Tag: Immigration Restriction Act

Chinese Australian families and the legacies of colonial naturalisation

This is the paper I presented at the 2018 Australian Historical Association conference, ‘The Scale of History’, held at the Australian National University on 2–6 July 2018. I spoke alongside Sophie Couchman and Emma Bellino in a panel we put together on ‘National belonging and individual lives’:

  • Kate Bagnall: Chinese Australian families and the legacies of colonial naturalisation
  • Sophie Couchman: New questions about the enlistment of Chinese Australians during World War I
  • Emma Bellino: ‘Australian girl became an alien’: Reporting married women’s nationality.

Sophie spoke about the disconnect between World War I enlistment regulations and practice in relation to Chinese Australians, while Emma spoke about press reports of marital denaturalisation in Australian newspapers from the 1920s to 1940s.

Abstract

In 1888 the Australian colonies came together to implement uniform laws to restrict Chinese immigration, leading eventually to the enactment of the Immigration Restriction Act after Federation in 1901. Alongside immigration restriction, after 1888 four Australian colonies also prohibited Chinese naturalisation, by law in New South Wales and by policy in Victoria, South Australia and Western Australia. The federal Naturalisation Act of 1903 similarly prohibited Chinese naturalisation. Before these restrictions were introduced, however, thousands of Chinese men in Australia became British subjects through naturalisation, nearly 1000 in New South Wales alone. In this paper I consider the legacies of colonial naturalisation in the lives of Chinese migrants and their families in the 1890s and after Federation, particularly concerning mobility and residency rights. I argue that it is through the stories of individual lives, revealed in the press and in government case files, that we can best understand the ways that naturalised Chinese Australians and their children contested discrimination and asserted their rights as citizens.

Introduction

In early January 1889, the Ah Ket children of Wangaratta, Victoria, were stopped at the border of New South Wales. Fourteen-year-old Matilda, together with her three younger siblings aged thirteen, ten and eight, were travelling to the small town of Gerogery, north of Albury, to visit their married sister Rose. On arriving by train at Albury, however, the Ah Ket children were prevented from crossing the border by the Sub-Collector of Customs. The reason? Because they did not hold naturalisation papers. Confronted by the news that they would not be allowed to continue their journey, Matilda stood her ground, declaring that they had been born and educated at Wangaratta; that they were the children of a Chinese interpreter, Mah Ket; and that as ‘native-born children’ they were free to go anywhere in Australia. The Sub-Collector was unconvinced, and so sent them back home to Victoria by the same train. Their father, and the good people of Wangaratta, were appalled by the Customs officer’s actions. Mah Ket put the matter in the hands of a solicitor, and on 19 January 1889, the Wangaratta correspondent to the Melbourne Leader wrote an impasssioned piece on the family’s behalf:

The children whose liberty is so circumscribed are natives of Wangaratta, very intelligent and Christian; and speak better Queen’s English probably than some of the honorable gentlemen who made the law under which they are treated as aliens. It has been determined that for the peace and prosperity of the colony, Chinese immigration shall be restricted. But here were no aliens, but the most peaceful and defenceless of Australians – of like speech, education, religion and affections.

The Act under which the Sub-Collector of Customs stopped the children was the NSW Chinese Restriction and Regulation Act, passed six months earlier, in June 1888. This Act, and others introduced around the Australasian colonies, were the result of growing concerns over Chinese immigration.

One of the children stopped at the NSW border that summer’s day in 1889, thirteen-year-old William Ah Ket, grew up to be Australia’s first Chinese barrister. Educated at Melbourne University and admitted to the bar in 1903, Ah Ket had a distinguished legal career in which he actively campaigned for the rights of Chinese in Australia. He appeared before the High Court, represented Australian Chinese at the opening of the first Chinese parliament in Peking in 1911, and was Acting Consul for China in Australia in 1913–1914 and 1917. He was also a husband and father to two daughters and two sons.

This paper considers nationality, naturalisation and colonial mobility through the lens of Chinese Australian families like the Ah Kets. Mah Ket, the Ah Ket children’s father, was not naturalised, but this should not have mattered when the children tried to cross into New South Wales. Young Matilda was right – as native-born British subjects, the NSW Chinese Restriction Act should not have applied to them. Yet, the fact that they were turned back illustrates the ambiguity with which immigration restriction laws were applied to native-born and naturalised Chinese British subjects in Australia and New Zealand. The law stated what it stated, but it’s truth also lay in the way that it was interpreted and applied – whether that was at the border, in a bureaucrat’s office, in a magistrate’s court or in the High Court.

Prohibition of Chinese naturalisation formed part of the anti-Chinese policies introduced in four Australian colonies (New South Wales, Victoria, South Australia and Western Australia) from the 1880s, and then in the Commonwealth of Australia from 1904 and the Dominion of New Zealand from 1908. Before these prohibitions, however, thousands of Chinese men in Australia and New Zealand became British subjects through naturalisation, nearly 1000 in New South Wales alone. In this paper then I want to think about the legacies of this earlier history of colonial naturalisation in the lives of Chinese settlers and their families in the 1890s and after Federation, particularly concerning mobility and residency rights. I will argue that it is through the stories of individual lives, revealed in the press and in government case files, that we can best understand the ways that naturalised Chinese Australians and their children contested discrimination and asserted their rights as citizens.

Naturalisation and Chinese restriction

The first anti-Chinese legislation was introduced in Australia in 1855 in Victoria, followed by a similar Act in South Australia in 1857. New South Wales then followed suit in 1861. With tonnage restrictions and a poll tax on each Chinese arrival, this legislation was effective in reducing the Chinese population in the colonies, and so, having served its purpose, it was repealed: in South Australia in 1861 (after three years), in Victoria in 1865 (after 10 years) and in New South Wales in 1867 (after 5 years). Between then and 1881, there was no restrictive legislation against Chinese immigration – except in Queensland, which introduced a Chinese Immigration Restriction Act in 1877. In 1881, however, new and more consistent legislation was introduced across the colonies after the 1880–81 intercolonial conferences. This legislation was then tightened following the Intercolonial Conference on the Chinese Question in mid-1888. Laws varied slightly across the seven colonies, but they generally had tonnage restrictions and some a poll tax to limit the number of Chinese migrants. They also included various exemptions, for residents and British subjects.

In New South Wales, Victoria and New Zealand, for instance, the 1881 Acts brought in a £10 poll tax on Chinese arriving by sea or by land and a limit of one Chinese to every 100 tons of shipping. The NSW and Victorian Acts exempted British subjects, while in New South Wales and New Zealand, other Chinese residents could also apply for exemption certificates. In 1888, the tonnage limits increased in each of these colonies, and the NSW poll tax leapt to £100, while it was abolished in Victoria. Each colony exempted Chinese naturalised in that colony, while the NSW Act also explicitly exempted British subjects by birth. Significantly, too, the NSW Act prohibited the naturalisation of Chinese. After Federation, the Australian colonial laws were repealed, although not immediately – in New South Wales, for example, the poll tax remained in place until 1903. The new federal Immigration Restriction Act, which came into force from the beginning of 1902, provided exemptions for those who had formerly been domiciled in the Commonwealth or in any colony which had become a state (s 3n). Australian birth and naturalisation certificates could be used as proof of this domicile, although exemption certificates were also issued.

As mentioned, prohibition of Chinese naturalisation also formed part of the anti-Chinese measures introduced in Australia and New Zealand. New South Wales was the only colony that prohibited Chinese naturalisation by law and it did so twice, in 1861 (repealed in 1867) and again in 1888. Three other colonies (Victoria, South Australia and Western Australia) stopped naturalising Chinese after 1888, while Tasmania and Queensland continued until the federal Naturalization Act came into force in 1904. This new Act prohibited naturalisation of ‘aboriginal natives’ of Asia, Africa and the islands of the Pacific, except New Zealand. In New Zealand, Chinese were naturalised until 1907; and it was stopped after the NZ Cabinet decided in February 1908 to decline naturalisation applications of Chinese from them on.

Colonial Chinese naturalisation

The numbers of Chinese who became naturalised in each colony varied greatly, from about 20 in Western Australia up to nearly 3000 in Victoria. In New Zealand there were around 450. As part of my current project, I am compiling databases of Chinese who became naturalised in New South Wales, New Zealand and British Columbia in Canada. If we look at Chinese naturalisations in New South Wales each year from the late 1850s, when the first one took place, to 1888, when Chinese naturalisation was prohibited for the second time, we can see a gap during the 1860s when it was prohibited the first time, and a very obvious peak in the early 1880s. The highest point on that peak is in 1883, when there were 301 naturalisations of Chinese, making up almost a third of the total for the colony. If we think back to what else was happening in the early 1880s, it is clear that this increase was in response to the 1881 NSW Influx of Chinese Restriction Act – which provided exemptions from the £10 poll tax for Chinese naturalised in the colony.

Applicants for naturalisation in New South Wales were asked to state a reason why they sought naturalisation, and most Chinese stated that it was because they wanted to purchase land, or because they had settled in the colony, or something similar. But eight men stated that they sought naturalisation for the rights of ingress and egress. One of these men, Ah Hi, who was naturalised in 1886, stated, for example, that he was ‘desirous of seeing his parents and relatives & returning to this colony where he has an interest in a market garden’. Although there were only a handful of men who explicity stated they sought naturalisation so they could travel across colonial borders, the rapid increase in numbers of naturalisations after the 1881 Act came into force suggests that mobility was a prime motivation.

