AH KOW, Chinese Gardener, Binalong, got a nice house, and doing good trade. I want a nice, clean, quiet young woman—any country—for A WIFE. Any young woman that wants a good husband, please come and speak to me, or send answer to Post Office, Binalong. AH KOW.
This interesting advertisement by ‘Ah Kow’ of Binalong, in the southern tablelands of New South Wales, appeared in the Murrumburrah Signal on 7 May 1884.*
Binalong is a pretty village about 35 kilometres north-west of Yass. In the 1850s and 1860s it was an important staging post for the Cobb & Co. coach heading to the goldfields at Lambing Flat (Young), about 60 kilometres away.
Digitised historical newspapers don’t reveal much about the Chinese who were living at Binalong in the 1880s, when Ah Kow was resident there, even though it was said in 1883 that their numbers were ‘getting very numerous’ (Southern Argus, 18 January 1883, p. 2). The 1891 census recorded only 8 Chinese at Yass and 8 at Boorowa, although there were 46 at Young. In Binalong the Chinese seem mostly to have been working as gardeners.
What then of Ah Kow’s search for a wife? There don’t appear to be any other obvious reports about him in the papers – certainly none identified in Robyn Atherton’s book* or that I’ve spotted in Trove – and I can find no marriage or birth registrations that might suggest Ah Kow was lucky in love, either.
There is, however, a newspaper report of a woman named Annie Ah Kow who came before the Yass police court in June 1884 for being drunk and disorderly (Yass News, 28 June 1884, p. 2). Having been before the courts previously on charges of drunkenness, Annie Ah Kow doesn’t seem to fit with Ah Kow’s requirements for a ‘nice, clean, quiet young woman’. But perhaps Annie and Ah Kow had lived together then gone their separate ways, prompting Ah Kow to look for a different kind of woman to share his life?
The following year, a similar advertisement appeared in the same newspaper. This time it was ‘Ah How’ of Cootamundra who thought he’d try his luck by advertising for a wife. The Goulburn Evening Penny Post reported on the ad on 4 August 1885, saying:
A Chinaman Seeks a Wife.
The following curious advertisement appeared in the Murrumburrah Signal:—Matrimony.—Ah How, aged 30 years, would like to take a partner for life. The lady’s age is of no consequence—but he would prefer one between 15 and 50—and she may belong to any religion under the sun. She must, however, be a good housewife,—clean, able to wash, cook, &c., as well as sober in her habits. Apply by letter, to Ah How, Post Office, Cootamundra.
Cootamundra is about 70 kilometres from Binalong, with Murrumburrah being about half way between the two. Was Ah How inspired by Ah Kow’s ingenuity, or were they the same man?
* Ah Kow’s advertisement is reproduced in Robyn Atherton, They Were More Than Just Gold Diggers: The Chinese of Murrumburrah and Surrounding Districts 1860s–1960s, second edition, Harden-Murrumburrah Historical Society Inc., Harden, NSW, 2011, p. 48.
Next month I will be giving a paper on Chinese women in colonial New South Wales at the International Conference on Chinese Women in World History at Academia Sinica in Taipei. My paper will focus on the early period of Cantonese migration to Australia, from the 1850s to 1880, and present short biographical sketches of four Chinese women who arrived in New South Wales in the 1860s – Ah Happ, Ah Fie, Kim Linn and Sam Kue. Before 1881 there were no legislative limits on the entry of Chinese women to New South Wales.
I was particularly interested in these four women because of their early arrival in the colony, and their rarity among the colonial Chinese population, but there are others I’ve come across whose lives I’d also like to know more about. One of those is Chin Sheng Geong, the wife of the fabulously named missionary and interpreter George Graham Mackie Ah Len.
