Tag: death

In memoriam

On 18 June 1888, the following in memoriam notice appeared in the Newcastle Morning Herald:

LABBAYU.—In loving memory of my dear mother, Mary Ann Labbayu, who departed this life June 17, 1887, after a long and painful illness; aged 43 years.

It is just twelve months ago to-day
Since my dear mother passed away,
Since I stood by my mother’s side
And saw her breathe her last.

She faded like some southern flower
Parched by cruel rays;
And now beneath the dark, cold sod,
My dear mother lays.

Inserted by her loving daughter, Aggie Hop War, Newcastle.

According to her death certificate (NSW BDM 11450/1887), Mary Ann Labbayu, age 42, died at Watt Street, Newcastle, after suffering cancer of the uterus for three years. She was buried in the Catholic section of Sandgate Cemetery at Newcastle (Portion Catholic 1, Section D Com, Plot 389).

Mary Ann’s death left her two daughters, Sarah and Mary Agnes (Aggie), aged 21 and 19, parentless.

Four years earlier, on 6 September 1883, they had lost their father, Thomas Labbayu, in a riding accident near their home at Greta. Thomas’s accident and the subsequent inquest received a long write-up in the local Matiland newspaper. Thomas was buried at Branxton Cemetery, with a handsome headstone erected by his daughter Aggie and her husband. Mary Ann inherited her husband’s estate.

Thomas Labbayu’s death certificate (NSW BDM 8600/1883) gives some interesting particulars about his life. It says he was aged 46 at the time of his death (meaning he would have been born around 1837), he was originally from China, and had been in New South Wales for 20 years (so would have arrived around 1863). He had worked as a contractor.

But this information doesn’t quite tally with the details given at the time of his naturalisation a decade earlier, in January 1874, and it’s these earlier details that are probably more accurate.

Thomas’s naturalisation certificates states that he was from Armoa, China (presumably Amoy), that he arrived in New South Wales in 1853, and that he was aged 30 in 1874 (meaning he would have been born around 1844). In 1874 he working as a carpenter and fencer at Greta, near Branxton, and had purchased land (NSW Certificate of Naturalization No. 74/12, in the name Thomas Labbayn).

Mary Ann Coyle and Thomas Labbayu married in the manse at St Stephen’s Presbyterian Church, East Maitland, on 17 February 1868 (NSW BDM 2561/1868). At the time of their marriage they were living at Buttai and Thomas was working as a woodsplitter. Mary Ann had given birth to a daughter, Sarah, two years earlier (NSW BDM 10383/1866, registered under surname Coyle), and in the year of her marriage to Thomas, they had another daughter, Mary Agnes (Aggie) (NSW BDM 11567/1868). 

When their mother died in 1887, Sarah and Aggie Labbayu were both already married. They had married young: Aggie was sixteen when she married James Sydney Hop War, and Sarah was eighteen when she married James J.H. Ah Chee, both marriages taking place at Greta in 1883.

Sarah married again in 1886, presumably after the death of her first husband, to a man named William Coulton — it was ‘Sara J. Coulton, daughter of the deceased’ who was listed as informant on her mother’s death certificate.

With William Coulton, Sarah had two children, Herbert and Mary, born in 1887 and 1888 (NSW BDMs 30336/1887 and 31671/1888). I haven’t immediately located the birth of any children with her first husband, James Ah Chee, but an immigration file from 1909 mentions a ‘half-caste Chinese’ man named Ah Chee who was the nephew of Aggie Hop War (NAA: SP42/1, C1909/2915).

View down Watt Street, Newcastle (Cultural Collections, University of Newcastle)

More can be discovered about the Hop War family. James Hop War was a successful cabinetmaker in Newcastle, where he and Aggie established a home in Watt Street. They had four daughters: twins Eveline and Florence (b. 1884), Agnes Amy (b. 1887) and Gertrude (b. 1889). James Hop War was naturalised in 1882. His naturalisation certificate stated that he had arrived in New South Wales on the Isle of France in 1870 at the age of 17. In a letter to the newspaper in 1891, after certain accusations were made against him, James Hop War declared, ‘I have been a resident of Newcastle for 17 years, have a wife and four children dependent on me for support’. He appears to have been a prominent presence in the local Chinese community and acted as government interpreter.