Other evidence in the archives also shows that Chinese actively used naturalisation to faciliate mobility, for themselves and for their families. There are, for example, Customs statistics that record the numbers of Chinese entering the colonies using naturalisation certificates, reports of individual cases in the newspapers, and Customs and External Affairs / Internal Affairs files that document the travels of Chinese Australians and Chinese New Zealanders. I want now to turn to some of the individual cases of naturalised Chinese and their families – to consider the ways they used their status as British subjects to negotiate anti-Chinese immigration laws, and also to consider the ambiguous nature of the interpretation and application of those laws.

At the borders

So, to return to the Ah Ket children briefly. Under the NSW 1888 Act, any Chinese who produced satisfactory evidence that they were a British subject by birth was to be allowed to enter the colony, yet the Sub-Collector turned the children away for not having naturalisation papers. Would the situation have been different if Matilda, William, Alberta and Ada had produced their Victorian birth certificates, as many Australian-born Chinese did when they returned by sea? Or what if their father was naturalised and they had produced his naturalisation certificate? Would that have been enough proof?

For Chinese Australians, crossing colonial and later national borders was first contingent on being satisfactorily identified, of convincing officials at the border that you were who you said you were. It was then further contingent on bureaucratic and legal interpretations of the law. Each time the law changed, or new regulations were issued, Customs officers at both sea and land borders had to work out how the new policies worked in practice. In her history of the Chinese in Sydney, Shirley Fitzgerald has noted, for example, that in the early 1880s, administering the 1881 Chinese Restriction Act took up much of the Collector of Customs’ time and energy, and he regularly complained to his superiors that he had inadequate staff to deal with incoming and outgoing Chinese (Shirley Fitzgerald, Red Tape, Gold Scissors, pp. 28–29).

Each time the law changed, Chinese Australians also had to work out what the new requirements meant, and how they could best negotiate them, whether by lawful or unlawful means. The dramatic increase in Chinese naturalisations after the 1881 Act is an example of this, and so too is the fact that by 1885, the Sydney Collector of Customs believed that there was a solid trade in naturalisation certificates, which were ‘sent to China and sold’. Chinese Australians made use of their rights where and how they could, and pushed back where and how they could, particularly where the law left room for negotiation.

Family mobility

Naturalisation allowed Chinese men themselves to come and go from Australia and New Zealand, but it also facilitated the entry of their wives and children. In 1898, Nicholas Lockyer, the NSW Collector of Customs, told Sydney’s Evening News that two ways that Chinese evaded the poll tax were by ‘the transfer of naturalisation papers’ and by ‘Chinese women passing themselves off as wives of men who have been formally naturalised in New South Wales’. Such suspicions resulted in careful investigations and meticulous recordkeeping, particularly after the turn of the century.

One example is the Ah Lum family of Sydney. Mrs Ah Lum (I’m afraid that I haven’t yet identified the names of some of these wives and children) came out to live with her husband in 1895. He was a storekeeper and had been naturalised in 1882, returning to China to visit a few years later. The Ah Lums’ daughter was born in 1887, after Ah Lum had returned to New South Wales, and she had stayed in China with her grandmother after her mother migrated. In 1899, Ah Lum asked for permission for his daughter to come to live with him and his wife, as his mother had died and the child had no one to care for her. After some investigations by the Customs department’s Chinese inspector, a permit was issued so Ah Lum’s daughter could enter without paying the poll tax.

The Ah Lums’ case was a relatively straightforward one, unlike that of George Lee’s family a few years later. Lee had been naturalised in 1884 and returned to China not long after to be married. In August 1902, he brought his wife and two sons, Quong Foo and Quong Jah, to Sydney. Mrs Lee was admitted without question because she was the wife of a naturalised British subject (and a wife’s nationality followed that of her husband), but officials demanded the £100 poll tax be paid for each son. Lee paid up, under protest, and the Presbyterian Church raised the matter with the Premier and Solicitor-General on his behalf. They were told that Lee was only a British subject while in New South Wales and that as soon as he left, he reverted to Chinese nationality, hence his children were not British subjects by birth or descent. When asked about the matter, Prime Minister Edmund Barton stated it was not of his concern – the payment of the poll tax was a matter for the state of New South Wales to decide, and the family had been allowed in properly under the Commonwealth Immigration Restriction Act.

Barton could be so dismissive of his responsibility because, at that moment in time, domiciled Chinese men were able to bring in their wives and minor children under section 3 paragraph m of the Immigration Restriction Act. This provision was suspended by proclamation after only 15 months, and repealed in 1905, but during the time it was in force 88 Chinese family members, mainly wives, were allowed to enter Australia permanently. One of these was the wife of Kok Say, managing partner of the Hong Yuen & Co. store in Inverell. In mid 1902, Kok Say wrote to the government requesting a permit for his wife’s entry and stating his credentials – he had been naturalised in 1884 after arriving in the colony of New South Wales nine years earlier. In his words, ‘I have made my home here & have no intention of returning at any time to China’. His request was granted without issue and Mrs Kok Say arrived at Sydney from Hong Kong in November 1902.

After the repeal of section 3 paragraph m in 1905, the entry of Chinese wives and children was solely at the discretion of the Minister for External Affairs, and over the following years we see naturalised Chinese continuing to try to find ways to bring their families to Australia, including through legal challenges in the courts. In New Zealand, naturalised Chinese similarly tested the limits of the law in their efforts to bring out wives and children without having to pay the poll tax, which continued to be applied until 1934, before finally being repealed in 1944.

Conclusion

Although the prohibition of Chinese naturalisation was part of the suite of anti-Chinese measures introduced in the Australasian colonies from the 1860s through into the 20th century, its history is more than one of simple exclusion. It is important to also consider the times when Chinese could be, and were, naturalised, and the ongoing legacies of this in their and their families lives. As British subjects, naturalised Chinese had legal and political rights that they continually asserted, testing and challenging the limits of policy and law. Sometimes they were successful in these challenges, sometimes they weren’t, but when we look closely at their individual cases we can see how their actions both shaped and were shaped by the law. We can also see inconsistencies and ambiguities in the law and in the ways it was administered and applied.

New guide to researching Immigration Restriction Act records

I have produced a short guide to researching Chinese Australians in Immigration (Restriction) Act records in the National Archives of Australia in Sydney.

The guide aims to be a practical introduction to the records, their context and content. It covers the administrative background and processes, how-to steps for researching, a description of the main record series with examples, and copies of various certificates and forms.

Although the examples given in the guide relate to Chinese Australians, information about other ‘non-white’ Australians, such as those of Syrian, Afghan, Indian and Japanese backgrounds, can also be found in the records discussed.

Download the PDF (6.8mb): Chinese Australians and the Immigration Restriction Act by Kate Bagnall

 

Immigration Restriction Act instructions, 1901 to 1919

I suspect I will never be finished in my quest to understand the workings of the White Australia policy in the early decades of the twentieth century. My most recent work (which I hope will be published in the next year) has focused on the entry and residence of Chinese wives between 1902 and 1920, including the well-known ‘Poon Gooey case’.

While much of what I know about how the Immigration (Restriction) Act was administered comes from individual case files (known as correspondence files), there has been a gap between these files and the legislation itself. Two items in the National Archives (AP214/9 and D3193) help fill this gap. The Collector of Customs in Adelaide – who like Customs officers in the other states administered the Act in accordance with regulations, rules and instructions from the Department of External Affairs – kept a valuable, and seemingly unique, record of this correspondence from External Affairs. I have not come across other similar items for other states (always happy to be corrected though!)

I’ve had D3193 digitised by the National Archives and, while the cost of digitisation of A214/9 was prohibitive because of conservation concerns, I have photographed it and put the images up in Dropbox (link below). There is another series, AP378/37 – ‘Confidential instructions (old system), 1900–45’, listed in RecordSearch as being held in Sydney, but I haven’t looked at this to see if it contains similar material.

AP214/9

AP214/9 is a register containing copies of the Immigration Restriction Act and related correspondence, dating from 1901 to 1913. It was created by the Collector of Customs in Adelaide, South Australia.

The contents of the register includes:

  • copies of the Immigration Restriction Act 1901 and subsequent amendments, as well as related regulations and statutory rules
  • notes for the guidance of officers administering the IRA
  • copies of forms used in administering the IRA
  • instructions from Department of External Affairs to the local Collector of Customs at Port Adelaide.

Much of the content concerns ‘coloured’ arrivals, including ships’ crews, and arriving passengers with physical diseases or disabilities.

It is a large bound volume, with folios marked with page numbers up to 292. The documents (either printed or typsescript carbon copies) are pasted into the register, rather than being written out by hand. Folios 232 to 267 are blank. There is a separate alphabetical index (which doesn’t seem very complete). The last dated document is from 31 December 1913.

AP214/9, VOLUME 1 is held in the National Archives of Australia in Adelaide and is not digitised in RecordSearch (as of 20 June 2017). My images of AP214/9 are available in Dropbox.

