KIANDRA HISTORICAL SOCIETY
THE CHINESE AT KIANDRA
by Lindsay Smith
The First Arrivals
Chinese people first arrived at Kiandra in the middle of winter in 1860. Two weeks after taking up duty as the agent for the Bank of New South Wales at Kiandra, George Preshaw noted in his diary on 4 June 1860 that "Eighty Chinamen arrived; I was talking to their head man, who told me he expected there would be 20,000 (twenty thousand) of his countrymen here in less than six months" (Preshaw 1888:55). During his 14 months there, Preshaw would have seen the Chinese population at Kiandra increase from the original 80 arrivals to a peak of around 700, or about 20% of the population of the area, during July and August 1860. Although this figure is well short of the predicted 20,000 it nevertheless represents a significant presence of Chinese people at Kiandra during the height of the gold rush. A presence that usually only fleetingly appears in some contemporary newspaper reports, and less in official reports.
Communication among the Chinese on the goldfields in NSW and Victoria was always good, and intelligence often passed quickly between widely dispersed groups. It is not surprising then for the first Chinese headman at Kiandra to make such a bold prediction on the numbers of his countrymen expected to arrive in the near future. Unfortunately, similar to his Europeans counterparts, he also was mistaken. Table 1 shows the estimated number of Chinese people at Kiandra from 1859 to 1971.
Preshaw's short diary entry reveals that this vanguard of Chinese was subject to the contract system of employment described earlier. Although this group employment arrangement continued, was well organised and was very successful for the Chinese at Kiandra, numbers of individual Chinese also came to the area. These included storekeepers, butchers, bakers, tailors and doctors. These men plied their trades and professions throughout the Kiandra district from 1860 until 1925. They lived in small groups around the town, and, as elsewhere in Australia, established a number of camps on the field. At different times, they established small camps at Chinaman's Flat (several miles to the north of the town), Jackass Flat (near New Chum Hill just north of the town), and at Pollock's Gully (Gregors 1979:12, Perkins V3:684, Tait 1977:83). However, their main 'camp town' was about one kilometre to the east of the township, and existed from mid-1860 until around the turn of the century. From then until 1925 the social and economic life of the remaining Chinese at Kiandra centred on a complex of buildings on the southern outskirts of the town, near Pollock's gully. These men came mainly from the goldfields in northern Victorian, around Beechworth, and from the goldfields in southeastern NSW, on the Shoalhaven.
Chinese gold miners had come from Victoria and been working in NSW, at Adelong, near Tumut, before 1858. The Border Post reported, on 13 February 1858, "during the week about 150 or 200 Chinese passed through the town [Albury] with four or five waggons laden with swags. In answer to our queries, they stated their intention of proceeding to Adelong having heard 'Very good accounts of these diggings from their countrymen located there'". While in NSW itself the Chinese had been mining for gold along the Shoalhaven at Araluen, Bell's Creek, Major's Creek, Bombay and Mongarlowe from the early 1850s (McGowan 1995:10-11). Those in NSW made their way to the Snowy Mountains through such places as Braidwood and Cooma.
However, it appears that the first group of Chinese mentioned above came from Victoria, and that the 'countrymen' alluded to by the headman soon followed from there. Within a few weeks of the vanguard, at least 200 Chinese miners arrived in Kiandra from Victoria, and began setting up a camp town, as the following two extracts show
A few hundred Chinese have located themselves here, and their interpreter stated that 20,000 of them will arrive mainly in the spring. Mr. Cloete is arranging to remove them all from the township to a site on a hill fronting the Government Camp, on the eastern side of the gully. (extract from a letter from Kiandra dated 22 June 1860, that appeared in The Braidwood Observer and Miners' Advocate on 7 July); and
Two companies of Chinese have arrived [at Kiandra] from the Omeo. About 100 have camped near Mr. Scully's, and have made him an offer for his house, to convert it into a Joss House. 100 more are preparing a Chinese town, as from 500 to 600 are to arrive from Victoria this week. Some of these men carried upwards of 100lbs. (27 June 1860, The Braidwood Observer and Miners' Advocate, from an earlier report in The Empire).
These early groups may have come into NSW from, or through, Adelong and Tumut, or more likely across the shorter mountainous route determined by Freeling in May 1860, through Beechworth and Lob's Hole to Kiandra.