Birth certificate of Gertrude Hop War, Newcastle, 1889 (NAA: SP42/1, C1909/2915)

James, Aggie and their children left New South Wales for Hong Kong in 1892. Some time after, James and Aggie’s marriage fell apart and James returned to Sydney in January 1904 while the rest of the family remained overseas (NAA: SP42/1, C1909/2915).

Versions of the family name that appear in the records are: Labbayu, Labbayue, Labbayn, Labayu, Labbayer, Lavyu.

Willie Sheen – born at sea, died by drowning

With the long summer holidays upon us again, we’re back at our local pool every day for a couple of weeks of swimming lessons for the kids. I’ve had one reluctant swimmer, who for a good long time refused to get her face or hair wet, and one little fish, whose propensity for holding her breath underwater has been quite unnerving at times. Growing up in Australia, we teach our kids to swim because it’s fun and a good form of exercise. We also teach them to swim to keep them safe.

According to Kim Torney’s Babes in the Bush (Curtin University Books 2005, p. 13), the most frequent cause of accidental death of children in colonial Australia was drowning. One boy to meet this awful fate was William Sheen.

In April 1862, the body of 10-year-old Willie Sheen was found floating in a deep part of the Macquarie River near Bathurst. Dr George Busby, the Bathurst coroner, held an inquest into his death, but there was no suspicion of foul play and the coroner recorded a verdict of ‘found drowned’.

The inquest, as reported in the Bathurst Free Press and Mining Journal, revealed some interesting details about this young boy’s short life.

'In the background is seen part of the town of Bathurst, with the towers of the Protestant and Catholic Churches appearing beyond the plain; nearer, and crossing the bed of the Macquarie River, parties of eager pilgrims may be observed with their dray loads of tools and provisions, entering the town after their long and tedious journey across the mountain ranges.' (State Library of Victoria http://handle.slv.vic.gov.au/10381/136967)
‘In the background is seen part of the town of Bathurst, with the towers of the Protestant and Catholic Churches appearing beyond the plain; nearer, and crossing the bed of the Macquarie River, parties of eager pilgrims may be observed with their dray loads of tools and provisions, entering the town after their long and tedious journey across the mountain ranges.’ (State Library of Victoria http://handle.slv.vic.gov.au/10381/136967)

According to evidence given at the inquest, Willie was the son of a Chinese man and a European woman ‘of the name of Shean’, and he was said to have been born at sea between California and New South Wales (Bathurst Free Press, 5 April 1862, p. 2).

If he was aged 10 in 1862, baby Willie and his parents would have arrived in Sydney in about 1852, some of the earliest ‘American’ arrivals to the NSW goldfields. The NSW gold rushes had began after Edward Hargraves and his assistants discovered the first payable gold near Bathurst in 1851, and Hargraves himself had recently returned from California.

Chinese miners in California (Robert B. Honeyman, Jr. Collection of Early Californian and Western American Pictorial Material, UC Berkeley, Bancroft Library,http://cdn.calisphere.org/data/13030/pj/hb6k4004pj/files/hb6k4004pj-FID3.jpg)
Chinese miners in California (Robert B. Honeyman, Jr. Collection of Early Californian and Western American Pictorial Material, UC Berkeley, Bancroft Library, BANC PIC 1963.002:1399–B)

At the time of his death in 1862 Willie Sheen was living with a cousin of his father’s, a storekeeper, in Howick Street, Bathurst. Their store would have been one of the number of Chinese homes and businesses – stores, boarding houses, gambling shops – located there. By the mid 1870s the area was well-known as a ‘Chinese quarter’ or ‘Chinatown’ (Maitland Mercury and Hunter River General Advertiser , 1 September 1877, p. 7Bathurst Free Press and Mining Journal, 20 April 1886, p. 2).

Juanita Kwok, a PhD candidate at Charles Sturt University, is currently researching the Chinese history of Bathurst, from the 1850s to the 1950s.

Unfortunately Willie Sheen’s death certificate (NSW BDM 2463/1862) provides only a few more details. His father’s name was given as ‘A Chou’, a ‘Chinaman’, and his mother’s name was recorded as ‘Supposed Sheen’, the absence of detail suggesting that her son had probably not seen her for quite some time.