National Archives of Australia: AP214/9

D3193

D3193 is a volume containing confidential instructions relating to the Immigration Act (as the Immigration Restriction Act was known after 1912), dating from 1914 to 1919.

The small printed volume has been annotated with handwritten notes and insertions of further documents by the Collector of Customs, Adelaide. The original volume is titled Immigration Act Instructions together with Immigration Act 1901–1912 and Immigration Regulations 1913 and was produced by the Department of External Affairs in 1914.

The contents of D3193 are similar to those in AP214/9.

D3193 is held in the National Archives of Australia in Sydney and is digitised in RecordSearch.

The first NSW Certificate of Domicile, 1902

Five years ago I began an as-yet-uncompleted series of blogposts about the various iterations of the Certificate of Domicile and the Certificate Exempting from the Dictation Test.

In the first post I wrote about the first Certificate of Domicile held in record series NAA: ST84/1, ‘Certificates of Domicile and Certificates of Exemption from Dictation Test, chronological series’. The certificate, no. 1903/1, was issued to a man named Ah Shooey on the last day of 1902.

The reason I didn’t write about the very first Certificate of Domicile issued in New South Wales was because it is held in a different series, NAA: SP11/6. I’ve written a bit about SP11/6 before — it’s an odd collections of Customs files that includes a bound volume with the earliest Certificates of Domicile, and the volume isn’t digitised.

On a more recent visit to the archives in Sydney, I therefore photographed the first certificate, which was issued a month after the Immigration Restriction Act came into force in January 1901. It can be found in NAA: SP11/6, Box 3.


The first NSW Certificate of Domicile was issued to 38-year-old Yau Foon (or Yaw Foon or Yow Foon?) on 3 February 1902 by NSW Collector of Customs Nicholas Lockyer. On the certificate ‘No. 1’ is handwritten in clear red letters at the top.

Yau Foon is described as being 5 foot 5 1/2 inches tall (without boots), of medium build, with dark hair and brown eyes. He had a small scar on the back of his right wrist. There is no space on the certificate for details such as nationality or birthplace.

Two photographs are attached to the front of the certificate, one showing Yau Foon front on, one side on. The photographs clearly show Yau Foon’s queue, wound and pinned to the top of his head. Note that on this earliest version of the Certificate of Domicile there appears to be specific spaces for two photographs.

The certificate is marked in red as being cancelled, which would have happened when Yau Foon returned from his trip to China. Customs officer Bragg has written that Yau Foon arrived on the S.S. Chingtu on 5 May 1904.

SP11/6, Box 3 - Yau Foon's Certificate of Domicile

Celestial City: misunderstanding the administration of immigration restriction

The administration of the Immigration Restriction Act in early 20th-century Australia was complex, contradictory, opaque, ambiguous and capricious. After reading through hundreds of individual case files of Chinese Australians created as part of this administrative system, I still find myself puzzled and surprised and confused when trying to comprehend what really went on. Why was a particular decision made? Why was one case treated so differently from another? Why was the law applied harshly at times, leniently at others? It is not an easy history to understand well, nor are its complexities easy to communicate simply. But this doesn’t excuse getting the history wrong, as is the case in the Museum of Sydney’s Celestial City exhibition.

The second-to-last part of the exhibition is titled ‘Exiles and Ancestors’ and explores anti-Chinese immigration restriction and the White Australia Policy. The introductory panel unfortunately repeats the mistake that the Immigration Restriction Act 1901 was the ‘first law passed by the newly federated Commonwealth’. In fact it was the 17th piece of legislation passed by the Australian Parliament in 1901, the last one that year, after things like the Customs Act, Excise Act, Post and Telegraph Act and, significantly, the Pacific Island Labourers Act. An easy mistake to make perhaps since it crops up everywhere, but when visiting the exhibition it didn’t bode well for what was to come (especially as it was repeated in a following panel on ‘The White Australia Policy’). The introductory panel goes on to say that, under the Immigration Restriction Act, Chinese living in Australia were ‘denied the freedom to come and go between Australia and China’:

… after 1901 Chinese were effectively exiled in Sydney, their futures uncertain. Those who had made their lives here were unwilling to risk returning to, or visiting, China for fear they would not be allowed to return. So they stayed in Australia, raised families and became the ancestors of generations of Chinese Australians.

Yet what follows in the exhibition are case studies and documents that demonstrate the mobility of Chinese residents and Australians of Chinese and part-Chinese descent. Historian Michael Williams estimates that 6000 or so individuals identified as ‘Chinese’ made over 26,000 journeys through the port of Sydney between 1902 and 1959 (Williams 2004: 37). If you have trouble imagining quite how many people that is, have a look at Tim Sherratt’s The Real Face of White Australia, an experiment in making the people in the archives of White Australia visible (using records from NAA: ST84/1 in Sydney). To me, this is not a population who were afraid — it is a population who were getting on with their lives, dealing with the bureaucracy as necessary, and testing and challenging the system on many, many occasions.

On the wall of ‘Exiles and Ancestors’ is an enlargement of the back of a 1903 Certificate of Domicile for cabinetmaker Tin Lee (NAA: ST84/1, 1903/261-270). The certificate has front and side portraits of Tin Lee, a handprint, official stamps and certification by Customs officer JTT Donohoe. The front of Tin Lee’s 1903 certificate and a piece of correspondence are also included in a display titled ‘Negotiating the Bureaucracy’. From the certificate it is clear that Tin Lee went to China on the Empire in December 1903. Certificates were valid for three years. The piece of correspondence, written by the Collector of Customs, Nicholas Lockyer, gives permission for the extension of Tin Lee’s certificate for one more year, to the end of 1907 (meaning that if he returned before that date he would not be made to sit the dictation test). On the front of Tin Lee’s certificate Donohoe has noted in red that the certificate was cancelled as Tin Lee had landed in Sydney on the Chingtu on 1 June 1907.

Colour photograph showing a museum exhibition of historical documents and photographs
Tin Lee’s Certificate of Domicile on the wall of ‘Exiles and Ancestors’ in the Celestial City exhibition, Museum of Sydney

Considering that this information is all clearly stated on the documents included in the exhibition, it’s curious that the text reads thus:

Tin Lee was a cabinet-maker who had lived in Botany since 1888. After being here for 18 years he applied for an extension of his Certificate of Domicile, a proof of residency that allowed him to re-enter Australia if he left. His certificate was extended by one year, to 31 December 1907. This meant that if he departed Australia after that time, perhaps to visit family in China, he would not be allowed to return.

The curator seems to have completely missed the fact that Tin Lee was already overseas when the extension was applied for. The National Archives also holds a correspondence file relating to Tin Lee which dates from 1903 to 1941 (NAA: SP11/27, C1941/1178 — not digitised, and I haven’t looked through it) and a further six CEDTs documenting his travels back and forth over at least four decades. So, it wasn’t the case that once his certificate expired in 1907 that Tin Lee would be unable to travel overseas and return again — he was able to apply for a new certificate, and then another one and another one.

Also on display in ‘Negotiating the Bureaucracy’ are documents relating to Maggie Yee Lee, the Sydney-born daughter of cabinetmaker Yee Lee. Here the interpretive text is fine, although it states that Maggie and her siblings ‘needed a Certificate of Domicile … to re-enter Australia after their sojourn in China’. Strictly this isn’t correct, as many young Chinese Australians like Maggie travelled using their birth certificates as proof of domicile, but having a certificate certainly made sure that a return home to Sydney went as smoothly as possible. The text accompanying the other set of documents on display, relating to hawker and herbalist Charlie Hing, is similarly fine.

The final display in the ‘Exiles and Ancestors’ part of Celestial City is where the interpretation of the archival documents relating to immigration restriction really falls apart. The display is titled ‘Repatriating George Nomchong’ and the main text states that the case in question involved the ‘repatriation’ of the eldest son of Braidwood resident Chee Dock Nomchong. The use of the term ‘repatriation’, which to me means ‘returning to the country you came from’ or ‘returning to your own country’, is wrong. George Nomchong, the eldest child of Chee Dock and Mary Nomchong, was born in China in 1887. He was left in the care of his grandmother in China when Mary went with Chee Dock to live in Australia. How could it be that China-born George Nomchong was being repatriated in 1908 when he was actually going to Australia for the first time?

Photograph of a display of historical documents in a museum exhibition
‘Repatriating George Nomchong’ display in the Celestial City exhibition, Museum of Sydney (photo by Michael Williams)

Chee Dock Nomchong was a long-term resident of Braidwood and he was naturalised in NSW. So the term ‘repatriation’ seems to have been used in the exhibition to make the point that as the son of a naturalised British subject domiciled in Australia, George Nomchong might also have had the right to live in Australia — ‘As the child of a British subject, George should have been exempted from the provisions of the Immigration Restriction Act 1901‘, it says. Except things were not this simple. The concept of nationality in Australia in the early 20th century was fuzzy and complicated by its intersection with ideas of race, but it was based on birthplace not parents’ nationality (meaning, for example, that children born in Australia to ‘alien’ Chinese parents were British subjects by birth) (Dutton 2000). George’s personal and familial circumstances might have meant there was a moral imperative to allow him to come to live in Australia, but there was not a clear legal one. The previous year the case Ah Yin v. Christie had been heard in the High Court, where it was decided that Ah Yin, the China-born-and-raised son of a Chinese man living in Victoria, did not have the right to live to Australia simply because his father was living here. Ah Yin was still in his mid-teens, a minor, yet George Nomchong was already twenty-one when his father applied for him to come to Australia. George was not a minor child dependent on his father and mother, but a grown man.

