Next month I will be giving a paper on Chinese women in colonial New South Wales at the International Conference on Chinese Women in World History at Academia Sinica in Taipei. My paper will focus on the early period of Cantonese migration to Australia, from the 1850s to 1880, and present short biographical sketches of four Chinese women who arrived in New South Wales in the 1860s – Ah Happ, Ah Fie, Kim Linn and Sam Kue. Before 1881 there were no legislative limits on the entry of Chinese women to New South Wales.
I was particularly interested in these four women because of their early arrival in the colony, and their rarity among the colonial Chinese population, but there are others I’ve come across whose lives I’d also like to know more about. One of those is Chin Sheng Geong, the wife of the fabulously named missionary and interpreter George Graham Mackie Ah Len.
Chin Sheng Geong (born c. 1856) married George Ah Len (born c. 1837) in Canton in about 1876, while he was on a visit home from Australia. They seem to have arrived back in Australia together in 1877 (along with a female Chinese servant who accompanied Chin Sheng Geong). They lived in the Rocks, which was then Sydney’s Chinatown, in Queen Street, a laneway that ran off Essex Street between George and Harrington streets. There Chin Sheng Geong gave birth to and raised her family of six: Jane (b. 1877), Mary (b. 1879), Ada (b. 1882), James (b. 1886), and twins Peter and Thomas (b. 1888). The children were all baptised. George Ah Len died in 1889, after which time Chin Sheng Geong returned to China with her children.
George Ah Len coincidentally also features in my naturalisation research. He was naturalised as a British subject in 1878 (No. 78/206), and in 1882 was registered as a ‘person known to Government whose endorsement is considered sufficient’ on applications for naturalisation. From 1882 to 1888 he endorsed the naturalisation applications of more than 60 Chinese in New South Wales.
Typically, there is much more to be found about husband than wife, but within his story we can find traces of her. The following brief chronology about George Ah Len and Chin Sheng Geong in Australia is compiled from historical newspapers, government gazettes, naturalisation records, Sands Directories, BDM records and immigration files.
Early in the year Ah Lin was baptised at Maryborough, Victoria, and later, as George Ah Lin, he began his training as an evangelist under Rev. William Mathew in Melbourne.
1868 ‘THE CHINESE AND ABORIGINAL MISSIONS’, Mount Alexander Mail, 14 November, p. 2, http://nla.gov.au/nla.news-article200524565
George Ah Lin, a Chinese convert, sang a hymn and addressed the annual meeting of the Presbyterian Church in Victoria at the Scots Church, Melbourne.
1868 ‘THE PRESBYTERIAN CHURCH IN VICTORIA’, Ovens and Murray Advertiser, 3 December, p. 2, http://nla.gov.au/nla.news-article198055610
George Ah Lin was to be sent to Beechworth as Chinese missionary.
1868 ‘THE PRESBYTERIAN CHURCH AND THE CHINESE’, Ovens and Murray Advertiser, 17 November, p. 2, http://nla.gov.au/nla.news-article198055417
George Ah Lin was a Chinese missionary at Beechworth.
1870 ‘No title’, Ovens and Murray Advertiser, 20 October, p. 2, http://nla.gov.au/nla.news-article196416938
Chinese catechist George Ah Len left his work at Ballarat to take charge of the Presbyterian Chinese Mission in Sydney.
1872 ‘NEW ZEALAND’, Ovens and Murray Advertiser, 1 August, p. 2, http://nla.gov.au/nla.news-article196858051
In August, George Ah Len travelled from Melbourne to Sydney on the Dandenong.
1872 ‘SHIPPING INTELLIGENCE’, Argus, 17 August, p. 4, http://nla.gov.au/nla.news-article5837141
1872 ‘GENERAL ASSEMBLY OF THE PRESBYTERIAN CHURCH OF NEW SOUTH WALES’, Sydney Morning Herald, 1 November, p. 3, http://nla.gov.au/nla.news-article13265627
In March, there was an unclaimed letter at the General Post Office, Sydney, for George Ah Len, Queen Street.
1874 ‘No. 5. LIST OF UNCLAIMED LETTERS FOR THE MONTH OF FEBRUARY, 1874’, New South Wales Government Gazette, 30 March, p. 969, http://nla.gov.au/nla.news-article223694238
George Ah Len suffered a severe illness over the summer, which interrupted his missionary work.
1875 ‘PRESBYTERIAN CHURCH OF NEW SOUTH WALES’, Sydney Morning Herald, 29 October, p. 5, http://nla.gov.au/nla.news-article13364937
George Ah Len worked as missionary in Sydney.
1875 ‘TO THE EDITOR OF THE GRAFTON ARGUS’, Grafton Argus and Clarence River General Advertiser, 11 January, p. 2, http://nla.gov.au/nla.news-article235148038
George Ah Len lived at 4 Queen’s Street, off Essex Street.
Sands Sydney Suburban Directory 1875, p. 264 (Ancestry.com, Sands Directories: Sydney and New South Wales, Australia, 1858–1933, 2010)
Ah Len, ‘Presbyterian missionary’, lived at 3 Hanson Square, off Queen Street.
Sands Sydney Suburban Directory 1876, p. 280 (Ancestry.com, Sands Directories: Sydney and New South Wales, Australia, 1858–1933, 2010.)
In March, George Ah Len returned to China ‘for a season’ in the interests of his health.