‘One boy, name unknown’

Sometimes the smallest of details can be very telling.

Fong Kay arrived in Australia around 1860 and, in time, made his home at Indigo in north-eastern Victoria. From the late 1870s, he appears as the informant on various birth and death registrations for the children of Ah Kone and Mary Ann Jones, where he was described as ‘granduncle’ or ‘uncle’. Ah Kone’s mother was Fong Shee, so it’s possible that Fong Kay and Ah Kone were cousins of some kind.

Fong Kay was described as a gardener, but he was not your typical one – in 1891 he was included in a list of Victorian wine growers, with three acres of grapes at Indigo.* Ah Kone and Mary Ann Jones’ daughter, Jessie, ran the Indigo store with her husband Chin Ah Shing. Fong Kay lived across the road from the store, which had a joss house and the Indigo post office next door. The family also had connections to the viticulture industry in nearby Rutherglen.

Fong Kay died from pneumonia on 22 September 1911 and was buried in the Chiltern Cemetery. He was said to be 87 years old and had been in Australia for half a century. His grave lies alongside those of members of the Shing family, including his ‘niece’ Jessie Shing, and that of Hoy Gee, another long-term Indigo resident who boarded in Jessie’s home after her husband’s death.

Shing family graves in Chiltern Cemetery, January 2010

Fong Kay’s death registration records that he was married, in Canton, China, at the age of 21, but the name of his wife was ‘not known’. In the next column, headed ‘Issue, in order of Birth…’, was written: ‘One boy, name unknown’.

It’s likely that, like many gum saan po (Gold Mountain wives), Fong Kay’s wife and her son knew little of his whereabouts over those many years.

We had been wed for only a few nights;
Then you left me for Gold Mountain.
For twenty long years you haven’t returned.
For this, I embrace only resentment in my bedroom;
Heaving a sigh
For the faraway sojourner who hasn’t come home.
Everything brings me sorrow; I no longer care about my appearance,
Endless longing for you only brings streams of falling tears.

(poem 47 in Songs of Gold Mountain: Cantonese rhymes from San Francisco Chinatown by Marlon K. Hom, p. 126)

* See Cora Trevarthen, ‘After the gold is gone: Chinese communities in northeast Victoria, 1861–1914‘, Journal of Chinese Australia, issue 2, October 2006.

‘A pathetic story’

From the Northern Territory Times and Gazette on 14 February 1885 is this moving account of a mother’s struggle to get help for her ailing baby, and of the assistance given to her by an unnamed Chinese man.

On Christmas Day William Cooper, a bush laborer living in a wild part of the Little River district, twenty-six miles from Tumut, brought into town the remains of his infant daughter, six months old, who died from exposure and starvation in the bush. An inquest was held on boxing-day, when a verdict in accordance with the evidence was returned, the jury adding a rider that the mother had done all she could to preserve the life of her child. Cooper was absent at Brendabella woolshed at the time.

On Wednesday, the 17th inst, the mother started for the nearest neighbor’s place, which was four miles off, to get a message to go to Tumut for physic for the sick child. She took with her the deceased and Freddy, a boy six years old, and a dog. Rain came down, and a storm followed, and in the wild mountainous country the woman lost herself. On Thursday, the mother’s milk having failed, she killed the dog to nourish the baby on the blood. She and her son Freddy ate a little of the raw flesh, there being no fire and no other food. On Friday night the baby died. Next day she carried the baby’s corpse as far as she could when Freddy sank down exhausted. She left the boy to watch the corpse near a creek, and wandered on herself very weak and footsore.

On Sunday afternoon she found a Chinaman’s hut and a Chinaman and a European named Taylor went to search. They camped out at the head of Dubbo Falls that night, and next day they found the boy Freddy sitting on a rock beside the corpse of the baby. He was ‘keeping the flies of Cissy.’ The starving lad had been over a day and two nights alone with the dead baby. The Chinaman gave the boy food in small quantities, and then carried him and the corpse five miles to the nearest hut. Afterwards they took the mother and boy home, where two little children (three and two years of age) had remained all the time.

It seems likely that the mother was Eliza Cooper, who with her husband William had eight children between 1875 and 1890, living first at Yass/Patrick’s Plain and then Tumut. This baby, Annie, was not the only child she lost – three years later her five year old son Mark also died.