Friday, October 19, 2012

The Nonagenarian Chinaman

In 1840s and 50s a contentious topic of discussion was the issue of the importation of Chinese labour into the Colony. On the one hand there was the dire shortage of workers on large pastoral properties and on the other the innate aversion of the European population to Asian “heathens”, popularly referred to as “Celestials”. Eventually the use of “coolie” labour was seen as a necessary evil.

An editorial in the Sydney press summed up the general feeling.

Were there a prospect of obtaining from the shores of the mother country, a supply of able bodied labourers, commensurate to the wants of the Colonists, never would our voice or pen be raised to advocate the introduction of an alien race: but as we are now situated, we must have Coolies or Chinese labourers, or we retrograde at a swift pace, and that retrogression will be marked with the complete overthrow of every important interest in the community.[1]

The Nonagenarian Tommy Delong, Ipswich 1899
One of the alien arrivals in 1842 was a 33 year old Chinese man who would come to be known as Tommy Delong.  Many years later, Tommy recalled his ignoble disembarkation in Sydney, to a journalist in Ipswich.

Having reached the age of 33, Tommy resolved to seek fortune in the Southern El Dorado, and accordingly took a ship for Sydney, where he landed in 1842.

Like most of his countrymen, when he arrived in Australia he could not speak a word of English, and suffered the usual consequences of such ignorance.

When he left the ship, the sailors by way of a “lark" induced him to sit on a wheelbarrow. They then wheeled him off and tipped him into Port Jackson.

As Tommy weighed 14st. 11lb. at the time he made a considerable splash, but fortunately he could swim, and, possibly to the disappointment of his tormentors, he managed to make his way to the shore, not much the worse.[2]

Tommy was soon assigned to work as a cook on a remote station, where he was paid much less than his European workmates.

The "new-chum Chinaman" began his career as a colonist by acting at cook on Boolling station,       where he worked for five years at the munificent wage of 3s. per week and food. Chinese immigration in those days was in its infancy and the "Johns" were not so wide awake to the full value of their labour as they are nowadays.[3]

Chinese cook working in makeshift kitchen

In 1850 Tommy made his way to the burgeoning Moreton Bay district and eventually settled in Ipswich where he would remain for the rest of his long life.

Again he worked around the district as a cook during the shearing seasons, and as a storekeeper in Ipswich.

The year 1850 saw him landing in Brisbane from the barque Emma, with his capital safely in hand. He started business at Little Ipswich, and removed later on to Waghorn-street, where he continued until the Government resumed his "stand" for rail way purposes.

Soon after his arrival in Ipswich he married his second wife, by whom he had two children. [4]

Ipswich in the 1870s
Tommy’s new wife Mary was not Chinese but of Irish extraction and the marriage got off to a rocky start.  This appears to have been mainly due to the interference of Tommy’ new in-laws.  After four months, Mary left the marital home and had her husband charged with assault.

Reflecting the mores of the times, Tommy was only bound over to keep the peace while his wife Mary was admonished by the magistrate for disregarding her marital duties.  Furthermore her relatives were warned against aiding and abetting her.

Mary Delong charged her husband with assaulting her. The defendant, a Chinese, has been married to the complainant about four months; but they have frequently quarrelled in consequence of complainant's too great intimacy with a reputed relative.

Witnesses proved that the defendant had struck her, and the bench required defendant to enter into sureties for keeping the peace but at the same time impressed on the complainant that if she chose to marry a Chinese she was bound to perform her conjugal duties, and conduct herself with propriety; that as a wife she was bound to go home when her husband desired her to do so; and that the parties who had harboured her had acted very improperly.[5]

Tommy and his wife Mary managed to stay to together until her death some years later.

Brisbane Street looking west from corner Ellenborough and Brisbane Streets, Ipswich, ca. 1898

In 1899, his long life was celebrated in the local press and he seems to have been a well liked local “character” about the streets of Ipswich.  Significantly the writer refers to the continued attitude of European Australians to “Chinamen”.

Tommy has continued in his dual occupation of shopkeeper and generally useful man until the present time. He still does odd jobs, but is too old for constant work, though he is remarkably active and upright in spite of his four score and eleven years.

He is of genial temperament, ever ready to laugh at a joke, and being quite an institution In Ipswich, everyone has a pleasant greeting for him when passing.

Brisbane Street, looking east from the Town Hall, Ipswich, 1899
The portrait which we reproduce was specially taken in Ipswich a few weeks ago by Mr. B. Taylor. It shows a remarkably intelligent-looking Chinaman, as good and useful a citizen of Queensland, in spite of his nationality, as many a white Australian who professes to despise his race.[6]


From the 1870s all Australian colonies prohibited Chinese immigration. 

Chinese already residing in the Australian colonies were not expelled and retained the same rights as their fellow citizens.

This legislation would later be known as the "White Australia Policy" and would not be fully withdrawn until the 1970s, a century later.

© K. C. Sbeghen, 2012

[1] The Sydney Gazette and New South Wales Advertiser Tuesday 1 February 1842
[2] The Queenslander Saturday 26 August 1899
[3] The Queenslander Saturday 26 August 1899
[4] The Queenslander Saturday 26 August 1899
[5] The North Australian, Ipswich and General Advertiser Tuesday 7 June 1859
[6] The Queenslander Saturday 26 August 1899

No comments:

Post a Comment