Tag: naturalisation certificates

A naturalized Chinese Tasmanian: Ah One from Hobart

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).

Tasmanian Archives holds colonial naturalization records for Tasmania, so more information about Ah One’s application can be found there – using both the Tasmanian Names Index and the information provided on the certificate.

A search of the Tasmanian Names Index led to Ah One’s naturalization application (memorial) and correspondence about it (CSD22/1/3/56 pp 216–218, https://stors.tas.gov.au/CSD22-1-3-56$init=CSD22-1-3-56-P216).

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.


Recently I’ve been looking at a series of NSW naturalisation certificates held in the National Archives of Australia here in Canberra (NAA: A806). The naturalisation certificates in A806 are ones that were ‘cancelled’ by Customs officers after apparently being used by Chinese to attempt fraudulent entry to New South Wales.

In the 1880s and 1890s Chinese who were naturalised British subjects in NSW were exempt from paying the poll tax on entering the colony (£10 after 1881, and £100 after 1888). After the turn of the 20th century, naturalised Chinese used their certificates to prove their Australian domicile and avoid having to sit the Dictation Test on return from overseas. As a consequence, a trade in naturalisation certificates grew up within the Chinese community, as certificates were sold or passed on to others to use after a man had died or gone home to China for good.

Some of the naturalisation certificates in A806 have layers of hand-written notes on them, most of which are undated, which suggest the same certificates were used several times as re-entry documents – perhaps initially by the legitimate holder of the certificate and subsequently by someone else. A number have ‘£10’ written on the front, suggesting that the Chinese passenger was rejected and made to pay the poll tax to enter the colony. Some have Chinese notations (mostly on the back), giving personal details such as name, age, place of origin and length of time in New South Wales.

NAA: A806 (Chow Hock 1884/30)

A806 comprises three boxes and several hundred certificates, which I’ve photographed and am now working my way through in more detail. Eventually I will marry these certificates with other naturalisation records held in State Records NSW and also in immigration case files in the National Archives.

In some of the immigration cases involving naturalisation certificates I’ve looked at, including those in A806, it’s not altogether clear whether fraud was really being attempted or whether Customs officers were just being super cautious in the execution of their duties.

With one certificate in A806, though, the fraud was obvious – and it wasn’t the Customs officers who were duped.

In June 1915, a Chinese man arriving in Sydney on the Eastern from Hong Kong presented an 1896 naturalisation certificate belonging to ‘James Andersen of Kiama, a native of Finland’. The unfortunate fellow, who presumably didn’t read much English, was returned to Hong Kong on the same vessel.

NAA: A806 (James Andersen 1896/155)