As we enter the Year of the Dragon in 2024, here’s a look back at how the Chinese community in the tin mining settlement of Thomas’ Plains (also known as Weldborough), Tasmania, celebrated New Year in 1884 – one hundred and forty years ago.
The report by ‘Miner’, published in the Hobart Mercury on 6 February, 1884, includes a mention of the joss house at Weldborough. This temple was only newly opened at the time of writing, and it remained in use until 1934. Today, its contents, and those of five other nineteenth-century joss houses from the north-east of Tasmania, make up the Guan Di Temple (關帝廟) at the Queen Victoria Museum & Art Gallery in Launceston.
‘On first pitching my tent within the margin of this sunny oasis of the forest, I little thought eight years hence its echoes would be awakened by the discordant jinglings of a Chinese orchestra; but so it is, and the year 1884 of the Christian era, and the ninth year of the reign of Tsai-Tien, Emperor of China, leave an established epoch in the history of Weldborough.
Like most mining settlements, we, too, have passed through a series of perplexing ups and downs since the year 1875. So great, indeed, are the changes through which we have entered as to make us often somewhat doubtful of our position. Many who came here as the pioneers of our tin mines have retired from the field, some to rest upon their gains, and others, to toil afresh in pastures new; and some, I regret to think, are numbered with the past. What with births, deaths, and marriages, and earthquakes, we are induced to review the principles of cause and effect.
Both morally and physically we indicate a transition : the Celtic and Saxon blendings are fast yielding to the strongly-marked tendencies of the Mongolian. This is seen in all our public and festive gatherings, but strongly so in the large brood of almond-eyed, olive-cheeked urchins attending our day school. If there is any truth in the tenet advanced by many of our philosophers, touching Nature’s fiat on the ‘surviance of the fittest’, John, here, may be said to be in the ascendant, since he has driven the European from the field, and is now master of his position. …
We are now in the midst of the high festivities of their new year. There is one continual round of feasting, music, fireworks, and Joss ceremonials. There must be fully 300 men congregated within the camp, all living in the highest state of enjoyment, for the time being all things seem to be held in common, even the barbarous European is present again and again to partake of their dainties, consisting of pork, fowls, and rice, with oceans of oil and other celestial condiments.
There is one very noticeable feature brought out in John’s feastings, he does not forget his god. The inevitable pig is roasted whole, and borne as an offering to the altar, amid the burning of incense, the clashing of cymbals, prostrations, prayers, incantations, and a crackling blaze of fireworks, after which it is returned to render a more substantial service, as the sacred tit-bits of another feast.
Whatever may appear the architectural frailties of our Chinese dwelling places, which may be said to consist for the most part of palings, poles, and rice-bags, they have spared no expense in embellishing and decorating their Joss House, which may be said to glitter with adornments. The altar-pieces, and symbolical carvings, and gilding, and painting on glass, show much artistic skill and cleverness; but, alas! to what strange purposes employed. …
Yours, etc., MINER
Thomas’ Plains, February 1, 1884.’
Video, transcript and slides of a talk on ‘Uncovering the stories of Chinese Australian families’, presented at Libraries Tasmania in Hobart on 8 August 2023
When I began researching the history of Chinese Australian families more than two decades ago, the sources I first came across, including accounts by politicians and journalists, focused on an absence of ‘real’ family life among the colonial Chinese population.
Despite this, other sources provided tantalising hints at the presence of a small number of Chinese women as well as a significant number of families made up of a Chinese father and white mother.
In this talk, I share how I, alongside a growing number of family historians, have gone about uncovering the stories of Chinese Australian families and consider how their transnational lives are an important part of the history of connection between China and Australia.
You can watch the video, or read the text of my presentation below.
Over the past couple of decades, a number of Australian and New Zealand writers have produced works of historical fiction featuring romances between white women and Chinese men.
One of the best known is the ongoing and somewhat illicit liaison between Kerry Greenwood’s lady detective, Phryne Fisher, and Lin Chung, the Cambridge-educated son of an elite Victorian Chinese family of silk merchants, whose progenitor had first arrived in Australia with the gold rushes.
Lin Chung first appears in the seventh book in the Phryne Fisher series, Ruddy Gore, published in 1995, and while he is an intermittent character across the two dozen novels, he – along with a string of other lovers – is central to the portrayal of Phryne’s liberal attitude towards life and obvious pleasure in flaunting the social mores of respectable 1920s Melbourne.
A few other examples are worth mentioning, too.