Chin Sheng Geong (born c. 1856) married George Ah Len (born c. 1837) in Canton in about 1876, while he was on a visit home from Australia. They seem to have arrived back in Australia together in 1877 (along with a female Chinese servant who accompanied Chin Sheng Geong). They lived in the Rocks, which was then Sydney’s Chinatown, in Queen Street, a laneway that ran off Essex Street between George and Harrington streets. There Chin Sheng Geong gave birth to and raised her family of six: Jane (b. 1877), Mary (b. 1879), Ada (b. 1882), James (b. 1886), and twins Peter and Thomas (b. 1888). The children were all baptised. George Ah Len died in 1889, after which time Chin Sheng Geong returned to China with her children.
George Ah Len coincidentally also features in my naturalisation research. He was naturalised as a British subject in 1878 (No. 78/206), and in 1882 was registered as a ‘person known to Government whose endorsement is considered sufficient’ on applications for naturalisation. From 1882 to 1888 he endorsed the naturalisation applications of more than 60 Chinese in New South Wales.
Typically, there is much more to be found about husband than wife, but within his story we can find traces of her. The following brief chronology about George Ah Len and Chin Sheng Geong in Australia is compiled from historical newspapers, government gazettes, naturalisation records, Sands Directories, BDM records and immigration files.
Early in the year Ah Lin was baptised at Maryborough, Victoria, and later, as George Ah Lin, he began his training as an evangelist under Rev. William Mathew in Melbourne.
In October, three Chinese women (one perhaps being Chin Sheng Geong?) were in the congregation at the baptism of six Chinese men by the Rev. Dr Steel, assisted by George Ah Len, at St Stephen’s Church.
On 16 June 1886, birth of James Ah Len, to George and Sheng C, 11 Queen Street, Sydney (NSW BDM 2324/1886 and 1314/1886 V18861314 46; NAA: SP42/1, C1904/71). Birth was attended by Mrs Strange (nurse) and Mrs Morrison.
Birth of twins, Peter and Thomas Ah Len, to George and Shenn, Sydney (NSW BDM 1748/1888 and 1356/1888 V18881356 46 and V18881356 47; 1749/1888 and 1357/1888 V18881357 46)
In January, there was an unclaimed letter at the General Post Office, Sydney, for Mr Ah Len, Queen Street.
1889 ‘No. 32. LIST OF LETTERS RETURNED FROM THE BRANCH AND SUBURBAN OFFICES, AND NOW LYING AT THE GENERAL POST OFFICE, UNCLAIMED’, New South Wales Government Gazette, 2 January, p. 25, http://nla.gov.au/nla.news-article224311037
On 23 April, George Ah Len died at 4 Queen Street, Sydney, aged 52 (NSW BDM 717/1889)
In 2011 I wrote a blog post about a photograph of an unknown Chinese Australian family held in the State Library of Victoria collection. With very few details to go on, in my post I wondered whether I would ever find out the family’s identity. In this guest post, New England local historian Gill Oxley shares with us not only the family’s identity, but more about the interesting lives of Emma Tear Tack, nee Lee Young, and her reverend husband Joseph.
On 22 February 1899, an untitled article appeared on page 2 of the Ballarat Star. It conveyed news of the death of the retired ‘Government interpreter’ for the Ararat and Stawell districts of Victoria, Mr Lee Young. The article also served as an informal obituary, giving details of the life of Mr Lee Young, including his earliest days in Australia (following his immigration from Canton in about 1852) and his life on the goldfields of Victoria in the late 1800s. Towards the end of the article, mention was made of Mr Lee Young’s surviving four daughters and two sons. Two of his daughters were named as Mrs the Rev. James Ah Chue and Mrs the Rev. Joseph Tear Tack.
Mrs the Rev. Joseph Tear Tack was Emma, born at Ararat in Victoria in 1865 (Vic BDM reg. no. 19815), the second youngest child of Lee Young and his wife Elizabeth Wright.
