Thursday, May 9, 2013

Desperate & Dangerous Chinamen

Starting in the 1840s labour was imported into the previous convict colony of Moreton Bay which was now open to free settlement.  Southern China was found to be a good source of cheap labour and much closer than Europe.

Cartoon of arriving Chinese immigrants.
(State Library of Victoria)
A letter published in The Moreton Bay Courier debated the pros and cons. It is noticeable that these “coolies” were referred to as a commodity rather than as welcome immigrants.

In the racial milieu of the times, the culture of these Chinese was considered heathen and inferior by the colonists. Their language was totally incomprehensible but then they were paid less than Europeans.

My dear-,-You will see by the Herald a correspondence of Mr. Bogue relating to the advantages to be expected from the introduction of Chinese labourers into this country.

They can be brought here at an expense per head of £8, to be indented for a term of five years, at the annual wage of from £4 16s. to £7 4s., with two suits of clothes and rations.

1st. Do you consider the fact of the Chinese being unable to speak any intelligible language an insuperable objection; or do you think they might be taught to shepherd and make themselves useful notwithstanding this drawback?

2nd. Would the antipathy of the Europeans on account of the reduced wages be an insurmountable objection; or could Europeans and Chinese live on the same establishment?[1]

A Chinese Station Worker
(State Library of Queensland)
The hesitation mentioned in the letter was prescient as court reports would attest. Many of these Chinese labourers would be brought before the magistrates, mostly for abandoning their employment or in disputes with their employers.

In 1852, a Chinese worker appeared in the Brisbane court charged with absconding from a property on the Logan River.


-At the Police Office on Tuesday a Chinese named Kang, in the service of Mr. T. L. M. Prior, of the Logan River, was brought up on warrant, having been apprehended at Ipswich, and forwarded to Brisbane, on a charge of absconding from his service.

 Mr. Prior deposed that the prisoner had been in the service of Mr. John Smith, of Ipswich, whose service he left for that of witness, engaging for the period of three years and six months. He   remained in witness's service about six weeks, when he absconded, on or about the 14th of December last.

He had received to the amount of £2 18s 2d, and was therefore considerably in witness's debt when he absconded. The prisoner, when called upon for his defence, made a statement in tolerably intelligible English, the substance of which was that Mr. Smith had sent him to Gaol for three months, after which Mr. Prior's overseer offered him 12s. a month, with two pairs of trousers, two coats, two pairs of boots, and two handkerchiefs, "one year," and two waistcoats and two pairs of stockings; also four ounces of tobacco, and one pound of soap, [a week, as prisoner was understood].

He went to Mr. Prior, and Tinko [a baptised Chinaman in that gentleman's employ,] gave him "one pair boots 9s 6d, 1 pair trousers 7s 6d, shirt 2s 6d, handkerchief 1s, blanket 5s."

He did not get the twelve shillings a month, Tinko told him that he would be sent to Cockatoo Island, for killing a lamb, and then he ran away.

This was the substance of the prisoners defence, as well as he could be understood. He appeared to be under the impression that the whole of his wages should have been handed to him, without deduction for the articles with which he had been supplied.

The Bench, under the authority of a recent Act of Council, sentenced the prisoner to three months hard labour on the public works at Newcastle break-water.

Outraged that he was again to serve time in prison with hard labour, Kang was alleged to have threatened his employer and was immediately convicted of second offence.

After this case had been disposed of, the prisoner, addressing Mr. Prior, was understood to say "I'll shoot you." He was again tried on this charge, and, Mr. Prior having deposed that he was in bodily fear from the prisoner's threat, prisoner was directed to find sureties of the peace for twelve months from the 30th of June next, himself in £40 and two sureties in £20 each, or, in default to be imprisoned for twelve months from that period.[2]

Chinese Cook in Camp Kitchen
(State Library of Queensland)
He did have one defender who questioned the probity of the court hearing, suggesting that only one side of the story was considered and citing the legal principle of “audi alteram partem” that is, ‘listen to the other side”.


To the Editor of the Moreton Bay Courier.

SIR,-Apart from your ordinary police report is one which appears in the Courier of the 3rd instant, on the complainant of Mr. T. M. Prior, of the Logan River, against a Chinaman of the name of Kang, for absconding from that gentleman's service, who deposed before the Bench, that Kang was hired into his service for the space of three years and six months, without stating upon what terms, and that after serving about six weeks, the Chinaman absconded, having received from his master within that time sundries amounting to £2 18s. 2d., and was therefore considerably in debt.

So far the complaint. The Chinaman is then called upon by the Court for his explanation, and he stated, as well as could be understood, that he was hired by Mr. Prior's overseer from the service of Mr. John Smith, of Ipswich, for one year; wages 12s. per month, together with sundry clothing, &c, as enumerated, and then gives an account of articles received by him from "Tinco," a baptised Chinaman, in Mr. Prior's employ, as stated in your report, to amount to 25s. 6d. 

was due to him without deduction, for the articles with which he had been supplied, and I presume an argument arose upon this point, to settle which Tinco told him he should be sent to Cockatoo Island for killing a lamb, and not liking that disagreeable mode of adjustment he absconded. It is very well known to employers of Chinese that these men are very sensitive, if they do not receive the "silver" monthly.

The wages and other things the Chinaman stated he agreed to serve for are similar to those generally given to other men of that nation.

It does not appear that either Mr. Prior's overseer, or Tinco the Christian, were examined in the case, it is therefore not too much to presume that if their evidence would have supported it they ought to have been produced.

All that appears now is Mr. Prior's aye and "Mr. Kang's" no, and the magistrates with this before them dispose of the matter, by sentencing the poor pagan to three months' hard labour on the breakwater at Newcastle, said to be under the authority of a recent Act of Council, which I hope has been misconstrued as applying to persons convicted for, breach of agreement, under the Masters' and Servants' Act; an act sufficiently stringent in all conscience against the servant, without the addition of this penal degradation.