Regardless of their route, once in Kiandra they began to mine wherever they could in the snow-covered countryside. But as the returns at that time were not good, some minor disturbances occurred on the field. Not long after their arrival in Kiandra some Chinese were already getting themselves into trouble with, not only the Europeans but also some of their own countrymen. On Saturday night, 23 June 1860, two Chinamen were caught robbing a sluice and were taken into custody (The Braidwood Observer and Miners' Advocate, 30 June). While five of their fellows were already prisoners at Cooma awaiting an escort to take them to Goulburn goal. They had been sentenced to three months imprisonment for assault on some of their countrymen at Kiandra (Sydney Morning Herald, 14 July 1860).
At the end of June 1860 the Kiandra correspondent of the Sydney Morning Herald, in his description of 'Kiandra the modern', notes the location of the Chinese camp and also embodies the prevailing attitude towards the Chinese at that time
The Chinese Camp is a little to the east of the township, pretty comfortably sheltered under the brow of a small rising piece of ground. The Commissioner has requested them to remove under the shelter of another hill-side, a small distance to the right, which a number of them have done, and thereby opened another settlement apart from all Europeans. There are supposed to be some three or four hundred Chinamen here. . . .
. . . But who is this mud-lark-looking lot that comes athwart our course, puddling about like ducks in the mire? Who, of course, but John Chinaman, picking up what he can, after everybody else had worked the ground out. We see him get a speck or two, but if we ask him how he is getting on, he says, shaking his meaningless face, "ten bucketful - nothing." (Sydney Morning Herald, 30 June 1860).
In early July 1860, 200 more Chinese arrived in Kiandra from Beechworth, and there were reports of several hundreds more on the way. This new influx drew a number of complaints from the European diggers and, in order to avoid any conflict between the Europeans and Chinese in the town, Commissioner Cloete "found it necessary to remove the two Chinese camps" that had already formed, apparently too near the to the town, to a more distant location.
On 9 July 1860 the Sydney Morning Herald reported
to-day long files of them [Chinese] were seen bending under huge packages, wending their way towards the allocated ground, about half-a-mile down the river. This will, it is hoped, effectually [sic] separate them from the Europeans, whose jealousy or distaste of John Chinaman is often carried to unnecessary lengths.
Mid-July saw Chinese miners starting to arrive from the Shoalhaven and about 100 Chinamen passed through Cooma during that time on their way towards Kiandra (Perkins Papers Vol.3:619). There were at least 700 Chinese miners at Kiandra by then located in 'a camp to themselves' with their interpreter still saying that many hundreds more may be expected daily. However, 700 proved to be the highest number of Chinese that were ever at Kiandra at one time.
'To the manner born'
Although there was very little mining able to done by anyone in the harsh winter conditions at Kiandra, some Chinese found other steady employment. As it turned out this alternative employment proved to be of great benefit not only to the Chinese but also to most of the European residents of the snow-bound Kiandra - except one.
Anxious to have Thomas Garrett's newspaper, The Alpine Pioneer and Kiandra Advertiser, start spreading good tidings about Kiandra, some local and highly respected businessmen decided to help it get established in the town - and make money at the same time. The machinery for the newspaper could not be brought in to the town because of the snow, it had been "twice locked in by the snow in endeavouring to get from Russell's to Kiandra, and had been sixteen days in getting six miles" (The Braidwood Observer and Miners' Advocate, 11 August 1860). Mr. Templeton, of Templeton, Shadforth & Co., Kiandra Bazaar Sale Rooms, and Messrs. Cook and Wilson established The Celestial Transit Company and
Fifty Chinamen were engaged for this job, the drays were got at with considerable difficulty, and the entire loading, weighing 4,400lbs, was carried a distance of fourteen miles through snow, and over very broken country in about ten hours. A writer in the Empire states that should the scheme of the Chinese Carrying Company answer, Messrs. Templeton, Cook and Wilson purpose to extend the line to Merimbula and Eden, having convenient stations on the line of road for halting places (The Braidwood Observer and Miners' Advocate, 11 August 1860).