The Victorian Registry of Births, Deaths and Marriages gives Emma’s father’s name as Lee Young and her mother’s maiden name as Elizabeth Lyth. The maiden surname ‘Lyth’ is likely to have been either a mistranscription or else a mispronunciation, as Emma’s mother’s maiden name is given as Elizabeth Wright in official records of the births of most of Emma’s siblings. The record for Emma’s youngest sister, Jessie Lee Young, gives a different name again, with their mother’s maiden name given as Elizabeth Light – quite clearly a misinterpretation of ‘Wright’.
Elizabeth married (‘John’) Lee Young in Victoria in 1856 (Vic BDM reg. no. 3704) and the couple had two sons and four daughters:
William Lee Young, born Ballarat 1859 (Vic BDM reg. no. 7102)
Matilda Lee Young, born Ballarat 1860 (Vic BDM reg. no. 2269)
Henry Lee Young, born Ballarat 1862 (Vic BDM reg. no. 12268)
Alice Lee Young, born Ararat 1864 (Vic BDM reg. no. 6746)
Emma Lee Young, born Ararat 1865 (Vic BDM reg. no. 19815)
Jessie Lee Young, born Ararat 1869 (Vic BDM reg. no. 20004).
At 20 years of age, in 1885, Emma Lee Young married Chinese-born Joseph Tear Tack (Vic BDM reg. no. 4357).
Joseph Tear Tack’s Victorian naturalisation record of July 1883 gives his native place simply as Canton, his age at the time as 35 years and his occupation as minister.
From this we can assume that Joseph Tear Tack was born in Canton in or about 1848. He would therefore have been about 17 years older than Emma at the time of their 1885 marriage. Perhaps it was this age difference that caused the ‘little commotion in Chinese circles’ over their impending marriage, as reported in the Ballarat Star, and other Victorian papers, in May 1885.
After their marriage Emma and Joseph left Victoria and set up home in the tin mining district of Inverell in northern New South Wales. Their first child, Elizabeth Edith Tear Tack, was born there in 1886 (NSW BDM reg. no. 24730). From the beginning of the 1870s, the Inverell district had a very large Chinese population, with Chinese workers being drawn to the area for the rich deposits of alluvial tin that were plentiful there, and for the business opportunities that also presented themselves with the need for fresh vegetables and other supplies in the booming mining district.
Joseph Tear Tack had been sent to Inverell (or more precisely to nearby Tingha) in mid-1884 by the Wesleyan Methodist Church to minister to the resident Chinese population in the area. He was one of the ‘success stories’ of the church’s Chinese mission in Victoria (‘Wesleyan Church, West Maitland‘, Maitland Mercury, 5 June 1884, p. 2).
According to the March–April 1891 edition of the NSW Government Gazette (p. 1892), Rev. Tear Tack was registered at the NSW Registrar General’s Office in Sydney for ‘the celebration of marriages at Tingha’ on 6 March 1891. Joseph Tear Tack and his family of four persons – one male (his eldest son) and three females (Emma and two daughters) – appear as living at Tingha in the 1891 Census (1891 New South Wales Census, Australia). Helen Brown, in her book Tin at Tingha (1982, p. 35), makes mention of the Rev. Joseph Tear Tack being appointed to serve as an ‘assistant Methodist preacher’ at Tingha between 1885 and 1893, and he is also mentioned by Ian Welch in his work on the Methodist Chinese Mission in Australia.
All available evidence points to this lovely family photograph being the Tear Tack family, taken in the Inverell district some time between the years of 1893 and 1896. Although it is difficult to pinpoint the exact location, the photograph is likely to have been taken either at Inverell, Tingha or perhaps at nearby Bundarra. The Tear Tacks’ youngest daughter, Alice Lucy, who does not appear in the photograph, was born at Bundarra in 1896 (NSW BDM reg. no. 2164). Therefore, we can probably assume that the date of the photograph is either 1894 or, at the very latest, early 1895.