The George Nomchong case study in the exhibition includes seven archival documents, four pieces of correspondence and three CEDTs, each with accompanying interpretive text. The correspondence is taken from a 145-page Department of External Affairs file (NAA: A1, 1926/9963), while there is further material on the case in a Sydney Customs file (NAA: SP42/1, C1910/4678) not used in the exhibition. The CEDTs are from series NAA: ST84/1. The National Archives holds other later files about George Nomchong and his own wife and children, but these aren’t digitised (and I haven’t looked at them before) and they don’t appear to have been drawn on for the exhibition. The events covered in the 145-page External Affairs file are complex, but I believe that an important part of the story has been overlooked, either because it did not fit with the exhibition’s presentation of the story of George Nomchong’s ‘repatriation’ to Australia or because the curator simply failed to understand what happened.

Here’s Celestial City‘s presentation of the George Nomchong case.


 Repatriating George Nomchong

In 1908 the Immigration Restriction Act was tested in an unusual case concerning the eldest son of Chee Dock Nomchong. The boy was born in China in 1887, three years after his father had been naturalised as a British subject, and was left in China with his grandmother while his parents returned to Braidwood. Twenty-one years later, Chee Dock began the protracted process of repatriating his son, known as George, to Australia. As the child of a British subject, George should have been exempted from the provisions of the Immigration Restriction Act 1901. However, as these immigration records show, he was subjected to the same scrutiny and surveillance that shadowed any Chinese immigrant after 1901.

Letter to A Hunt from Chee Dock Nom Chong, 21 March 1908
Letter to Chee Dock Nom Chong from A Hunt, 28 March 1908

‘By giving me some idea of the test I can acquaint him of it …’ writes Chee Dock Nomchong to Secretary of External Affairs Mr Atlee Hunt. However, since the dictation test could be given in any European language, not necessarily, as Mr Hunt admits, ‘one with which the intending immigrant was acquainted’, Chee Dock’s attempt to prepare his son for the test was futile. Customs officers selected the language most likely to eliminate ‘unwanted and undesirable’ immigrants. Between 1902 and 1909 the dictation test was given to 1359 people. Fifty-two were successful. After 1909 no one passed.

Refusal of Domicile for Chee Dock Nom Chong, 6 May 1910
Letter from James Gregg to Chee Dock Nom Chong, 18 May 1910

In 1910, on his way to Fiji, George Nomchong briefly visited his family in Braidwood. His father’s request that he be allowed to stay was denied, and George was subsequently deported as a restricted immigrant. His father pursued the case with a large petition, signed by the residents of Braidwood, asking that special consideration be given. The petitioners’ representative, Mr James Gregg, pointed out that this case different from ‘what the real framing of the Act was intended for’ because the immigrant in question was of a respectable family and the son of ‘one of the most liberal and best citizens we have in Australia’.

Certificate Exempting from Dictation Test for George Nom Chong, 20 May 1926
Certificate Exempting from Dictation Test for George Nom Chong, 4 May 1935
Certificate Exempting from Dictation Test for George Nom Chong, 12 May 1947

After years of waiting, and in view of the exceptional circumstances of the case, in 1913 George Nomchong was issued with a Certificate Exempting from Dictation Test that was valid for four years. He worked at the Nomchong market gardens near Goulburn and for the next 40 years lived an uncertain life as a temporary resident, successively renewing his certificate until the dictation test was abolished in 1958.


(Off topic a bit, but why are Chee Dock Nomchong and George Nomchong referred to by their first names, while Atlee Hunt is ‘Mr Atlee Hunt’ or ‘Mr Hunt’?)

As I said before, George Nomchong — a man born in China to a Chinese mother (who at the time of his birth had never been to Australia) and a naturalised Chinese father resident in Australia — did not necessarily have a greater legal right to enter Australia under the Immigration Restriction Act than any other Chinese man of Chinese birth, and officials initially treated his case accordingly. Over the time between when Chee Dock Nomchong first applied for permission in 1908 and when permission was finally granted in 1913, however, the administration was learning that the Chinese community in Australia was not going to passively sit by and have their rights as Australians be dismantled. While the power ultimately remained with the government, family members and community leaders — mostly well-to-do, English-speaking, long-term residents of the merchant class like Chee Dock Nomchong — pushed and pushed and pushed in individual cases to attain fairer outcomes. Officials learned that the Chinese community would and could take cases as far as the High Court and be successful, as it had been with the Potter v. Minahan case in 1908, or it would cause the government serious embarrassment through widespread bad publicity over decisions that were seen as heartless and anti-Christian, such as the Poon Gooey deportation case between 1910 to 1913. Better to compromise in cases such as George Nomchong’s, where there were ‘exceptional’ or ‘special’ circumstances, than face the costs of defeat in the courts or the press.

From 1914 to 1920, George Nomchong was issued with a series of Certificates of Exemption — not Certificates Exempting from Dictation Test or CEDTs, as stated in the exhibition. Certificates of Exemption were like visitors visas, allowing someone to enter Australia and take up temporary residence for a set period. CEDTs on the other hand were issued to people already living or ‘domiciled’ in Australia granting them permission to return without having to sit the dictation test. Two different sorts of exemption for two different categories of people. George’s Certificate of Exemption was granted on his arrival in Sydney in April 1914, for a period of four years, and was extended in 1918 for a further two years. George then made a visit to China from May to December 1919, after being granted permission to return after his trip and remain for the unexpired portion of his exemption period. After a further application by Chee Dock Nomchong, in March 1920 George’s exemption was extended again for four years. This practice of issuing an ongoing series of Certificates of Exemption was not at all unusual — it seems to have been a common way that government officials worked around their own restrictions against permanent admission of new Chinese, a way to make allowances in ‘exceptional’ cases without setting an official precedent of permanent entry.

What is missed entirely in the Celestial City telling of George’s story is that in 1920 officials decided that his case should be ‘closed’ — that is, that he could remain permanently in Australia without having to keep reapplying for his Certificate of Exemption to be extended. A memo from Atlee Hunt in March 1920 informed the Collector of Customs in Sydney that ‘no further action need be taken to remind this Chinese of the expiration of his exemption as the case may be considered closed’ (NAA: A1, 1926/9963, p. 21). Atlee Hunt had pondered how to resolve George Nomchong’s case, admitting that the government ‘had given him a CEDT last year and thereby acknowledged his right to remain’ (NAA: A1, 1926/9963, p. 25). It is not clear from the file when, how or if the Nomchongs were informed of this decision, but after 1920 there were no further applications to extend George’s Certificate of Exemption. There were, however, applications for CEDTs, the first one issued in 1926 before George made a two-year trip to China. Apart from difficulties raised when three prohibited immigrants were found working on George’s Boorowa market garden in 1922, by the mid-1920s George’s right to live in Australia was settled. The CEDTs on display in Celestial City are not evidence of the precariousness of George’s presence in Australia, but rather proof that his Australian domicile was no longer questioned.

Although ‘Repatriating George Nomchong’ seems to have been written based on the archives alone, I wondered whether family perspectives had entered into how these archives were read and how George’s life was remembered. There can be no denying that the system was unfair and that officials could wield their power in ways that created insecurity for migrant Chinese living in early 20th-century Australia. This insecurity, along with the basic inequality of the system and the intervention and interference of authorities in the lives of Chinese Australians (such as during the 1922 incident with the illegal workers on George Nomchong’s garden), is often rightly remembered by descendants who have heard first hand what life was like under White Australia. There is no mention, however, of Nomchong family members having been interviewed and their memories being incorporated into the George Nomchong narrative in the exhibition, so I can only assume that the curator has worked from the archives alone.

One later file about George Nomchong, dating from 1939 to 1942, might have helped the exhibition clarify his legal status and identify whether or not George had been granted the right to remain permanently. It appears that George Nomchong inquired about naturalisation in 1939, perhaps in response to the Aliens Registration Act 1939 (see handwritten note at the bottom of page 5 in NAA: 1926/9963). It is unlikely that he would have been granted naturalisation, but I can find no obvious alien registration documents for him in Sydney either (NAA: SP1732/4). The file that might answer such questions (NAA: A659, 1942/1/6634) remains, however, unexamined in the archives.

