Wednesday, May 20, 2009

Early Chinese immigrants to Auckland

Ching Man WU, in her bibliography 19th & 20th century history of Chinese settlement in Auckland : a selective annotated bibliography of resources : submitted to the School of Information Management, Victoria University of Wellington in partial fulfilment of the requirements for the degree of Master of Library and Information Studies (2007) included a mention of me on her acknowledgments page:
“Grateful acknowledgement must also be made to Ms. Lisa Truttman, who had shown me some of the relevant resources generally not known to the public.”
I knew her only as Cynthia, so – thanks, Cynthia, if ever you read this. Very, very cool being mentioned in your work, which is such a benefit to future researchers into the history of the Chinese here in Auckland.

She found some information (I’m not sure where) that a group of 12 Chinese arrived in Auckland in 1866 as market gardeners (page 8). However, I’ve been able to push that date back a bit, looking up Papers Past.

By late October 1865, a Chinese man named John Joss was already in Auckland, as were three fellow country-men, known in the papers only as O Chow, Comin, and Towniu. Joss claimed in court on 25 October that the three had knocked him down and beaten him with a stick. The case proved problematic, however, for the simple reason that there were no other Chinese dialect speakers around in Auckland at that time. The lack of interpreters meant that the Police Court had to abandon the case three times, despite Joss’ protests. The only other information available is that the three men who allegedly attacked Joss worked for a brewer named Mr. Kirkwood. (Southern Cross, 26, 28 and 30 October 1865)

The early Chinese in Auckland, though, were virtually invisible to the media’s eye. In late November 1866, Ex Ting had a coat stolen by one Robert Johnston (who was later apprehended by Detective Ternahan). No further information on that case, however. (Southern Cross, 1 December 1866) Only when one got into trouble – or, in the following instance, nearly lynched – is there recognition of their existence.

“We regret to learn that a shack, the property of the Hon. Colonel [Stephen Ponsonby] Peacocke, at Howick, was burned on Monday night, or rather after midnight on yesterday morning, by an incendiary — a vagrant Chinaman — who was previously unknown in the neighbourhood. The vagabond was taken into custody in the act — literally flagrante delicto. Most fortunately a neighbour was out of bed to a later hour than usual, and about one o'clock, seeing the glare of the flames, he rushed out, and, having given the alarm, he was the means of preventing the fire spreading to the neighbouring houses, in which were cattle and horses. The people took the incendiary into safe keeping for the purpose of his being handed over to the police. The damage is estimated at £50 or £60, and the property was uninsured. The people who caught the incendiary were naturally very indignant, and were half inclined to let him have in a personal and feeling manner, some benefit of his own handiwork.”
(Southern Cross, 26 May 1869)

The tour in 1870 by Chang Woo Gow , the Chinese Giant, did raise public awareness in a way – though possibly just in surprise that “John Chinaman” could grow that tall.
“The great specialty in the amusement line at the present time is the public exhibition .of the truly great Chinaman Chang Woo Gow, and his little wife Kin Foo. It is almost invariably a rule that a tall man selects a small woman for his wife, and a small man a tall muscular woman, but never have we seen a disparity as between the above two. Kin Foo is under the ordinary size of women, and Chang towers up to eight feet, and is stout-built in proportion. From three to five o'clock he was, in the City Hall, when a great many people visited him, and chatted with him and his wife. He was dressed in the embroidered robe of a mandarin. In the evening he was in the Prince of Wales Theatre, and those who compared their heights with him looked like pigmies beside him.”
(Southern Cross, 26 October 1870)

Finally, a court case where the race of the defendant (Chinese), was entirely incidental to the fact that his lawyer was making a legal point during the trial.
“A curious question cropped up at the Police Court, when the Chinaman, [James] Ah Foo, was charged with attempting to defraud H M Customs. He was about to step into the dock, when his solicitor, Mr. Joy, L.L.B , called him back and told him to place himself at the bar. A discussion then took place between Mr. Barstow and Mr. Joy as to whether the dock was the proper place for Ah Foo or not. His Worship said that the dock was for prisoners, and the bar for defendants only. What constituted a prisoner was being arrested by warrant. Ah Foo had been arrested by warrant, and had therefore been placed in the dock when first brought before the Court. Mr. Joy argued that as Ah Foo was only liable to a fine or imprisonment, and had been released on bail, it was not right to put him in the dock. His Worship said that Ah Foo in surrendering to his bail had surrendered himself again into the custody of the police. His Worship, however, did not insist on the point, and Ah Foo consequently remained at the bar.”
Despite all the legal posturing, Ah Foo was found guilty of evading customs duty on 1½ lbs of cigars, fined £11 5s, and ordered to be imprisoned until the fine was paid. (Southern Cross, 25 November 1876)


  1. Hi, Cynthia!

    You did such a terrific job, and wonderfully presented as well! Now that I'm doing this blog, I hope to include more about the early Chinese in Auckland as time goes on. Cheers!

  2. (Cynthia asked tonight for her email addy to be removed. However, it meant I had to delete the whole comment, so here it is again:)

    Cynthia said...

    Hi Lisa,

    Kah-bee and Bridget from the Auckland Research Centre forwarded me a link to your post!

    Glad to see that you found my thesis useful - and it's so cool to read that you were able to prove the 'existence' of Chinese in New Zealand even earlier - and in Auckland too!