There’s Neridah Newton’s The Lambing Flat, published in 2003, which won the Queensland Premier’s Literary Award for an Emerging Author in 2002. It follows the intertwined lives of Ella, born and bred on a Queensland cattle station, and Lok, who arrives in Australia as a boy and experiences the violence of the Lambing Flat anti-Chinese riots of 1861, before heading north to Queensland. He finds work on Ella’s father’s property, and the love story progresses from there.
There’s also As the Earth Turns Silver, by New Zealand author Alison Wong, which won the Janet Frame Fiction Award in 2009. Set against the backdrop of racist white working-class Wellington in the early twentieth century, the book tells the ultimately tragic story of a secret love affair between widow and mother of two, Katherine McKechnie, and Wong Chung-yung, a greengrocer.
Then there’s Deborah O’Brien’s Mr Chen’s Emporium, and its sequel The Jade Widow, which are aimed more at the ‘book club’ market. Mr Chen’s Emporium plots a fairly predictable romantic path to the marriage of Amy Duncan and Charles Chen in a small New South Wales goldfields town in the 1870s – and their relationships, once again, ends tragically. While not great literature, Mr Chen’s Emporium is nonetheless pretty spot-on with its history.
As a historian I’ve spent much of my career looking into the lives of white women and Chinese men who formed intimate relationships in the past, women and men like the protagonists in these novels.
This research has been part of my broader interest in the histories of women, children and families of Australasia’s early Chinese communities – and a caveat here, the ‘Chinese Australian families’ I’ll be talking about today are predominantly those made up of a white mother and Chinese father.
So, it interests me very much to see stories of Chinese-European couples being told again through fiction in the twenty-first century, in television as well as the novels I’ve mentioned – some of you might have watched, for example, the 2021 SBS mini-series New Gold Mountain, which touches on the tangled lives of Chinese men and white women on the Victorian goldfields.
I say ‘again’ because more than a century ago, in the 1880s and 1890s, intimate relationships between white women and Chinese men were not an uncommon subject in popular Australian fiction.
Typified by Edward Dyson’s ‘Mr and Mrs Sin Fat’, published in the Bulletin in 1888, or William Lane’s novella ‘White or Yellow? The Race War of 1908AD’, published as a serial in the Boomerang in 1887, late nineteenth-century stories tell a very different tale of interracial relationships, of their dangers on a personal and societal level. Such stories both drew on and fed accounts that appeared in popular newspapers such as the notoriously salacious Truth.
I want to suggest, however, that the telling of these two very different narratives of love and sex across racial boundaries have something very much in common. And that is that their meaning, their power as stories, comes from their acknowledgement of not just the possibility, but the reality, of intimate relationships between white women and Chinese men in Australia and New Zealand in the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries.
The scare power of stories like those published in the Bulletin and the Boomerang came from an understanding that all around the Australasian colonies white women and Chinese men were getting together. Yes, in opium dens and brothels, but also through contacts at church, at the store, across the threshold of the home, in the neighbourhood. These stories presented a threatening future of racial mixing in Australia that was made more real by the presence of mixed-race couples and their mixed-race children in colonial communities – they were simply there.
Estimates carefully calculated by historians like myself put the number of legal marriages between Chinese men and white women in the Australasian colonies in the nineteenth century in the thousands – but of course there were many other relationships not formalised through marriage and many children born out of wedlock.
While official statistics are unreliable in giving the true number of children born to white mothers and Chinese fathers, they do give some indication of their significance in the Chinese Australian population overall.
Here, for example, is a breakdown of the birthplaces of Chinese people in New South Wales in 1901, where you can see (in blue) that a total of 1,223 were Australian born (in New South Wales and other Australian states), and of them 1,028 – about 9% of the total Chinese population – were so-called ‘half-castes’, which in this case meant people of mixed white and Chinese heritage.
What about Tasmania, I hear you say!
Looking at 1901 again, the Chinese population of Tasmania was 609, of whom 103 – or about 17% – were of mixed Chinese-European parentage.
Over the course of the twentieth century, though, the obvious presence of Chinese-European couples and their families faded for various reasons – within families themselves, in popular memory, and in historical accounts. The perception that lingered was that interracial relationships between white women and Chinese men were bound up with prostitution, alcoholism, opium addiction and so on, and that only ‘a few illiterate Irish girls’ were desperate enough to marry themselves to Chinese men.
What was forgotten were the thousands of Chinese-European couples who, mostly unremarkably, met, formed relationships of different kinds (for shorter or longer periods of time), had children, and raised them together or apart.
Families like that of Hannah Maria Mason, who was born in Launceston in 1844, and her Amoy-born husband, William Edward Oram Chi.