To the best of this writer’s current knowledge, the people appearing in the photograph are (left to right):
Joseph Henry Tear Tack, born Inverell 1888 (NSW BDM reg. no. 26002)
the Rev. Joseph Tear Tack
Josiah William Tear Tack, born Inverell 1892 (NSW BDM reg. no. 17560)
Emma Tear Tack nee Lee Young
Laura Matilda Tear Tack, born Inverell 1890 (NSW BDM reg. no. 16916)
Elizabeth Edith Tear Tack, born Inverell 1886 (NSW BDM reg. no. 24730).
The identity of the younger man standing back right is not known at this stage.
After working for some years in the Inverell/Tingha/Bundarra area, where their five children were born, the Rev. Joseph Tear Tack was sent by the church to Darwin in 1896. While living there he, Emma and their children survived a terrible cyclone that destroyed their house (‘Visit of a Chinese missionary to Lithgow‘, Lithgow Mercury, 5 June 1900, p. 2). Joseph was then sent to Cairns just at the turn of the twentieth century. There he was to establish a new mission and undertake Christian missionary work among the Chinese population in far north Queensland. Emma and children did not initially accompany him to Cairns, but shipping news indicated that ‘Mrs Tear Tack and five children’ sailed to Queensland from Sydney aboard the Aramac in November of 1900.
Tragedy struck the Tear Tack family not long after their arrival in Queensland, with Joseph Tear Tack dying of heart failure at Cairns in August 1901 (Qld BDM reg. no. C697). Joseph would have been approximately 53 years of age at the time of his death. Emma Tear Tack was only about 36 when she was widowed with five children. On 11 January 1902, a letter from Emma appeared in The Methodist under the title ‘Acknowledgement’. In it, Emma Tear Tack paid a moving tribute to her husband, Joseph, and thanked their many friends for their support in what she described as her ‘sore and heavy bereavement’.
Emma did not remarry and so remained a widow for the rest of her life. After her husband’s death, she returned to the support of her family of origin in Ballarat, Victoria, some time in 1903. She appears to have raised her five children there, before moving to Burwood, in the inner western suburbs of Sydney, at around 65 years of age (Sydney and New South Wales, Australia, Sands Street Index, 1861-1930).
Emma Tear Tack nee Lee Young died on 28 October 1948 at 83 years of age at her home in Concord (NSW BDM reg. no. 27301). She is buried in the Field of Mars Cemetery at East Ryde in Sydney. A death notice published in the Sydney Morning Herald on 29 October 1948 noted that she was the loving mother of Elizabeth, Henry, Laura, Josiah, Lucy, and adopted daughters Marjorie and Molly.
I am very grateful to Kate Bagnall for originally posting the photograph of the Tear Tack family on her blog, to my cousin Etty Doyle Lang for pointing me in the direction of Kate’s post, and to the keen eye of Paul Macgregor who was the first to spot and recognise the Rev. Joseph Tear Tack in the photograph. I am also very much indebted to Paul for his encouragement, mentoring, collaboration and fine detective skills, and to our friend and colleague, Juanita Kwok, whom we also consulted in solving some of the mysteries initially presented by this photograph.
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).
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.
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.
In answer to that age-old question of why white women chose Chinese men as husbands in colonial Australia, here’s the thoughts of one Victorian woman, reprinted in the Queanbeyan Age and Newcastle Morning Herald from the Ballarat Courier in September 1882.