You might ask if it really matters that details in the Celestial City exhibition aren’t spot on. How much detail do people take in during an exhibition visit anyway? Isn’t it more important for them to get a strong general impression — in this case of the extent and nature of anti-Chinese ideas in 19th and early 20th century Australia — than fretting over minutiae? To me, getting facts wrong in an exhibition like Celestial City, which has obviously had a lot of money put into it and a lot of publicity created around it, seems like a wasted opportunity. I can almost forgive the exhibition for reducing the vibrant, diverse and fascinating tale that is ‘Sydney’s Chinese Story’, full of characters and life and surprising twists, to something more akin to ‘What Racist White People in Sydney Thought About the Chinese’.* But the history of the Chinese in Australia, particularly the history of discrimination during the White Australia period, is too important for us to settle for the sort of sloppy reading of the archives and failure of historical understanding shown in Celestial City. Instead we need to be measured, considered, rigorous and meticulous in the research we do and the historical stories we tell. To do otherwise is to leave ourselves open to accusations of dishonesty, inaccuracy, exaggeration and sensationalism.

* There is certainly a place for examining white Australian attitudes towards the Chinese in the 19th and early 20th century, but as Alan Mayne has stated, ‘By emphasising unrelenting European intolerance and aggression towards Chinese settlers, historians have tended to overlook Chinese agency and the permeability of racial boundaries’. A better approach is to work towards a more nuanced understanding of European discrimination towards the Chinese and, in doing so, ‘deny Chinese passivity and marginalisation, and point instead to Chinese strategy and many-faceted engagement with colonial society’ (Mayne 2004: 2).

References

David Dutton. 2000. ‘The Meaning of Citizenship: Citizenship in Australia‘. In Citizenship in Australia: A Guide to Commonwealth Government Records. Canberra: National Archives of Australia.

Alan Mayne. 2004. ‘”What you want John?” Chinese-European interactions on the Lower Turon goldfields’. Journal of Australian Colonial History 6: 1–13.

Michael Williams. 2004. ‘Would this not help your Federation?’ In After the Rush: Regulation, Participation, and Chinese Communities in Australia 1860–1940, edited by Sophie Couchman, John Fitzgerald and Paul Macgregor: 35–50. Kingsbury, Vic.: Otherland Literary Journal.

Something Australian at WCILCOS 2012 (Vancouver, Canada)

In a bit over a week, I’ll be heading (a long way) north to the 5th WCILCOS International Conference of Institutes and Libraries for Chinese Overseas Studies in Vancouver, Canada. The conference theme is ‘Chinese through the Americas’, but there is a small Australasian representation among the papers. I’m particularly excited to be going to Vancouver because I’m hoping to hear lots about the work that Henry Yu and others have been doing with the Chinese Canadian Stories project at the University of British Columbia (UBC).

Here’s the abstract of the paper I’ll be presenting. A version of the paper will be available on the UBC website after the conference.

Paper trails: Anglo-Chinese Australians and the White Australia Policy

This paper discusses the overseas travels of Australians of Anglo-Chinese descent in the early decades of the 20th century. It explores their experience of overseas travel and their negotiation of bureaucratic processes under the White Australia Policy.

In the early 20th century, Anglo-Chinese Australians travelled overseas, primarily to Hong Kong and China, on holidays, for education, business and to visit family. Like other ‘non-white’ Australians, they were subject to the regulations of the Immigration Restriction Act 1901, under which they did not have an automatic right of return to Australia, even though they were Australian-born British subjects.

Australia’s early immigration regulations were designed to keep out unwanted ‘non-white’ arrivals, most famously through use of the Dictation Test, and the legislation was not clear on how officials should deal with those who were both Australian-born and of mixed race. Consequently, over the following decades officials developed a set of administrative practices in which their ideas of community belonging and cultural knowledge, as well as race, determined the outcomes of cases involving Anglo-Chinese Australians. The development of these administrative practices was an iterative process, where officials responded to the actions of Chinese and Anglo-Chinese Australians who, in turn, responded to and negotiated changing legislation and government policies.

Taking my own advice: finding home villages using Chinese student records

I recently took my own research advice on how to identify a home village in China. I’ve written before about the early 20th-century Chinese student records found in the Department of External Affairs record series A1, mentioning that:

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.

But before last week I’d never actually needed to use them in this way.

At the moment I’m doing some research into Poon Gooey and Ham Hop, the couple at the centre of the well-known deportation case from 1913. I had previously confirmed from shipping records that Poon Gooey was from Kaiping. He made one journey to Australia as ship’s crew (stevedore) and the passenger manifest lists ‘Hoi Ping’ as his place of origin. Two other Poons on the same voyage were also from Kaiping, as were others who lived in Australia (like Peter Poon Youie).

The research I’m doing has also shown that while there were Poons (and Pons and Pongs) in Melbourne (centred around the Leong Lee store in Little Bourke Street), they seem to have lived primarily in western Victoria, around Horsham, Hamilton, Donald, Warracknabeal, down to Warrnambool and up to Mildura, and also across in Adelaide. All of which suggests that there was some pretty significant chain migration by Poons from Kaiping to southern Australia, perhaps stretching from as early as the 1850s into the 1920s and 1930s.

Armed with all this, I hoped to be able to narrow down Poon Gooey’s home town origins somewhat. First, I checked the Roots Villages Database, to look for Poon villages in Kaiping – there are four, all in Yuet Shan / Yueshan:

  • Chung Wo Lay / Zhonghe Li
  • Kiu Tau Fong / Qiaotou Fang
  • Nam Kong Lay / Nanjiang Li
  • Siu Lung Lay / Zhaolong Li

(Apologies for not including Chinese characters for these names; there seems to be a bit of a technical issue with encoding.)

Which, if any, of these villages might my Australian Poons have come from?

This is where the Chinese student records come in handy! The applications and student passports included in the files give personal details of the applicants and their Australian sponsors in both English and Chinese characters. Working on the assumption that the Poons in Victoria were most likely from the same clan, I figured that the files may well reveal which village they came from.

I identified eight Chinese student files relating to Poons, Pons and Pongs and set off to the National Archives, baby in tow. Half of the files weren’t relevant, either because the family surname was not actually Poon or because they were from New South Wales not Victoria.

But the half that were relevant told me some interesting things. The boys came from: Shoylungle (Zhaolongli) and Kew How/Quiutay/Kew Too (the same village, Qiaotou, just spelled differently), with ‘Nanjiangli’ also written in Chinese on the Kew Too application. With the names from the Roots Villages Database, matching them up was easy!

The application for the boy from Zhaolongli, Poon Bak Cheung, was made through Leong Lee in Melbourne, and as I know that Poon Gooey was connected to Leong Lee too, it seems likely then that Poon Gooey was also a Zhaolongli native. The images above and below are from Poon Bak Cheung’s file (NAA: A1, 1931/7483).

So, I’d found the names of my Kaiping Poon villages – but where exactly were they? After a bit of searching using both Google Maps and ditu.google.cn (the Chinese Google Maps), there they were. Three little villages all in a row, to the northeast of Yueshan town, with the fourth village listed in the Roots Villages Database also just across the way:

Sometimes it seems incredible that it was only a matter of hours from when I looked up the Roots Village Database to when I was looking at satellite images of what I’m pretty sure was once Poon Gooey’s home. The slowest part of the equation was waiting for the Chinese student files to be retrieved from the repository (which, in fairness to the National Archives, happened as smoothly and promptly as you could expect.)

I know that as a result of the federal government’s deportation action against Ham Hop, the Poon Gooey family returned to China in 1913. While Poon Gooey himself then returned to Australia for a period, in the early to mid-1920s he was back in China and living in Shanghai, presumably with his wife and daughters. After that I don’t know where they went. From what I’ve seen in the archives, I don’t believe that they returned to Australia again.

I visisted Yueshan last year, on the hunt for another family’s home village. I now just have to stop myself from wanting to make another trip to try and find out the fate of the Poon Gooeys.

Form 21(i): Certificate of Domicile, 1902

This is the first in a series of five posts that looks at the different iterations of Form 21 over the first decade of the 20th century. Form 21 is better known as a Certificate of Domicile or Certificate Exempting from Dictation Test (CEDT), but there is something reassuringly bureaucratic in it having a number. There is something practical in it too, because there were a bevy of other forms as well (32, 22, 19, 9 etc), including the confusion-causing Certificate of Exemption (Form 2, which was a temporary entry permit rather than a re-entry permit).

I have located what I’m fairly confident are the first examples of each variation of Form 21 between 1902, when the Immigration Restriction Act came into effect, and 1908. After then things settled down a bit and the form remained more or less the same over the following decades. My examples are taken from New South Wales.

You can see these examples and others in my Invisible Australians library in Zotero.

Certificate of Domicile for Ah Shooey

The first Certificate of Domicile issued in New South Wales would have been numbered 02/1 – ’02’ being the year 1902 and ‘1’ being the certificate number. There is a volume of certificates from 1902 in NAA: SP11/6, Box 3 (more about this in an earlier post), and my guess is that the first Certificate of Domicile is probably to be found there. Unfortunately it’s not digitised and I’m not in Sydney, so we’ll have to leave confirmation of that ’til a later time.

The first Certificate of Domicile that I can include here is, therefore, from a year later. It was the first Certificate of Domicile issued in New South Wales in 1903 (no. 03/1) and is the first certificate to be found in series NAA: ST84/1, ‘Certificates of Domicile and Certificates of Exemption from Dictation Test, chronological series’. (Here’s a link to the record item it is held in: NAA: ST84/1, 1903/1-10 – the whole item is digitised.)