Hannah and William married in the Wesleyan Parsonage at Newtown, Sydney, in 1865, four years after William was baptised as a Christian. After the stillbirth of their first child in 1866, Hannah and William went on to have another son and five daughters. William was naturalised as a British subject in 1868 and the family became part of the community of Scone, in central New South Wales, where they made their home.
It has only really been in this new century, over the past 25 years or so, that early Chinese-European families like the Chis have been remembered and recognised on a broader scale. The historical novels I mentioned are one manifestation of this.
Alongside the work of academic historians like myself, it has largely been the growing interest in family history that has shifted our understanding, as family researchers have pieced together often-hidden parts of their own histories.
These same family historians, and local and community historians, are increasingly visible online, creating their own blogs and websites, making family trees in Ancestry.com, and participating in family history forums and Facebook groups. They are publishing memoirs and family histories, they are presenting at history conferences, and they are collaborating with researchers in universities and GLAM organisations, particularly museums.
If you’re an avid viewer, you might also have noticed stories of Chinese-European families pop up in the television series Who Do You Think You Are?
In 2018, there was the story of actor John Jarratt’s 2 x great grandparents, Martha Hamilton and Ah Yot, who lived at a little place called Jembaicumbene on the Braidwood goldfields in New South Wales, and more recently, in 2021, there was the story of musician Jeff Fatt’s 2 x great grandparents, Elizabeth Wright and Lee Young, who lived at Ararat and Ballarat on the Victorian goldfields.
When I first began researching Chinese-European couples back in the late 1990s, the most common question I was asked about my work was ‘why?’ In particular, ‘why did these white women choose Chinese partners? – the implication being a slightly different question, I think, and that was ‘Wasn’t there anyone better (i.e. white) for them to marry?’
The decisions made by mixed-race couples in their choice of partner can seem extraordinary for their time, but they may in fact have been very simple ones to make, based around love, sexual attraction, the desire for companionship, or due to circumstance, convenience, or economics.
Despite some failings in historical accuracy, one of the things I like most about seeing Chinese-European relationships portrayed in contemporary fiction is the way that fiction can present historical possibilities that, it seems, are still often hard for many of us to imagine.
Once you start looking for it, though, evidence of Chinese-European couples and families is abundant and, with the digitisation of more and more historical materials, that evidence is increasingly easy to find and access. The historical newspapers available through Trove, from the National Library, are a particularly rich source for Chinese Australian family history, and one that I didn’t have when I started my research way back when!
Here, for instance, is a graph of references to the term ‘half-caste Chinese’ in the digitised newspapers in Trove for the period from 1860 to 1920, created using a nifty app called QueryPic, created by digital historian Tim Sherratt. The articles that come up through this search range from invectives in major city newspapers about opium and smallpox and ‘the Chinese Question’, to reports in small country newspapers on all manner of moments in the everyday lives of Chinese Australian families and individuals.
As a historian, I’m lucky that race was mentioned in such articles, as it marks these articles as immediately of interest to me. But, of course, personal names can also be traced through time in the newspapers, in a way that was near impossible before.
Trove, and its New Zealand counterpart Papers Past, give us the ability to easily uncover small stories of ordinary lives and this helps break through a barrier in thinking about the prevalence and place of Chinese-European couples and families in colonial Australasia.
Our understanding of the history of Chinese Australian families has come a long way in the past twenty-five years.
When I started my research in 1998, the available historical literature said little that was of help to me about Chinese Australian family life, particularly in understanding these families within the context of Chinese migration.
Most histories overlooked the presence of migrant Chinese women and their daughters in colonial and post-Federation Australasia, and those few that discussed Chinese-European families in any detail framed their lives as stories of ‘pioneers’ or of ‘assimilation – unusual exceptions to the dominant story of the sojourning gold-seeker living a lonely life, working to make his fortune and return home to China.
Many Chinese Australian family histories are easily slotted into these sorts of narratives, and it can make sense to tell them in this way – particularly for descendants, community activists, and historians of many kinds struggling to assert Chinese people into a national story that still remains one predominantly about white people. They are keen to stress how people of Chinese heritage, whether migrant or Australian born, have contributed to the building of this nation particularly through agriculture, mining, and business.
However, when I started looking closely into the lives of Chinese-European couples and their children, the pioneer or assimilationist frameworks did not fit so well with evidence I found about the mixing of language and cultural traditions within the home, and about the ongoing connections mixed families fostered and maintained with local Chinese communities and with China itself.