1876 ‘PRESBYTERIAN ASSEMBLY OF NEW SOUTH WALES’, Sydney Morning Herald, 3 November, p. 3, http://nla.gov.au/nla.news-article13382767
1876 ‘PRESBYTERIAN MISSIONS’, Sydney Morning Herald, 28 March, p. 7, http://nla.gov.au/nla.news-article13366581
In April, ‘Mrs George Ah Len and servant’, and ‘G. Ah Len’, travelled as passengers on the Balclutha from Brisbane to Sydney.
1877 ‘SHIPPING INTELLIGENCE’, Telegraph (Brisbane), 18 April, p. 2, http://nla.gov.au/nla.news-article169513252
Birth of their first daughter, Jane Ah Len, to George and Sheng G, Sydney (NSW BDM 3300/1877 and 1034/1877 V18771034 46)
In April, George Ah Len, age 40, missionary and government interpreter, of 11 Queen Street, was naturalised as a British subject.
In May, George Ah Len attended Ing Chee, a convicted murderer, prior to his execution in Goulburn.
1878 ‘EXECUTION OF ING CHEE’, Queanbeyan Age, 1 June, p. 1, http://nla.gov.au/nla.news-article30673461
1878 ‘Government Gazette Notices’, New South Wales Government Gazette, 31 May, p. 2171, http://nla.gov.au/nla.news-article223115799
In August, George Ah Len, together with several others including Chen Ateak and On Chong, wrote to the Sydney Morning Herald on the ‘Chinese Question’.
1878 ‘Advertising’, Sydney Morning Herald, 5 August, p. 6, http://nla.gov.au/nla.news-article13417608
In August, George Ah Len’s divine service at the Ragged School was disturbed by larrikins, one of a number of anti-Chinese agitations across Sydney.
1878 ‘NEW GUINEA’, Sydney Morning Herald, 14 August, p. 5, http://nla.gov.au/nla.news-article13421199
In October, three Chinese women (one perhaps being Chin Sheng Geong?) were in the congregation at the baptism of six Chinese men by the Rev. Dr Steel, assisted by George Ah Len, at St Stephen’s Church.
1878 ‘NEWS OF THE DAY’, Sydney Morning Herald, 29 October, p. 5, http://nla.gov.au/nla.news-article13421429
In December, George Ah Len was part of a deputation of Chinese merchants to the Colonial Secretary regarding aggressions against the Chinese in Sydney.
1878 ‘DEPUTATION OF CHINESE MERCHANTS’, Sydney Morning Herald, 12 December, p. 7, http://nla.gov.au/nla.news-article13426132
In January, the See Yup Society, per George Ah Len, donated to the Sydney Infirmary and Dispensary.
1879 ‘Advertising’, Evening News, 2 January, p. 1, http://nla.gov.au/nla.news-article107152133
In February, George Ah Len was part of a deputation of Chinese merchants to the Colonial Secretary about vice and immorality among the lower classes of Chinese in the colony.
1879 ‘Chinese Influence on Chinese’, Australian Town and Country Journal, 8 February, p. 13, http://nla.gov.au/nla.news-article70935150
Birth of Mary Ah Len, to George and Sheen Geong, Sydney (NSW BDM 1907/1879 and 1089/1879 V18791089 46)
On 7 March 1882, birth of Ada Ah Len, to George and Ching Sheeng Chung, Queen Street, Sydney (NSW BDM 1882/1167; NAA: SP42/1, C1902/2210). Birth attended by Mrs Strange (nurse) and Mrs Morrison.
George ‘Ah Lenn’, ‘Chinese interpreter’, lived at Queen Street.
Sands Sydney Suburban Directory 1876, p. 268 (Ancestry.com, Sands Directories: Sydney and New South Wales, Australia, 1858–1933, 2010.)
In December, George Ah Len was presented to His Excellency Baron Carrington, Governor of New South Wales, at a levée held at Government House.
1885 ‘THE PRESENTATIONS’, Sydney Morning Herald, 15 December, p. 7, http://nla.gov.au/nla.news-article13606606
On 16 June 1886, birth of James Ah Len, to George and Sheng C, 11 Queen Street, Sydney (NSW BDM 2324/1886 and 1314/1886 V18861314 46; NAA: SP42/1, C1904/71). Birth was attended by Mrs Strange (nurse) and Mrs Morrison.
Birth of twins, Peter and Thomas Ah Len, to George and Shenn, Sydney (NSW BDM 1748/1888 and 1356/1888 V18881356 46 and V18881356 47; 1749/1888 and 1357/1888 V18881357 46)
In January, there was an unclaimed letter at the General Post Office, Sydney, for Mr Ah Len, Queen Street.
1889 ‘No. 32. LIST OF LETTERS RETURNED FROM THE BRANCH AND SUBURBAN OFFICES, AND NOW LYING AT THE GENERAL POST OFFICE, UNCLAIMED’, New South Wales Government Gazette, 2 January, p. 25, http://nla.gov.au/nla.news-article224311037
On 23 April, George Ah Len died at 4 Queen Street, Sydney, aged 52 (NSW BDM 717/1889)
1889 ‘Family Notices’, Sydney Morning Herald, 27 April, p. 1, http://nla.gov.au/nla.news-article13728837
Chin Sheng Geong left New South Wales, taking her six children home to China (NAA: SP42/1, C1902/2210; NAA: SP42/1, C1904/71)