The certificate was issued in the name of Ah Shooey, a 47-year-old Chinese man from Canton, who was departing Sydney for China on the Kasuga Maru on 1 January 1903. The certificate notes that Ah Shooey has one son, who is accompanying him. This is presumably 22-year-old labourer Louey Back Keong, whose certificate is no. 03/2.

Two copies of the form were completed; the one pictured above includes the word ‘Duplicate’ handwritten in red on the front. This copy was kept on file in Sydney, while the other copy (also found in NAA: ST84/1, 1903/1-10) would have been given to Ah Shooey to use during his travels, before being collected and filed on his return. Details of Ah Shooey’s arrival were also marked on the used certificate (‘Landed Empire 27/05/05’).

Ah Shooey’s form records the following information:

Duplicate

No. 03/1

COMMONWEALTH OF AUSTRALIA
Immigration Restriction Act 1901 and Regulations.

CERTIFICATE OF DOMICILE

I, Nicholas Lockyer Collector of Customs at the port of Sydney New South Wales in the said Commonwealth, hereby certify that Ah Shooey, hereinafter described, has satisfied me that he is domiciled in the Commonwealth, and is leaving the Commonwealth temporarily.

[Signature of Nicholas Lockyer] Collector of Customs
Date 31st December 1902

DESCRIPTION

Nationality Chinese
Birthplace Canton
Age 47 years
Complexion
Height 5ft 5 1/2 inch in Boots
Hair Turning grey
Build Stout
Eyes Brown
Particular marks Nail on little finger left hand missing. Top of third finger on right hand off from first joint.

(For impression of hand, see back of this document.)

Family One son
Where resident Accompanying
Date of arrival in Australia Year 1877
Place of residence in Australia Deniliquin
Occupation Storekeeper
Property Value £400 Deniliquin

Date of departure 1st January 1903
Destination China
Ship Kasuga Maru

References in Australia (names and addresses) Police Magistrate Deniliquin. A Fordham Deniliquin. C Hitchin Jerilderie.

Form No. 21.

On the reverse, the form includes the words ‘Impression of Left Hand’ and Ah Shooey’s handprint.

Reverse of Certificate of Domicle for Ah Shooey, 1903. NAA: ST84/1, 1903/1-10

Collecting CEDT applications and certificates

The administration of the Immigration Restriction Act was overseen by the Department of External Affairs, but the day-to-day work was undertaken by the state-based Collector of Customs/Department of Customs & Excise.

The Collectors of Customs had been responsible for administering colonial immigration restriction laws, and each had their own systems in place when the new federal legislation was implemented from 1902. Atlee Hunt, Secretary of the Department of External Affairs for the first two decades of the 20th century, set about ensuring that officials in each state implemented federal policy consistently, issuing a book of published guidelines as well as dozens of circulars that kept Customs officials up-to-date on decisions made by the Department.

The chap pictured below is WH Barkley, who was the New South Wales Collector of Customs between 1914 and 1933. His signature can be seen on hundreds of CEDTs issued in Sydney during that period.

Anyway, the different recordkeeping systems used by the state Collectors of Customs means that each state/territory now has a different set of records of CEDT applications and certificates.

To me, the system in Sydney seems pretty nicely organised – basically there is one series with correspondence files containing the applications (Form 22), another series that holds copies of the CEDTs that were issued in Sydney (Form 21), another that has the duplicate CEDTs (and other papers including Form 32s) of people arriving back into Sydney. (Okay, it’s really more complicated than that, but let’s not confuse things too much.)

Things are also very tidily done in Darwin (although on a much smaller scale), with all the paper work filed in the one file – the application (Form 22), the CEDT (Form 21), the return authorisation form (Form 32) as well as any other correspondence.

This post is an attempt to document what CEDT applications and certificates exist for each state, what series they are in, and whether they’re available online through RecordSearch. My list also includes registers of applications, as well as records that were created under colonial legislation.

NOTE: Although I’ve done a lot of research using the Sydney records in the flesh, most of what I know about records in the other states is based on what can be found in RecordSearch and in the National Archives’ guide to Chinese records. There will, therefore, be gaps! Any contributions of local knowledge gratefully accepted (especially Tasmania and South Australia).

NOTE TOO: These are the ‘main’ series with CEDT applications and certificates. There are other odd series that also include CEDT stuff that I haven’t included.

New South Wales

Applications: SP11/26

Series number: SP11/26
Series name: Applications for Certificates of Domicile
Dates: 1902
Contents: Applications by for certificates of domicile. Included are references, statutory declarations, submissions, and the Minister’s decision.
Location: Sydney
Shelf metres: 0.18 m

Number of items listed in RecordSearch: 27 (100 % of series)
Number of items digitised in RecordSearch: 0
Item title: Includes person’s name, so can be searched by name.
Item titles example: William Ah Bow, application for a certificate of domicile [7 pages and 4 photographs]

Link to series description in RecordSearch: NAA: SP11/26
Link to example item in RecordSearch: NAA: SP11/26, A1

Applications: SP42/1

Series number: SP42/1
Series name: Correspondence of the Collector of Customs relating to Immigration Restriction and Passports
Dates: c.1898–1948
Contents: Correspondence files, varying in size from a few to dozens of pages, mostly concerning one person or family group. Because this series stretches over several decades, the contents varies a bit. Most later files include Form 22.
Location: Sydney
Shelf metres: 119.79 m

Number of items listed in RecordSearch: 6531 (% of series unknown, but probably a significant proportion)
Number of items digitised in RecordSearch: 722 (as of 29 July 2010)
Item title: Generally includes personal name of subject/s, so can be searched by name.
Item title example: Ah Sun [includes 2 photographs showing front and side views] [box 106]

Link to series description in RecordSearch: NAA: SP42/1
Link to example item in RecordSearch: NAA: SP42/1, C1917/4159

Certificates: SP115/10

Series number: SP115/10
Series name: Certificates Exempting from the provisions of ‘The Influx of Chinese Restriction Act 1881’
Dates: 1884–88
Contents: Includes about 450 exemption certificates issued under the NSW 1881 Act and 2 certificates and documents relating to the 1861 Act. The certificates include scant information about the applicants themselves, giving their name, date of issue of the certificate and period of exemption. There may be handwritten annotations on the front and back, some in Chinese, which provide more personal information such as occupation, age and height.
Location: Sydney
Shelf metres: 0.72 m

Number of items listed in RecordSearch: 1 (Whole series item)
Number of items digitised in RecordSearch: 0
Item title: 1 item only. Certificates are not listed as individual items.
Item title example: Certificates Exempting from the provisions of ‘The Influx of Chinese Restriction Act 1881’

Link to series description in RecordSearch: NAA: SP115/10
Link to example item in RecordSearch: NAA: SP115/10, WHOLE SERIES

Certificates: ST84/1

Series number: ST84/1
Series name: Certificates of Domicile and Certificates of Exemption from Dictation Test, chronological series
Dates: c.1903–53
Contents: Certificates of Domicile and CEDTs (Form 21). Each item includes a bundle with the certificates of about 10 people. There may be used duplicate copies of the certificates and other material including Form 32.
Location: Sydney
Shelf metres: 49.14 m

Number of items listed in RecordSearch: 2754 (probably 100% of series)
Number of items digitised in RecordSearch: 344 (as of 29 July 2010)
Item title: Includes the names of certificate holders, so can be searched by name.
Item title example: Jong Say, Wong Kwong, Lee You Wing, Foo Gun, Mar Kum, Gock Buck, Ah Get, Jeong Keong, Percy Zuinn and Ah Yum [Certificate Exempting from Dictation Test – includes left hand impression and photographs] [box 122]

Link to series description in RecordSearch: NAA: ST84/1
Link to example item in RecordSearch: NAA: ST84/1,1908/11/31-40

Used certificates: SP115/1

Series number: SP115/1
Series name: Folders containing Certificates of Exemption and related papers for passengers arriving in Australia by ship, chronological series
Dates: c.1911–43
Contents: CEDTs (Form 21) and other identity documents (such as birth certificates) of people arriving into Sydney, as well as completed Form 32s which document why they were exempted from the Immigration Restriction Act. Each item contains the documents of multiple people.
Location: Sydney
Shelf metres: 24.84 m

Number of items listed in RecordSearch: 1433 (probably about 80% of series – items from 1911–14 are not listed in RecordSearch)
Number of items digitised in RecordSearch: 6 (it seems that for most of these the whole item has not been copied) (as of 29 July 2010)
Item title: Gives the name of the ship and the date of its arrival. Does not include people’s names.
Item title example: EASTERN 20/12/1922 [part 3] [Certificates of Exemption for passengers; includes photographs] [2.5cm]

Link to series description in RecordSearch: NAA: SP115/1
Link to example item in RecordSearch: NAA: SP115/1, BOX 18

Used certificates: SP11/6

Series number: SP11/6
Series name: Certificates of Exemption from Dictation Test (Forms 32 and 21)
Dates: 1902–46
Contents: Documents held in this series are, for the most part, similar to those held in SP115/1. The files contain copies of Form 32 and CEDTs (Form 21) or other identity documents of Chinese arriving into Sydney from overseas.
Location: Sydney
Shelf metres: 1.62

Number of items listed in RecordSearch: 100 (100% of series)
Number of items digitised in RecordSearch: 0
Item title: Gives the name of the ship and the date of its arrival. Does not include people’s names.
Item title example: Certificate Exempting From Dictation Test Immigration Act 1901-1925: Chinese passengers per SS Tango Maru Sydney 11/10/26 [Box 2]

Link to series description in RecordSearch: NAA: SP11/6
Link to example item in RecordSearch: SP11/6, NN

Register of applications: SP726/1

NOTE: This series does not contain application forms and certificates like the others listed. It is included here, however, as it provides a full record of the CEDTs issued in Sydney.