For example, the Australian-born mixed-race daughters of Chinese settlers commonly married migrant Chinese men, sometimes men as old as their own fathers, creating networks of kinship ties and often drawing young Australian-born women towards their Chinese, rather than European, heritage.
This picture, for example, shows Emma Lee Young with her husband, the Rev. Joseph Tear Tack, and four of their children – Elizabeth, Joseph, Laura and Josiah, who born between 1886 and 1892. As featured in Who Do You Think You Are?, Emma was Purple Wiggle Jeff Fatt’s great-grandmother.
She was born in Ararat, Victoria, in 1865, and at the age of 20 married China-born Joseph Tear Tack, who was about 17 years her senior. With Joseph’s church work, the family moved from Ararat in Victoria to the Inverell district in New South Wales, and then to Darwin and eventually to Cairns.
Numbers of Chinese-European children were taken or sent to China to help them to ‘become Chinese’ by receiving a Chinese education and/or being raised within their extended Chinese families.
White wives, too, went to China, where some encountered for the first time the unhappy reality that they were not their husband’s only wife – for according to Chinese custom, men were able to take multiple wives and concubines. Other white wives said goodbye to children and husbands who left for China and never returned.
These practices didn’t fit neatly with the idea that Chinese men who formed relationships with white women, who fathered mixed-race children, were simply assimilating, turning their backs on their own ancestry and heritage and abandoning an identity as Chinese for themselves and their children – even when it might have seemed on the surface that that’s what they were doing.
Quong Tart, the well-known Sydney tea merchant, shown here with his wife Margaret and their three oldest children in Hong Kong in 1894, is an interesting example of this.
We know Quong Tart best as the dapper businessman and philanthropist, anti-opium campaigner and friend to Sydney’s elite (and coincidentally, my great-grandfather, Harry Bagnall), the beloved husband of Lancashire-born Margaret (née Scarlett) and father to a brood of handsome children who were educated at some of Sydney’s finest private schools.
Yet Quong Tart’s business interests were reliant on ongoing contacts with Hong Kong and China, and it seems he remained close to his family, returning to China three times, including in 1894 to introduce his young family to his elderly mother. Research by Chinese historian, Mei Weiqiang, and information gathered within the family, also suggests that Quong Tart was married by proxy, in absentia, to a Chinese woman and that one, perhaps, two sons were adopted to carry on his name in his hometown in Toishan.
How to reconcile all this in a man known as the ultimate ‘assimilated’ Chinese?
An article by US historian Adam McKeown, published in 1999 (nearly 25 years ago now!), on ‘Transnational Chinese Families and Chinese Exclusion‘, suggested to me that there was an alternative way of viewing these relationships, an alternative explanation for why Chinese men ‘outmarried’ (that is, partnered with non-Chinese women), and a real way of understanding these families within the context of Chinese migration.
McKeown was among a number of scholars who have outlined the family strategies used by Cantonese in the sending districts of the Pearl River Delta in Guangdong province in southern China, from where most nineteenth-century Chinese migration took place.
Central to the Cantonese family was the patriline, the ongoing line of descent from father to son, father to son.
Cantonese families in the sending districts of the Pearl River Delta undertook economic strategies to ensure their survival and prosperity – such as establishing sons in different occupations or sending them to different overseas locations, such as Australia, New Zealand, the United States, and Canada. They also developed strategies to ensure the continuation of the family line when more usual patterns of family formation were not possible due to the often long absences of men overseas.
Most common was the ‘split’ family, where a man lived overseas for shorter or longer periods, while his wife remained at home in his ancestral village, often living with her in-laws or other members of her husband’s family. When a man had left unmarried and was not easily able to return, he could be married by proxy in absentia to a woman who then took up residence in her parents-in-law’s home. Sons could be adopted to ensure the patriline continued, even if husband and wife never met due to his continued residence overseas.
Non-Chinese women were drawn into this when they formed relationships with Chinese men – and it was not uncommon for Chinese men to already have a wife, and sometimes children, at home in China when they formed relationships overseas.
Chinese families could be opposed to men taking foreign wives, out of fear that his interests and energies would be redirected away from the ancestral home and his filial obligations there. (In the early decades of the twentieth century, there were also warnings by Chinese community leaders overseas against relationships with non-Chinese women, fearing that patriotic sentiments towards a new China might dissipate).
But children born to non-Chinese women in places like Australia and New Zealand, Hawaii, the United States, Canada, Mexico, Jamaica and Peru still counted as ‘Chinese’ and as part of their Chinese families. Their paternity (biological or adoptive), not their maternity, mattered. The evidence for this is in the number of children of mixed race who went to China, for a period of education or more permanently, a practice that was happening in the Australian colonies from early as the late 1850s.