I quite agree with one who would like to be an old man’s darling, as the half of the young men don’t know how to treat their wives. Those wives have the life of a dog. I have two young friends. One has been married six months only, and her husband comes home drunk, beats her, and drags her about the house by the hair of the head, until she is black and blue. In the other case, no matter what meal is prepared for him, he swears at it, and says it is not fit for a pig to eat. He also tells his wife that he is going after a better-looking woman than she is, and he is not going to keep her any longer. Now, sir, I don’t wonder at girls being afraid to marry, and ‘Peter Simple’ had better not have anything more to say about Chinamen’s wives, as I am one. I have been married seven years, and I have everything I want. All I do is right; and I have the life of a queen. If I was a widow to-morrow, I would not marry one of my countrymen, for I am sure I would not get such good life. I know another young woman who married a Chinaman, and when her sisters saw how comfortable she was, they did the same; and now the sisters are Chinamen’s wives. I know a poor woman who goes out washing and scrubbing to keep herself and two children (one babe at the breast), while her European husband goes about spending his time and money on other women and then comes home and eats the foot his wife has been out slaving for. Now, Sir, give me a Chinaman before such men. The Chinese will keep their wives—and keep them well too—and treat them properly also.
From the Australian Town and Country Journal of Saturday, 6 June 1885:
Nundle. May 29. CONVERTED.—The Rev. G Snailes, of Primitive Methodist connection, visited this part of his station lately. During his stay amongst us he officiated at a very interested ceremony; Ah Foo, a resident Chinaman, renouncing the heathen worship by accepting the Christian faith, and was duly baptised by the rev. gentleman. George Ah Foo was then duly married unto Eliza Thuill, and an infant child was baptised. Mr. Smailes won golden opinions from his numerous hearers during his stay, many expressing a great desire for a longer sojourn with us.
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.
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.
Further to my recent post about the Rev. Dr James Fullerton’s habit of marrying young white women to Chinese husbands – I’ve found another, somewhat earlier, example.
The San Francisco Daily Evening Bulletin of 30 August 1862 reproduces an article from the Australian and New Zealand Gazette reporting on the increase of marriages between Chinese men and European women. The article says that ‘hitherto the brides have generally been of the lowest class of Irish woman’ – except for the bride of Mr Yung Sing, a merchant from Sydney. She is Emma, daughter of the late John Mann of Parramatta. Emma and Yung Sing were married in the Scotch Presbyterian Church by the Rev. Dr Fullerton.
New South Wales BDM records confirm this: the indexes list the marriage of Emma Mann to Young Siun in Sydney in 1862 (125/1862) and the birth of Adeline M Yung Sing, daughter of Emma and Yung Sing, in 1863 (101/1863). If Emma was the daughter of John and Ellen Mann born in 1843 (V1843702 27A/1843), she too would have been under the age of consent at the time of her marriage.
Strikes me that there is something of a nice little research project here. (Not that I need any more nice little research projects.)
Some recent research I’ve been doing into an Anglo-Chinese family living in Sydney in the 1870s–1880s led me to both an interesting problem and an interesting discovery. I undertook this research for someone else, so I won’t mention any names here – lets just call our couple ‘J’ (the husband) and ‘R’ (the wife).
The problem was thus: the copy of the couple’s marriage registration provided by NSW Registry of Births Deaths & Marriages includes a Chinese signature for ‘J’ the groom, but it is completely indecipherable. So indecipherable, in fact, that it is even difficult to make an educated guess as to what the name might be. Finding a Chinese ancestor’s Chinese signature is one of those Eureka moments, so finding out that no one can make sense of it is rather disappointing.
I began to wonder, therefore, if the original parish marriage register might provide some clues. All the information on the marriage registration is in the same handwriting, so I thought it might be possible that the details, including the ‘signatures’, had been written in by someone else (who could not write Chinese). This had been the case with another later marriage in the same family – by checking a copy of the original church register I was able to see the (English) signatures of the bride and groom and witnesses.
Many early parish registers for Sydney and New South Wales have been microfilmed by the Society of Australian Genealogists – my local copies are in the National Library. Starting out with great hope, in the end I could not locate the appropriate register among the microfilms. This did, however, lead me to my interesting discovery.