The sequel is, Mr. Prior loses a cheap servant, and Kang gains much trouble.   
It is said misfortunes come seldom alone, and so with poor Kang. After this case had been disposed" of, the prisoner, addressing Mr. Prior, was understood to say -"I'll shoot you," which so disturbed him that he at once deposed he was placed in bodily fear from the prisoner's threat of being understood to say something in an unintelligible jargon, which perhaps but few present would understand in the same way; of this threat he is convicted, ordered by their Worships to find bail, an impossibility on his part, and this failing, twelve months' imprisonment is awarded, commencing from the servitude of the first sentence-for being understood to say something unkind to one of his prosecutors.

Chinamen seem to be below par just now, but I would ask what would be the position of the northern stock proprietors at this time, but for the additional supply of this labour.[4]

I am, Sir,
Your obedient servant, 

Another case involved a Chinese shepherd named Ah Hung, who was employed at Coonambula[5], a property operated by one of the Archer brothers, who were pioneering pastoralists.

Coonambula Station
(State Library of Queensland)
On this occasion a Chinese interpreter was employed. Instead of swearing on the Christian Bible, the interpreter smashed a plate.

It appears that Ah Hung was involved in an altercation with the overseer over some missing sheep from the flock he was minding. He was told he would be charged £2, the equivalent of four months wages, in compensation for the loss. Understandable the shepherd did not take kindly to the news with a piece of wood.

Traditional Hurdle Making

Ah Hung, a Chinaman, was indicted for that he, on the 13th of March last, at Coonambula, did make an assault upon one "Edward Kelly, and, inflict divers injuries upon his person with a hurdle fork[6].

Gan Som, being sworn as interpreter according to, the custom of his country, by breaking a saucer, interrogated the prisoner concerning his plea, when he stated that Kelly had attempted to charge him for the alleged losing of some sheep, which he was innocent of and on his remonstrating Kelly called him names, and threatened to beat him, whereupon he, prisoner, struck Kelly with a hurdle fork which was lying by. His Honour directed a plea of Not Guilty to be recorded.

Edward Kelly, sheep overseer to Mr. Archer, deposed that prisoner had been in Mr. Archer's employ more than two years.

There were thirteen Chinese on the establishment. Prisoner was a shepherd, and had charge of 1274 sheep. On the 11th March witness went to the prisoner's station to count his sheep, and found ten deficient. Counted them twice.

Told prisoner that as he had not been out with his flock for some weeks he must pay for them, and another Chinaman said "that won't make him cry." Prisoner could understand what witness said to him. Prisoner made no answer, and witness returned to the head station.

 Mr. Archer charged prisoner four shillings each for the sheep; they were maiden ewes, rising two years old. Mr. Archer was at home, and settled with the prisoner himself.

The Archer Brothers
(State Library of Queensland)
On the next day witness went to prisoner's station again, and counted the sheep, when he found six more than at the last counting on the 11th. Told prisoner so, and he made no answer.

Witness went and counted another Chinaman's flock at a short distance, and had just finished counting, and was standing with his back to the prisoner when he struck witness a heavy blow on the leg with a hurdle fork.

Another Chinaman, the watchman, attempted to strike witness with a stick on the head. They hemmed witness in, in the fold, and a native black coming up at the time was coming forward to witness's assistance, when he was kept back by a third Chinaman, who stood at the gate of the sheep yard.

Prisoner struck witness several times about the legs. He warded off the blows from his head, but was so severely injured about the legs that he could not walk for some days. His legs were swollen greatly. Witness strove to retreat to the horses, but was too closely pursued by the prisoner, and therefore abandoned them. Prisoner threw the fork spearwise after him, saying, "You d-d b-r, I'll kill you." 

Witness made his way in company with the black to a station two miles distant. Prisoner subsequently absconded at night, without his wages, and was afterwards apprehended at Gayndah. [By the prisoner.] Prisoner was never charged for sheep that died. Witness never beat or raised his hand to the prisoner.

George Britwell deposed, that he saw the witness Kelly on the 13th March, after the assault, Kelly was suffering under injuries at the time; witness went to prisoner's station, and prisoner asked where Kelly was, witness answered, at his station, two miles away; prisoner asked if he was able to walk, and witness said no. The Chinamen then asked if witness would tell Mr. Archer. They said they did not want to beat Mr. Archer, because he was the master. Witness took Kelly's horses and went away.

This was the case for the Crown.

Coonambula Station Homestead 
(State Library of Queensland)
Unlike the previous case, the presence of an interpreter seems to have made a difference and Ah Hung received a relatively light sentence.

In defence the prisoner said that his master was very bad. He had charged him four shillings each for sheep that died, and half-a-crown each for lambs; and he did not want to go back to him; he said that the witness Kelly had beaten him first, and he then struck Kelly once on the leg with a stick. He entered, through his interpreter, into some further statements, having no apparent reference to the charge.

The JUDGE shortly summed up the evidence, and the Jury returned a verdict of guilty. The sentence of the Court was that he be imprisoned fourteen days in Brisbane Gaol.[7]

© K. C. Sbeghen, 2013.

[1][1] The Moreton Bay Courier Saturday 10 April 1847
[2] The Moreton Bay Courier Saturday 3 April 1852
[3]Latin “hear the other side” - A legal principle of fairness. Also worded as audiatur et altera pars (let the other side be heard too). Wiki
[4] The Moreton Bay Courier Saturday 17 April 1852
[5] Near the town of  Munduburra.
[6] Hurdles were used to create temporary sheep folds.
[7] The Moreton Bay Courier Saturday 17 May 1851

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