The National Archives of Australia holds thousands of documents that trace the journeys of young Australians of Chinese and part-Chinese heritage to China and back over the early decades of the twentieth century – after the introduction of the federal Immigration Restriction Act in 1901. Included among those who went to China were a small number of children of mixed Chinese-Aboriginal heritage, as well as a few white stepchildren of Chinese men.
You might, for instance, have heard of Tasmanian Senator Thomas Bakhap – the son of Margaret Hogan and stepson of Gee Bak Hap of Lottah in north-eastern Tasmania. There is debate about whether Thomas Bakhap had Chinese heritage or not, but he became fluent in Cantonese and, according to Adrienne Petty, ‘had spent several years in China, some as a young child and later in his early teens’ (‘Deconstructing the Chinese Sojourner: Case Studies of Early Chinese Migrants to Tasmania’, PhD thesis, UTAS, 2009, p. 124).
Before I conclude, I’d like to share one more family story, that of the Gan family, pictured here in Melbourne in 1917. There is Edward Chung Ah Gan, usually known as ‘Teddy Ah Gan’, who was naturalised as a British subject in Tasmania in 1891, his Victorian-born wife, Annie (née Harris), and their four children – Dorothy, George, Ruby Elizabeth and Frederick.
The family left Australia for Hong Kong in 1917, where Teddy found work at the Hong Kong and Whampoa Dock Company, and Annie was busy with her growing family – she gave birth to three more children in Hong Kong. In 1925 and again in 1933, the family attempted to return to Australia, but this request was denied due to Teddy’s extended absence from the Commonwealth, and there is nothing on file to indicate that they ever did come home.
Placing the history of Chinese-European families within a transnational framework, like that suggested by McKeown’s ‘transnational overseas Chinese family’, allows us to see the parts of the story that took place beyond Australian shores.
Chinese migration to Australia wasn’t a simple one-way trip – economic, cultural and legal factors meant that Australian Chinese were highly mobile, travelling back and forth between Australia and China, and between colonies and states, too. The formation of families followed a similar path, and limiting our definition of ‘family life’ to the ‘geographically localized nuclear family’ (to use McKeown’s phrase, p. 100) ignores a range of experiences and choices made in the process of migration, sojourning and settlement.
So, to conclude let’s go back to those historical novels, where we can also see aspects of the transnational overseas Chinese family:
Lady detective Phryne Fisher sees her lover Lin Chung married to a young Chinese woman, Camellia, in an arrangement that benefits both Chinese families, if not themselves.
In As the Earth Turns Silver, Katherine McKechnie’s Chinese lover has a wife and child in China, while his brother works for years to be able to bring his wife to live in New Zealand too.
In The Lambing Flat, Ella has to confront Lok’s yearning for his homeland and his ultimate decision to return home. He asks her to go too, and some of my favourite passages in the book describe Ella’s feelings as she contemplates whether she could leave her home and go with him. In the end, though, she doesn’t.
What these imagined life stories suggest, and other real life histories demonstrate, is that there is not just one neat framework into which we can place the history of Chinese-European families in Australasia, and beyond that the history of Chinese Australian families. This history is messy and complex and sometimes hard to untangle – but for me, this messiness and complexity is also what makes it so fascinating.
While visiting Canberra in January 2021, I looked (again) at a collection of Tasmanian naturalization certificates held in the National Archives of Australia in series A804. Here’s one of the stories found in these records – which I tweeted at the time but have reproduced here for posterity.
Let’s have a look at one of the Tasmanian naturalization certificates from NAA: A804 to see what we can find out. This one caught my eye because it was witnessed by Andrew Inglis-Clark, and it has no annotations related to travel (NAA: A804, 706).
The certificate was issued to Ah One, a gardener from Hobart, on 21 September 1897. He was 38 years old, a native of Canton in the Empire of China, and had lived in Tasmania for seven years. He had applied for naturalization on 17 September 1897.
On the back of the certificate we can see that Ah One swore the required oath on 24 September 1897, before a Commissioner of the Supreme Court of Tasmania, and this was ‘enrolled and recorded’ the same day by the Supreme Court Registrar (No. 706, Bk 5, page 247).
The memorial gives more information about Ah One: he was born at Canton on 1 February 1859; he arrived at Hobart on the Southern Cross in 1890; he could sign his name in English; and his application was endorsed by JG Davies, JP and Mayor of Hobart.