Series number: SP726/1
Series name: Register of Applications for Certificate of Exemption Dictation Tests
Dates: 1902–59
Contents: 6 volumes listing details of people who applied for CEDTs in Sydney. Registers list details such as name, certificate and file numbers and dates of travel. The registers have a name index at the front.
Location: Sydney
Shelf metres: 0.9 m

Number of items listed in RecordSearch: 6 (100% of series)
Number of items digitised in RecordSearch: 0
Item title: Description of register and date range
Item title example: Register of names relating to exemption from Dictation Tests (1902-1910)

Link to series description in RecordSearch: NAA: SP726/1
Link to example item in RecordSearch: NAA: SP726/1, BOOK 1

Victoria

Applications & certificates: B13

Series number: B13
Series name: General and classified correspondence, annual single number series
Dates: From 1902
Contents: Correspondence files of the Department of Customs & Excise/Department of Trade & Customs, concerning a range of Customs matters including immigration restriction. Because of culling, most files before the 1930s relate to immigration restriction. Files can include applications, supporting correspondence, photographs and certificates.
Location: Melbourne
Shelf metres: 104.08 m

Number of items listed in RecordSearch: 20,120 (100% of series)
Number of items digitised in RecordSearch: 131
Item title: Case files include person’s name, so can be searched by name.
Item title example: Ah Lipp – application for Certificate of Exemption from Dictation Test

Link to series description in RecordSearch: NAA: B13
Link to example item in RecordSearch: NAA: B13, 1908/4495

Register of applications: B6003

NOTE: This series does not contain application forms and certificates like the others listed. It is included here, however, as it provides a record of the CEDTs issued in Melbourne.

Series number: B6003
Series name: Registers of Certificates Exempting from the Dictation Test (Departures), Melbourne
Dates: 1904–59
Contents: Three volumes of registers recording details of people departing Melbourne on CEDTs, noting the following details: Vic. no., CEDT Book no., C&E file no., date of issue, name, age, nationality, occupation, address, period of residence in the Commonwealth, departure – date and vessel and port, return – date and vessel and port, examined by, remarks. The registers date 1904–14, 1915–33 and 1934–59.
Location: Melbourne
Shelf metres: 0.72 m

Number of items listed in RecordSearch: 3 (100% of series)
Number of items digitised in RecordSearch: 0
Item title: All 3 items have the same item title
Item title example: Register of Certificates Exempting from the Dictation Test (Departures), Melbourne

Link to series description in RecordSearch: NAA: B6003
Link to example item in RecordSearch: NAA: B6003, NN

Queensland

Certificates: J2481

Series number: J2481
Series name: Proclamations under The Chinese Immigration Restriction Act 1888 & related correspondence, annual single number series
Dates: 1897–1902
Contents: Proclamations issued during the years 1897–1902 exempting persons named from the provisions of the Chinese Immigration Restriction Act 1888 for a period of two years from the date of departure from Australia. They are in a standard form with photographs and personal details.
Location: Brisbane
Shelf metres: 1.8 m

Number of items listed in RecordSearch: 858 (100% of series)
Number of items digitised in RecordSearch: 858
Item title: Includes person’s name, so can be searched by name.
Item titles example: Foo Lang

Link to series description in RecordSearch: NAA: J2481
Link to example item in RecordSearch: NAA: J2481, 1899/298

Certificates: J2482

Series number: J2482
Series name: Certificates of Domicile issued under The Immigration Restriction Act 1901 and Regulations, annual single number series
Dates: 1902–06
Contents: Certificates of Domicile (Form 21)
Location: Brisbane
Shelf metres: 1.8 m

Number of items listed in RecordSearch: 799 (100% of series)
Number of items digitised in RecordSearch: 798
Item title: Includes person’s name, place of residence and birthplace, so can be searched by name
Item titles example: Ah Tong of Redlynch near Cairns, Qld – birthplace: Canton, China – departed Cairns, Queensland on the Changsha 27 July 1904

Link to series description in RecordSearch: NAA: J2482
Link to example item in RecordSearch: NAA: J2482, 1903/99

Certificates: J2483

Series number: J2483
Series name: Certificates Exempting from Dictation Test [CEDT] issued under “The Immigration Restriction Acts 1901-1905” and Regulations (and amending legislation), two number series
Dates: 1908–56
Contents: CEDTs (Form 21) and Form 32s. Each item contains one certificate (and duplicate) and one Form 32.
Location: Brisbane
Shelf metres: 30.6 m

Number of items listed in RecordSearch: 14,429 (100% of series)
Number of items digitised in RecordSearch: 203
Item title: Includes person’s name, nationality and birthplace, so can be searched by name.
Item titles example: Certificate Exempting from Dictation Test (CEDT) – Name: Margaret Chun Tie [also known as Margaret Choy Larn] – Nationality: Chinese [Australian born] – Birthplace: Croydon

Link to series description in RecordSearch: NAA: J2483
Link to example item in RecordSearch: NAA: J2483, 18/9

Applications: J3115

Series number: J3115
Series name: Alien Immigration files relating to applications for Certificate of Domicile, Certificates of Exemption from the Chinese Immigration Restriction Act 1888 and Certificates of Exemption from the Dictation Test that includes photographs, birth certificates and other historical documents, imposed single number series
Dates: 1899–1928
Contents: Applications for Certificates of Domicile and some for CEDTs, also applications under earlier colonial legislation, so contents of the files is not consistent.
Location: Brisbane
Shelf metres: 2.17 m

Number of items listed in RecordSearch: 161 (100% of series)
Number of items digitised in RecordSearch: 62
Item title: Includes person’s name and where they live, so can be searched by name.
Item titles example: Certificate of Domicile for Young Chin, a storekeeper from Cairns – includes photographs

Link to series description in RecordSearch: NAA: J3115
Link to example item in RecordSearch: NAA: J3115, 25

Registers: BP343/15

Series number: BP343/15
Series name: Registers of aliens departing from the Port of Townsville who were granted a certificate exempting from dictation test [CEDT]
Dates: 1916–55
Contents: Details of aliens leaving the Commonwealth via the Port of Townsville for a temporary period who were been granted a CEDT. The vast majority of records contain a name, description, nationality, place of birthplace, right handprint, place and date fee paid, warrant number, date of departure and name of ship, date of return and name of ship, and number of CEDT. Most also
contain 2 photographs, showing full face and profile.
Location: Brisbane
Shelf metres: 5.22 m

Number of items listed in RecordSearch: 2566 (100% of series)
Number of items digitised in RecordSearch: 17
Item title: Includes person’s name, place of residence, nationality and birthplace, so can be searched by name.
Item titles example: Name: Willie Mar (of Richmond) – Nationality: Chinese – Birthplace: Canton – Certificate of Exemption from the Dictation Test (CEDT) number: 336A/87

Link to series description in RecordSearch: NAA: BP343/15
Link to example item in RecordSearch: NAA: BP343/15, 13/872

Western Australia

Applications: PP4/2

Series number: PP4/2
Series name: Applications for CEDTs with supporting documents, annual single number series
Dates: c.1915–41
Contents: Applications for CEDTs, accompanied by references, photographs of the applicant, and reports by the police and customs officials regarding the character etc of the applicant. Includes Form 22s.
Location: Perth
Shelf metres: 5.22 m

Number of items listed in RecordSearch: 611 (100% of series)
Number of items digitised in RecordSearch: 3
Item title: Includes the name of the person and their ethnicity (Japanese, Chinese etc), so can be searched by name.
Item title example: Quong Leong SET [Chinese] [Application for certificate of exemption from dictation test]

Link to series description in RecordSearch: NAA: PP4/2
Link to example item in RecordSearch: NAA: 1931/94

Applications: PP6/1

NOTE: This series has one of the best series descriptions that I have ever seen in RecordSearch.

