches high, rather stout build, square shoulders, light-brown eyes, dark moustache only, shiny black hair, with curl in centre of forehead, false teeth on top jaw, speaks good English, two fingers of left hand are turned in.–O.6635A. 7th October, 1910.

Forgery

From New South Wales Police Gazette, 2 November 1910, p. 376

Tamworth.–A warrant has been issued by the Tamworth Bench for the arrest of Amy Camoline Win, charges with forging a cheque for £30. She is 13 years and four months of age, about 4 feet 10 inches high, slight build, rather sallow complexion, dark-brown straggly hair, brown eyes, good teeth; dressed in green straw hat with black velvet band, white linen blouse, lace insertion front and buttons at back, green serge skirt, black leather belt, tan lace-up shoes and tan stockings; a half-caste Chinese, but shows little Chinese.

Forgotten heroes

A guest post in honour of the 90th anniversary of the Armistice that ended World War I. Alastair Kennedy, who is undertaking a PhD at the Australian National University, shares with us some of the experiences of Chinese Australians who served in World War I.

Forgotten heroes – Chinese Australians in the First Australian Imperial Force 1914–20

Due both to the accident of its colonial history and the deliberate imposition of the White Australia Policy after Federation, the First Australian Imperial Force (1st AIF) that set out for Egypt in the troop transports from Australia’s west coast ports in 1915 was predominantly of white European stock. It was a requirement under federal regulations, in force from 1910, that members of the permanent and citizens forces were to be ‘substantially of European origin or descent’.

Yet, despite this and the other discriminatory legislation, Australians of Chinese descent did enlist and served with distinction during World War I. Based on an analysis of the 1911 census it has been estimated that there were less than 2000 full- and part-Chinese Australian males eligible to enlist. Using known Chinese surnames and building on information from Gilbert Jan’s 1999 Sydney Memorial Honour Roll, the 2003 Chinese Heritage of Australia Federation Project’s database compiled by La Trobe University and information supplied by the Golden Dragon Museum in Ballarat, I have so far identified in the records of the Australian War Memorial and National Archives of Australia some 197 diggers of certain Chinese ancestry who served in the 1st AIF.

Between them, these Chinese Australians were awarded five Distinguished Conduct Medals (DCM), fourteen Military Medals (MM), two Belgian Croix de Guerre and three Mentions in Dispatches (MID). In proportion to their numbers, this represents a much higher ratio of gallantry awards per head than the rest of the AIF.

There are many names that already feature in Chinese Australian history; for example, Herbert Kong Meng (21), Arthur Quong Tart (3262) and Christopher Shying (3232), respectively descendants of the more famous Lowe Kong Meng, Mei Quong Tart and John Joseph Shying (who himself had served with the New South Wales Volunteer Rifles in the Sudan Expeditionary Force).

Here are some other 1st AIF Chinese Australian heroes.

Caleb James Shang (2504) DCM and Bar, MM

Caleb Shang was the most decorated Australian of Chinese descent in World War I. He was born in Fortitude Valley, Brisbane, in 1884 to Lee Wah Shang, a cabinet-maker, and Jane nee Noon of Gayndah, the eldest of 13 children. His unit was in action at the Messines Ridge and he was awarded the Distinguished Conduct Medal for bravery. Just over a year later Shang, now serving in the 45th Battalion, was awarded both a Bar to his DCM (in effect earning the same medal twice) and the Military Medal for his actions at Dernancourt on the Somme. His brother Sidney also served.

Billy Sing (5794) DCM, Mention in Despatches, Belgian Croix de Guerre

Featured in John Hamilton’s recent book Gallipoli Sniper (Pan Macmillan, 2008), Trooper Billy Sing of the 5th Light Horse was born in Clermont, Queensland. He had worked in the bush as a stockman and was both a skilled horseman and a crack shot. In May 1915 his unit embarked for Gallipoli where he started to earn a reputation as a sniper. In December 1915 the Army Corps Commander published a paragraph in Army Orders congratulating Billy on ‘performing his duty at a sniper post’ and ‘accounting for 201 casualties to the enemy’. This was followed by the award of the Distinguished Conduct Medal. Later, in France he was wounded twice (once at Polygon Wood) and was Mentioned in Dispatches for gallantry and awarded the Belgian Croix de Guerre.

Sergeant Leslie Kew-Ming (657) MM

Leslie Kew-Ming was born in St Arnaud, Victoria. He served with 23 Battalion in Belgium, was wounded in action and awarded the Military Medal.

Corporal William Loo Long (3364) MM and Bar

William Loo Long was born in Marsden, NSW. He served with 45 Battalion where he earned his first Military Medal in April 1918 at Dernacourt in France. Later, during operations East of Hamel, he earned a Bar to his MM (in effect a second MM). His brother George Thomas Loo Long also served.

The Sam family

Five of the seven sons in the Sam family from West Wyalong served in the AIF. Four of the brothers were Sergeant George Flood Sam (2671) MM, Henry Herbert (676), James Francis (1431) and Norman (1430). The fifth brother appears not to have enlisted under the name ‘Sam’ (or any variation of that), and his service record hasn’t been located.

The Lepp family

James Lepp and George Lepp of Ballarat each had 3 sons – each family had one son killed in action; the others returned safely, one with a Military Medal. They were Albert Edward (4539) KIA, Arthur Norman (1938), Clarence Rupert (2199) MM, James Edwin (2198), Reginald Charles (4540) and Victor Stanley (1576) KIA.

The Langtipp family

All four brothers in the Langtipp family of Port Albert joined the 4th Regimentt Light Horse – each returned safely to Australia, one with a Distinguished Conduct Medal. They were Bertie Allan (2346), Ernest Walter (2345), Henry (2347) and Leslie Oliver (2348) DCM.

I am sure there are many other Chinese Australians who enlisted in the 1st AIF under assumed or Anglicised names. If anyone who reads this has such an ancestor or knows of someone who has, I would be delighted to research them at no cost and provide them with the results. Please help!

Alastair Kennedy
Centre for Immigration and Multicultural Studies
Australian National University
Canberra ACT 0200
Email: alastair.kennedy@anu.edu.au

A note on World War I service records

Service dossiers for men and women who served in the 1st AIF are held by the National Archives of Australia in Canberra. Most of the files have been digitised and are available to view online. The Archives’ website has general information about the service records and how to access them. You can do a search by name using NameSearch.

A new website from the National Archives, called Mapping our Anzacs, provides a different way of accessing the records. With Mapping our Anzacs you can browse maps to see where World War I servicemen and women were born and enlisted. You can also post comments or photographs about individual service people, or create a tribute about people that are important to you. The links above to Alastair’s Chinese Australian servicemen go to their details in Mapping our Anzacs.

Here are some other sites that might be helpful in finding out about World War I service men and women:

For more on Chinese Australians in the defence forces, see Morah Loh and Judith Winternitz, Dinki-di: The Contributions of Chinese Immigrants and Australians of Chinese Descent to Australia’s Defence Forces and War Efforts, 1899–1988 (Australian Government Publishing Service, 1988).