The accompanying correspondence shows that Ah One was one of nine Hobart gardeners who applied for naturalization at the same time through Tinning & Propsting Solicitors, all endorsed by the Mayor of Hobart.
The nine gardeners were: Ah Doo, Ah Look, Ah Now, Ah One, Ah Koon, Hie Mane, Kie Sung, Sing Gin, and Sing None.
The approval process took four days and issuing their naturalization certificates cost the applicants 2s 6d each.
On the back of Ah One’s naturalization certificate in NAA: A804 is the annotation ‘No. 706, Bk 5, page 247’ – which refers to Tasmanian Supreme Court series SC415, which contains copies of denization and naturalization certificates. A copy of Ah One’s certificate is found on pp. 247–8 of Book 5 (SC415/1/5, https://stors.tas.gov.au/SC415-1-5-P247).
Under s 7 of the Aliens Act 1861 (Tas), a copy of each naturalization certificate had to ‘be enrolled for safe custody as of record in the Supreme Court’.
Almost 600 Chinese people were naturalised in Tasmania up to December 1903. Tasmania stopped naturalizing Chinese people after the new Commonwealth Naturalization Act 1903 came into force from 1 January 1904. By contrast, New South Wales and Victoria stopped naturalizing Chinese in the mid-1880s.
Coohey Fue (c. 1875–1920) worked as a market gardener in Devonport in northern Tasmania. He died by suicide on 10 April 1920 (Advocate, 12 April, p. 2; Tasmanian Archives SC195/1/86 Inquest 14257) and was buried by his compatriots in the Latrobe General Cemetery on 12 April (Advocate, 12 April 1920, p. 2; 13 April 1920, p. 2). Coohey Fue was said to have a wife and three or four children in China at the time of his death.
Coohey Fue’s life and passing are connected to two white marble monuments in the Latrobe General Cemetery – but as these memorials only have inscriptions in Chinese there is nothing obviously linking them to ‘Coohey Fue’.
The two monuments appear to have been made from the same materials at the same time, although one is in somewhat poorer condition than the other. The text on them differs only in the deceased’s name, and I believe they were both erected following the death of the man known in English as Coohey Fue.
Searching the Chinese-language newspapers in Trove brings up a few articles that mention the names given on the monuments:
林舉富 (Lam Kui Fu): ‘美利濱中華公會捐賑廣東水災彙録’, Tung Wah Times, 21 August 1915, p. 8, http://nla.gov.au/nla.news-article226737771 [list of Melbourne donors to Guangdong flood relief; includes 林舉富 and another man who is presumably a brother/cousin 林舉羨]
The text on the monuments includes a number of Chinese cultural terms that are difficult to translate directly into English, including: 公 (Cantonese: gūng, honorific, for a male person), 府君 (Cantonese: fú gwān, honorific, for a person who has died), 庚申 (Cantonese: gāng sān, one of the 60-year cycle/stem-branch cycle).
TAMIOT (the Tombstone and Memorial Inscriptions of Tasmania database) provides the following details about the monuments:
LAM Kui Cheung. Native of: Guangdong Taishun Chung Fa Tsui Village. Monument erected in 1920 – LATROBE CEMETERY, GENERAL SECTION – LATROBE – DEVONPORT – LT04/0865
LAM Kui Fu. Native of: Guangdong Taishun Chung Fa Tsui Village. Monument erected in 1920 – LATROBE CEMETERY, GENERAL SECTION – LATROBE – DEVONPORT – LT04/0866
LAM Kui Cheung 林舉章
This headstone is in memory of Kui Cheung Lam, of Chung Fa Tsui, Toishan, Kwangtung.
Erected on a lucky day and a lucky month, 1920, Gang San Year, during the era of the Republic of China.
LAM Kui Fu 林舉富
This headstone is in memory of Kui Fu Lam, of Chung Fa Tsui, Toishan, Kwangtung.
Erected on a lucky day and a lucky month, 1920, Gang San Year, during the era of the Republic of China.
Coohey Fue’s ancestral village
Coohey Fue’s family name was Lam (林) and he came from Chung Fa Tsui, a Lam village in Toishan, Kwangtung, China. Chung Fa Tsui (or Songhuaju in Mandarin) is about 25 kilometres south-west of the county capital of Taicheng 台城 and about the same distance to the north-west of the coastal town of Guanghai 廣海.
