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

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