Tag: Chinese characters

Duped!

Recently I’ve been looking at a series of NSW naturalisation certificates held in the National Archives of Australia here in Canberra (NAA: A806). The naturalisation certificates in A806 are ones that were ‘cancelled’ by Customs officers after apparently being used by Chinese to attempt fraudulent entry to New South Wales.

In the 1880s and 1890s Chinese who were naturalised British subjects in NSW were exempt from paying the poll tax on entering the colony (£10 after 1881, and £100 after 1888). After the turn of the 20th century, naturalised Chinese used their certificates to prove their Australian domicile and avoid having to sit the Dictation Test on return from overseas. As a consequence, a trade in naturalisation certificates grew up within the Chinese community, as certificates were sold or passed on to others to use after a man had died or gone home to China for good.

Some of the naturalisation certificates in A806 have layers of hand-written notes on them, most of which are undated, which suggest the same certificates were used several times as re-entry documents – perhaps initially by the legitimate holder of the certificate and subsequently by someone else. A number have ‘£10’ written on the front, suggesting that the Chinese passenger was rejected and made to pay the poll tax to enter the colony. Some have Chinese notations (mostly on the back), giving personal details such as name, age, place of origin and length of time in New South Wales.

NAA: A806 (Chow Hock 1884/30)

A806 comprises three boxes and several hundred certificates, which I’ve photographed and am now working my way through in more detail. Eventually I will marry these certificates with other naturalisation records held in State Records NSW and also in immigration case files in the National Archives.

In some of the immigration cases involving naturalisation certificates I’ve looked at, including those in A806, it’s not altogether clear whether fraud was really being attempted or whether Customs officers were just being super cautious in the execution of their duties.

With one certificate in A806, though, the fraud was obvious – and it wasn’t the Customs officers who were duped.

In June 1915, a Chinese man arriving in Sydney on the Eastern from Hong Kong presented an 1896 naturalisation certificate belonging to ‘James Andersen of Kiama, a native of Finland’. The unfortunate fellow, who presumably didn’t read much English, was returned to Hong Kong on the same vessel.

NAA: A806 (James Andersen 1896/155)

Chinese New Year in Sydney – 150 years of history

Chinese New Year has been celebrated in Australia for over 150 years—since the first festivities were held in the late 1850s. The first newspaper reference I can find about Chinese New Year being celebrated in Sydney is from 1862, when the Sydney Morning Herald noted that:

The coming in of the Chinese new year was duly celebrated on Wednesday week by the Chinese shopkeepers of Sydney with ceremonies peculiar to themselves, winding up with an ample supper (SMH, 8 February 1862).

The details were republished in the Queanbeyan Age:

The Chinese New Year.—On Wednesday last, says the Sydney Herald, all the Chinese shopkeepers in Sydney closed their establishments, and refused to serve customers. Upon inquiry, it was discovered that, according to the Chinese reckoning, the old year closed with Wednesday, and that the event was being celebrated in the usual Chinese fashion. In the evening a pig was killed and its head having been dressed, it was adorned with flowers and placed in a conspicuous place in one of the Chinese houses, where each Chinaman in turn bowed down before it, apparently performing some act of religious homage. The floor of each of the apartments in the house was extensively lighted with candles in bottles, and after the religious ceremonial was over, the company adjourned to partake of a sumptuous supper, consisting of an abundance of poultry. The body of the pig was also served up and eaten. Musical performances in the Chinese style followed, and were kept up till daylight in the new year (Queanbeyan Age and General Advertiser, 13 February 1862).

Here are a few other articles about Sydney’s Chinese New Year celebrations over the following decades:

Kung hei faat choi! Xin nian kuai le!

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

Traditional or simplified?

When I studied Mandarin at Sydney University in the late 1990s, everyone spent their first year learning to read and write traditional characters. At the end of that year, we could choose which way we wanted to go. Looking back at my textbooks, it would seem that I went down the ‘traditional’ road. Well, for six more months at least. After that I went to Guangzhou to study at Zhong Da (Sun Yat-sen University), and the rest, as they say, is history.

I’m very glad, though, that I did have that initial basic education with traditional characters. Just today, for instance, I’ve been looking at some Victorian naturalisation applications dating from the 1850s and 1860s on which the Chinese gentlemen have signed their names, amazingly, in characters. (It’s all a bit exciting when one comes across a name in characters.) My Chinese is pretty rusty, but at least I’m familiar enough with old-form characters to be able to look them up!

I recently did some investigations into Chinese schools in Canberra, with the thought of getting my nearly 4-year-old daughter started on the path to Chinese literacy. The one school that teaches traditional characters has had so little interest that they are no longer putting on new classes. The biggest and most active school goes with simplified characters, although they say they do give the students chances to become familiar with traditional ones. I think that’s a bit of a shame (much like I think it’s a shame that my daughter’s going to end up speaking Mandarin, if anything, rather than Cantonese or dialect… But I digress!)

So what about bringing traditional characters back? Of course, in some places they never went away. (Another good reason for knowing traditional characters is to be able to make sense of noodle restaurant menus in Hong Kong when one’s Mandarin is ignored and one’s Cantonese is unintelligible.) But seriously, the latest issue of Geremie Barmé’s China Heritage Quarterly (no. 17, March 2009) has a really interesting article about moves to reintroduce traditional characters. Have a look at The Chinese Character—no simple matter.