廣東省 / Kwangtung / Guangdong (province)
台山縣 / Toishan / Taishan (county)
新安鄉 / Sun On / Xin’an (village)
松花咀村 / Chung Fa Tsui / Songhuaju (hamlet)
I would like to thank Lyn Phillips, and Kelli Schultz, who alerted me to these two Chinese monuments in the Latrobe General Cemetery. Kelli pointed me to a query from Lyn about the memorials that Lyn posted on the ‘Tasmanians Finding their Past – Genealogy Group’ on Facebook on 21 October 2022. I used Lyn’s photographs to transcribe and translate the text; my thanks to Mei-fen Kuo (Macquarie University) and my UTAS colleague Lucy Li (and her father) for their assistance in teasing out the nuances of the text’s meaning. I’d also like to acknowledge that the information above from TAMIOT was posted by Suzanne Griffin in response to Lyn’s post to the Tasmanians Finding their Past Facebook group. In October 2022 I did some initial digging in Trove and the Tasmanian Names Index to identify who Lam Kui Cheung / Lam Kui Fu might be, and I was able to stop off in Latrobe just before Christmas to photograph the headstones for myself.
Earlier this year I was commissioned by the Tasmanian Museum and Art Gallery (TMAG) to compile a bibliography on Tasmania’s Chinese history and heritage.
The bibliography is intended as a tool to help with the study of Tasmania’s Chinese communities across the nineteenth and twentieth centuries. It documents existing research relating to Chinese people in Tasmania, focusing on history, heritage and community, and provides a survey of publications and other research outputs.
The bibliography was funded as part of TMAG’s Contemporary Migrant Experiences project, with funding from the National Foundation for Australia-China Relations.
On Sunday, 5 June 2022, Kirstie Ross and Grace Williams from TMAG and I presented copies of the bibliography to the Chinese Community Association of Tasmania Inc 澳洲塔省華人聯誼會 at their monthly meeting in Hobart.
The bibliography will be made available in Libraries Tasmania and the National Library through the National edeposit service. I have also made a copy available online in Zenodo.
The compilation of the bibliography marks the beginning of my work on Chinese Tasmanian history and heritage, which I will be pursuing further through the new Everyday Heritage project. Everyday Heritage is an Australian Research Council Linkage project and is a collaboration between researchers at the University of Canberra (Tracy Ireland and Tim Sherratt), University of Western Australia (Jane Lydon), University of Tasmania (me) and GML Heritage in Sydney.
Note: Terms used in the following population tables reflect the original historical sources and are considered offensive today.
Chinese population of Tasmania, 1881–1947
Source: Compiled from the Official Year Book of the Commonwealth of Australia, No. 18, 1925, Commonwealth Bureau of Census and Statistics, Melbourne, 1925, p. 955; Census of the Commonwealth of Australia, 1933 and 1947.
Peter Cox’s local history of the former gold-mining town of Lefroy in north-eastern Tasmania, Lefroy: Tasmania’s Forgotten Gold Town (George Town and District Historical Society, 2016, p. 90), mentions a market gardener named Ah Hung, who with ‘his European wife Jemma’ had a large vegetable and fruit garden to the north of Lefroy, ‘on the old Douglas township site’.
Douglas was a town that never eventuated, about four kilometres east of Lefroy. By contrast, Lefroy was once a substantial town, reputed at one point to have been the fourth largest town in Tasmania. There was a notable Chinese community in Lefroy, including a temple. Today, there are only a few houses remaining.
Chinese miners occupy their own chapter of Cox’s study (Chapter 3, ‘Chinese and Slate’), but Jemma and Ah Hung receive only the one brief, unreferenced mention in Chapter 10 (‘The Peak of the Boom’). On a recent holiday in the East Tamar district, I set out to see what I could find out about them.
Jemima Cox and Ah Hung married in Launceston in 1875. She had come to Tasmania as a small child, after migrating with her family from Hertfordshire, England in 1856. Jemima and Ah Hung had three children, born in the early 1880s, Henry, James and Mary, and they lived on land owned by Jemima at Douglas, near Blanket Creek outside of Lefroy, where they ran a garden. Ah Hung died in 1904, after which time it seems that Jemima moved to Launceston with her eldest son, Henry. They lived in Forster Street, Inveresk, and Henry was a gardener like his father (and Jemima’s father, too). Jemima died in 1923, at age 74, in Broken Hill, New South Wales, where she was living with son Henry – she had been in Broken Hill for four months.
Below is a chronology of the information I uncovered through Trove Newspapers, the Tasmanian Names Index, the NSW Registry of Births, Deaths and Marriages, Ancestry.com, General Register Office UK, Broken Hill Cemetery website, and maps from the National Library and Libraries Tasmania (thanks to Imogen Wegman for the latter reference). There are many leads that could be followed up about the life of Jemima and Ah Hung and their children, and I’ve noted some of these for future reference!
c. 1835–1846: Ah Hung was born.