My couple, ‘J’ and ‘R’, were married in 1874 by the Rev. Dr James Fullerton LLD, a Presbyterian minister in Sydney during the middle decades of the 19th century. Fullerton was a somewhat controversial figure who was reputed to run a ‘marriage shop’ out of his home – many of his marriages were performed there rather than in his church. In 1851, he was tried in the Supreme Court for ‘illegal solemnization of marriage’. Fullerton was known not to ask too many questions, and on the registrations of marriages he officiated, the personal details are often scanty and incorrect. For my couple, only minimal details are given and the bride’s age has been stated as being 21 (the age of consent) – she was actually only 17.
The original church registers maintained by Rev. James Fullerton up to 1873 are held by the Uniting Church Archives NSW/ACT, those from 1874 are held by the Presbyterian Church’s Ferguson Memorial Library in Surry Hills. Thanks to archivists at both those institutions, I now know that Fullerton’s original register can shine no more light on the Chinese name of my groom ‘J’. It just says that the groom signed ‘in Chinese’. Alas.
In my research into Fullerton, though, and in thinking about the circumstances in which my 17-year-old Irish-Australian bride came to marry her Chinese husband, I came across a fascinating article from 1873 with information about another marriage Fullerton performed between a young white woman and a Chinese man. It’s quite long, but I’ll copy it here because it is a rather cute account of how things might have been. From the Sydney Morning Herald, 11 April 1873, it details a case heard in the Court of Quarter Sessions in Sydney:
KEEPING A BROTHEL
A Chinaman from Canton, calling himself ‘Charles Tuckland,’ was charged with keeping a brothel.
The case was proved for the Crown by a Pagan Chinaman from Canton, names Lau Hawk, who deposed that the house was a brothel, and that he had married his wife Ellen Jones (a young woman aged 19 years, and a native of Sydney) out of his, prisoner’s disorderly house. Lau Hawk’s marriage was celebrated by the Rev. Dr. Fullerton, on the 23rd of January last. The marriage certificate was produced in Court. The witness, Lau Hawk, was sworn, at his own request, by blowing out a match, “not being a Christian.” Law Hawk [sic] swore that Tuckland’s house was a Chinese house of ill-fame, mostly frequented by Chinaman, but that degraded white men sometimes went there. Constable Michael H. Fox also gave evidence as to the extremely disreputable character of the house. A night-watchman, named Brennan, likewise gave similar evidence. This man had been complained to about Tuckland’s house by the people in the neighbourhood. The witness had seen Chinese men and white women – mostly very young – in couples in every room in the house – all smoking opium. The women were white women, and one of them was the woman Ellen Jones or Ellen Hawk. The white prostitutes and the Chinamen used to make a practice of smoking opium together. Brennan had seen the men smoking opium there, and passing on their opium pipes to the young women in whose company they were. Joe Hong, a Chinaman, gave the like evidence. For the defence, Mrs. Hawk (wife of Lau Hawk), gave the prisoner’s house a good character. She said she was drunk with spirits (not opium) when she was married to Lau Hawk. She went with Lau Hawk to Dr. Fullerton’s, to be married to Lau Hawk on an evening at twenty minuted to 10 o’clock. She swore that she was not then married to Lau Hawk, because they were told ‘it was then too late,’ but she did get married to him at the same place on the following morning, and was drunk at the time. Lau Hawk swore that they were married at night. Mrs. Lau Hawk’s bridesmaid was a girl called Emma Jones; one who passes as her sister, and who was living with Ellen Jones at Tuckland’s, but was not related to her. His Honor, in the course of his remarks said that the circumstances of this case were most extraordinary, and would, he trusted, be reported by the Press.
The prisoner’s defence was that his house was a ‘welly good house, and not bad at all.’ He sold opium for people to come and smoke it, and the young women waited on his customers.
The jury, without retiring, returned a verdict of guilty.
Sentence: To be imprisoned in Darlinghurst gaol and there kept to hard labour for six calendar months.
The opium merchant fluently expressed his astonishment at the result of the trial in Chinese, and was promptly removed from the Court in the midst of his disagreeable surprise.