Series number: PP6/1
Series name: Correspondence files [subject and client], annual single number series with ‘H’ infix
Dates: 1926–50
Contents: Immigration correspondence files, including those concerning applications for CEDTs. The series also documents other immigration functions such as temporary admissions and naturalisation. Only a small proportion of files in the series concern Chinese, Japanese etc.
Location: Perth
Shelf metres: 36.54 m

Number of items listed in RecordSearch: 6005 (100% of series)
Number of items digitised in RecordSearch: 58
Item title: Includes the name of the applicant and what the file was about, so can be searched by name.
Item title example: Yick YOU [Application for Certificate of Exemption of Dictation Test]

Link to series description in RecordSearch: NAA: PP6/1
Link to example item in RecordSearch: NAA: PP6/1, 1927/H/325

Certificates: K1145

Series number: K1145
Series name: Certificates of Exemption from Dictation Test, annual certificate number order
Dates: c.1901–45
Contents: Contains CEDTs (Form 21) arranged in certificate number order commencing at one (1) each year.
Location: Perth
Shelf metres: 6.84 m

Number of items listed in RecordSearch: 4787 (100% of series)
Number of items digitised in RecordSearch: 24
Item title: Includes person’s name and ethnicity, so can be searched by name.
Item title example: Ah Kett [Chinese]

Link to series description in RecordSearch:
NAA: K1145
Link to example item in RecordSearch: NAA: K1145, 1918/137

Northern Territory

Applications and certificates: E752

Series number: E752
Series name: Certificate Exempting from Dictation Test
Dates: 1905–41 (most date from 1915 and after)
Contents: Applications for CEDTs (and one Certificate of Domicile), CEDTs and correspondence. The series includes Form 21s (CEDTs) and Form 32s, which were completed on return to Australia.
Location: Darwin
Shelf metres: 4.5 m

Number of items listed in RecordSearch: 720 (100% of series)
Number of items digitised in RecordSearch: 715
Item title: Includes the name of the applicant, so can be searched by name.
Item title example: [Certificate of Exemption from Dictation Test – Fong Yan]

Link to series description in RecordSearch: NAA: E752
Link to example item in RecordSearch: NAA: E752, 1917/11

South Australia

Register of applications: D2860

Series number: D2860
Series name: Immigration Restriction Act exemption certificate register
Dates: 1902–57
Contents: A register and alphabetical index of CEDTs and related matters. Includes a chronological record of departures from various Australian ports of holders of CEDTs showing date of issue, certificate number, person to whom issued (full name), date of departure, ship (and port if other than Adelaide), certifying officer, correspondence reference number, and number of previous certificate (if any). There are corresponding details for the certificate holder’s return to Australia as follows: date, ship, certifying officer, remarks. The volume is divided into other sections including birth certificates, applications for CEDTs refused, lapsed applications for CEDTs and CEDTs issued in other states to applicants departing from Port Adelaide.
Location: Sydney (a copy is held in Adelaide)
Shelf metres: 0.81 m

Number of items listed in RecordSearch: 1 (100% of series)
Number of items digitised in RecordSearch: 0
Item title: 1 item only
Item title example: Immigration Restriction Act exemption certificate register

Link to series description in RecordSearch: NAA: D2860
Link to example item in RecordSearch: NAA: D2860, WHOLE SERIES

Book butts: D5036

Series number: D5036
Series name: Certificates exempting from dictation test (CEDT) book butts (forms 21)
Dates: 1902–59
Contents: 2 volumes. Comprises book butts of CEDTs (Form 21). The butts include provision for certificate number, name (sometimes showing address, when and where born, occupation and other details), nationality, date of issue to Sub-Collector (of Customs), date of issue to holder and payment of fee. In some cases where certificates have not been issued, the record is cancelled and 2 copies of the certificate remain attached to the butt.
Location: Sydney
Shelf metres: 0.9 m

Number of items listed in RecordSearch: 1 (100% of series)
Number of items digitised in RecordSearch: 0
Item title: 1 item only
Item title example: Certificates exempting from dictation test (CEDT) book butts (form 21)

Link to series description in RecordSearch: NAA: D5036
Link to example item in RecordSearch: NAA: D5036, WHOLE SERIES

Applications: D596

Series number: D596
Series title: Correspondence files, annual single number series
Dates: c.1902–1930s
Contents: Correspondence files of the Collector of Customs, including a small number (less than 100) concerning applications for CEDTs.
Location:: Adelaide
Shelf metres: 53.91 m

Number of items listed in RecordSearch: 11,390 (100% of series)
Number of items digitised in RecordSearch: 63
Item title: Relevant file titles include the person’s name, so can be searched by name; they also generally include the words ‘exemption’ or ‘certificate’
Item title example: Abdul KHALICK – Certificate of Exemption from Dictation Test

Link to series description in RecordSearch: NAA: D596
Link to example item in RecordSearch: D596, 1919/4386

Tasmania

NOTE: The 2 series listed here appear to hold the only remaining Customs records in Hobart relating to the issuing of CEDTs. The Department of External Affairs series A1 held in Canberra contains material relating to Tasmanian Chinese, and it is possible that Melbourne records do too.

Book butts: P526

NOTE: From the series description in RecordSearch, it would seem that this series contains book butts of CEDTs (Form 21) issued in Hobart. There appears to be no remaining copies of the certificates themselves. I’m happy to be corrected on this if someone knows better.

Series number: P526
Series name: Immigration permit butts (form 21) issued to foreign nationals at Launceston and Burnie outports
Dates: 1908–18
Contents: Volumes containing butts of immigration permits issued to foreign nationals wanting to enter Launceston and Burnie outports. The butts include information on the person name, nationality and date of issue. They were issued in Hobart.
Location: Hobart
Shelf metres: 0.06 m

Number of items listed in RecordSearch: 2 (100% of series)
Number of items digitised in RecordSearch: 0
Item title: The 2 items have the same title
Item title example: Australian Customs Service, Tasmania – butts of immigration permit certificates issued

Link to series description in RecordSearch: NAA: P526
Link to example item in RecordSearch: NAA: P526, CUST47

Applications: P437

Series number: P437
Series name: Correspondence Files, Annual Single Number Series
Dates: From 1909
Contents: Correspondence files of the Collector of Customs, including files on immigration matters such as applications for CEDTs. Most items in the series do not relate to CEDT applications, however.
Location: Hobart
Shelf metres: 94.68 m

Number of items listed in RecordSearch: 4959 (100% of series)
Number of items digitised in RecordSearch: 1
Item title: Relevant items have person’s name in the title, so can be searched by name. It appears item titles are taken directly from the files’ original titles as they are not consistent.
Item title example: Gi Hung – Statutory Declaration re Immigration Restriction Acts. – visit China 36 months.

Link to series description in RecordSearch: NAA: P437
Link to example item in RecordSearch: NAA: P437, 1911/291

Invisible Australians: A beginning

Over at discontents, Tim Sherratt has recently posted about a new project he and I are embarking on. Called ‘Invisible Australians: Living under the White Australia Policy’, the project aims to reveal something of the lives of the thousands of men, women and children who were affected by the racially-based immigration policy of early 20th-century Australia. (You might like to read Tim’s post.)

The Immigration Restriction Act, introduced in December 1901, was designed to limited the migration of ‘coloured’ people to Australia, but it (and other elements of the White Australia Policy) also had an affect on the lives of non-white, non-Indigenous Australians – people of Chinese, Japanese, Indian, Lebanese, Syrian, Afghan descent who were either born here, or who had already built lives here after migrating.

To administer the Immigration Restriction Act, government officials implemented an increasingly complex and structured system of tracking and documenting the movements of non-white people* as they travelled in and out of the country. This surveillance left an extraordinary body of records containing information about people who, according to the national myth of a ‘White Australia’, were not Australian at all.

Tim and I hope that, starting with the documentary legacy of the Immigration Restriction Act, we can link together disparate fragments of information about non-white Australians to make their presence in early 20th-century Australia more visible. Many writings comment on how the White Australia Policy resulted in a reduction in Australia’s non-white population over the early decades of the century, particularly in the Chinese community – forgetting, it seems, that there were still thousands who just kept on living here, living their lives under the White Australia Policy.

Our first steps in the project are small ones. Tim is beginning work on a transcription tool that will enable the extraction of information from records already digitised by the National Archives of Australia. And I am going back and thinking about the records themselves, in part to provide Tim with details he needs to develop the transcription tool. I am also putting together a guide to researching individuals in the Immigration Restriction Act records from New South Wales (c.1902–1948) that are held in the National Archives’ Sydney office.

The lives revealed in the Immigration Restriction Act records are, for the most part, not big ones. They are those of market gardeners, labourers, hawkers, farmers, shopkeepers, cabinetmakers – as well as a wives and mothers and children. In many cases they are lives that are documented nowhere else. The documents I’ve included to illustrate this post are examples of two of the types of forms that we will be working with: Form 22, which was used to apply for an exemption from the dictation test, and Form 21, the Certificates of Domicile (CoD) and then Certificates Exempting from Dictation Test (CEDT) issued to those whose applications were successful. I’ll be posting more about these documents soon.

I have written elsewhere of the value of the records, and I marvel at the possibilities they offer for creating connections – between different groups of records, between the people documented in the records (parents, children, siblings, cousins, clansmen, neighbours) and between those ‘invisible Australians’ and their descendants today. Some days I’m a little overwhelmed by all the possibilities, but, for today at least, I’m happy that we’re making a start.

* In this post, and in our discussions of the project more generally, we use ‘non-white’ to refer to the people who crop up in the White Australia records because bureaucrats at the time considered them as something other than ‘white’. It’s not a perfect term, but it’s hard to come up with something that adequately covers all bases, particularly considering the instability of racial categorisation. Among those classified as ‘non-white’ were, for example, people of mixed race who had one white parent (usually their mother). Our use of ‘non-white’ does not include Indigenous Australians as they did not generally come under the restrictions of the White Australia Policy.