1850: On 13 September 1850, Jemima Elizabeth Cox was born in at Nancy Bury, Tewin, Hertfordshire, England, the daughter of Daniel Cox and Mary Gregory. Her father was a woodman and her mother signed with an ‘X’.
Birth of Jemima Elizabeth Cox, Oct-Nov-Dec 1850, Hertfordshire, Vol. 6, Page 547, FreeBMD, England & Wales, Civil Registration Birth Index, 1837-1915 [database online], Ancestry.com.
Birth registration of Jemima Elizabeth Cox, December Quarter 1850, Hertford Union, Vol. 6, Page 547, General Register Office, United Kingdom.
1851: The family of Daniel and Mary Cox was listed in the 1851 England Census as living at Nancy Bury, Tewin, in Hertfordshire, England. The household consisted of Daniel (farmer labourer, age 32, born Tewin), Mary (housewife, age 26, born Codicote), Daniel (age 4) and Jemima (age 7 months).
Census record for Daniel Cox and household, Tewin, Hertfordshire, England, Class HO107, Piece 1711, Folio 170, Page 26, 1851 England Census [database online], Ancestry.com.
1856: On 5 February, Daniel and Mary Cox and their children arrived in New South Wales as assisted immigrants on the James Fernie. The Cox children were 7-year-old Daniel, 5-year-old Jemima, 2-year-old Joseph and a male infant born on board.
Assisted immigrants records for Daniel Cox, Mary Cox and Daniel, Jemima and Joseph Cox, arrived on James Fernie, 1856, Assisted Immigrants Index 1839–1896, NSW State Archives and Records.
Passenger list for the James Fernie, arrived Sydney on 5 February 1856, New South Wales, Australia, Assisted Immigrant Passenger Lists, 1828-1896 [database online], Ancestry.com.
1869: Jemima Cox gave evidence in a case about trespass on the land that her father, Daniel Cox, rented in Glen Dhu Street, Launceston.
1875: Jemima Cox and Ah Hung were married at the Wesleyan Church in Patterson Street, Launceston, by the Rev. E.W. Nye. Jemima was incorrectly said to be a native of Tasmania, aged about 25 years old, and she was still living with her parents at Cataract Hill. Ah Hung was described as a ‘middle aged man’.
They were married on 13 May 1875. He was recorded as being aged 29 and she was 25. He was a bachelor and she was a spinster. He was a miner and she was a gardener’s daughter.
c. 1880: Henry Charles Hung, son of Jemima Cox and Ah Hung, was born in Tasmania.
c. 1882: James Hung, son of Jemima Cox and Ah Hung, was born in Tasmania.
c. 1884: Mary Hung, daughter of Jemima Cox and Ah Hung, was born in Tasmania.
1889: The premises of Ah Hung at Lefroy were robbed on Tuesday, 3 September 1889, and £75 in gold and silver was stolen. The theft was not discovered until 5 September. The main suspect was another Chinese man.
1910: Mrs J. Hung of Melbourne Street, South Launceston, won the ‘Robur’ Tea Ticket Collecting Competition for February 1910 and her name was listed in a Launceston newspaper (under ‘3/6 Rewards’ in the first column).
1913: Mrs Jemima Hung was listed in the Post Office Directory as living at Forster Street, Inveresk, on the righthand side from Invermay Road after Goderich Street.
Tasmania Post Office Directory for 1913–14, H. Wise and Co., Hobart, p. 154, Ancestry.com. Australia, City Directories, 1845-1948 [database on-line]. Provo, UT, USA: Ancestry.com Operations, Inc., 2015.
1914: Mrs Jemima Hung (domestic duties) and Henry Charles Hung (gardener) were living in Forster Street, Inveresk.
1915: Mrs Jemima Hung was listed in the Post Office Directory as living at Forster Street, Inveresk, on the righthand side from Invermay Road after Goderich Street.
Tasmania Post Office Directory for 1915–16, H. Wise and Co., Hobart, p. 152, Ancestry.com. Australia, City Directories, 1845-1948 [database on-line]. Provo, UT, USA: Ancestry.com Operations, Inc., 2015.
1922: Jemima Hung (domestic duties) and Henry Charles Hung (gardener) were living in Forster Street, Inveresk.
1947: ‘Half-caste Chinese’ James Hung, age 65, died. He was the brother of Henry Charles Hung of 53 Charles Street, Launceston. James Hung’s body was found at the bottom of a cliff in the Gorge on Saturday, 1 February 1947.