Other reports of the 'Carrying Company' and the benefits to the residents of Kiandra during the long winter months show the important contribution of the Chinese to the community during that period
Mr. Templeton and others have concocted a novel mode of conveyance for heavy goods between Kiandra and Russell's. They have chartered some 200 Chinese, at £2 a week each, made a station half-way, now engage in bringing all kinds of goods into Kiandra at so much a ton. The poor Chinamen were nearly starving, and although we cannot give the company any praise on philanthropic grounds it will certainly be of great benefit to these poor celestials. A long string of them started this morning, and there is little doubt but that they will perform all they profess; viz., to bring in 60lbs. weight each daily (Sydney Morning Herald, 27 July 1860)
This much abused race [the Chinese] has lately proved itself invaluable to storekeepers and others by bringing in all kinds of goods from Russell's slung on their poles. Many are now carrying in shingles and weatherboard. In the beginning of the week they brought in most of the Alpine Pioneer's type, so that it will be able to issue its first number on the 3rd of August. The loads these fellows will carry are tremendous. One brought in 140lbs. weight by himself in one day over a distance of more than twelve miles. . . .
. . . We are almost entirely depending on pack horses for goods, but there are a number of packers and no mistake in the number of Chinamen. I should think that there are upwards of one hundred of them on the road, and the loads they carry are almost incredible. I am informed on good authority that one Chinaman brought in from Russell's 160lbs., and the lowest carried by them is seldom under 80lbs. a load; 25s. per load is about the general price, but they also bring in shingles, palings and timber, at the same price charged by the teams, and they are to be depended on. . . . (Sydney Morning Herald, 2 August 1860).
Unfortunately, it appears that some of the Chinese were not paid, or at least, not paid the contracted amount for carrying goods into the town. Among the several wages cases that came before Messrs. Clarke and Scott, J.P.s, at the Kiandra Court on 23 August 1860 was one in which 59 Chinamen v. Templeton, Cook, and Co., the promoters of the Celestial Transit Company. It seems that they had been engaged under a boss or headman, at 35s. per week, with rations, and now sued for a week's pay. Cook alone appeared in answer to the summons, Templeton having been taken into custody on his appearance near the Court. The defence consisted of non-performance of work, and a very long bill of rations supplied over and above the contract allowance. This brought the amount due to the Chinamen down to £6 10s. After a very patient investigation, the Bench found a verdict for the plaintiffs in the amount of £78, and £5 for the boss.
However, more unfortunately but nevertheless quite ironically, Kiandra lost one of its most prominent citizens
Templeton, alias William Templeton Campbell, alias Somerville, was brought up under a charge from detective Scarlett of being a ticket-of-leave holder, unlawfully at large from the district of Yass. It was proved that he had been convicted on two separate occasions - one for seven, and the other for four years, and that his time would not expire until the 3rd November next ; he had been above two years away from his district. The prisoner did not deny the charge, but urged his late endeavours to gain a position, and integrity of conduct. The Bench had no option but to forward him to head-quarters. Ordered to be sent to Sydney accordingly. This case has caused some excitement here, as the prisoner is well known to every one, and has carried on business for some time as an auctioneer. . . . (Sydney Morning Herald, 30 August 1860).
Although it is not known what happened to Templeton, it is known that 'Templeton, Shadforth & Co., Kiandra Bazaar Sale Rooms', immediately became 'Shadforth & Co., Kiandra Bazaar Sale Rooms'. Templeton did not again feature at Kiandra.
Despite the fact that much of the credit for the survival of the town must go to the Chinese during that first winter, and although the Kiandra townspeople may have sometimes marvelled at the stamina and resilience of the Chinese, they were still held in very low esteem. The following report filed by a correspondent at Kiandra in August 1860 reflects the residents' estimation of their, arguably, saviours
It is curious to observe in contradiction how the Chinese adapt themselves to adverse circumstances at Kiandra. Mining being just now impossible, we find that these fellows instead of prowling about and loafing, have organised themselves as carriers of goods and provisions from the township (Russell's station) to Kiandra, - a distance of thirteen miles. They sling the goods upon poles which they then shoulder, and carry along with great alacrity. They earn good wages by this means, and bring in provisions, &c, when horses and mules would be useless on account of the snow. Europeans would scarcely be able to endure this strain upon the shoulders, but the Chinese are to the manner born, and carry heavy burdens with facility. It is worth [noting that the Chinese have been set apart to] lessen the chances of collision with Europeans, who complain of the Chinamen on account of their dirty habits, and particularly for defiling water-holes. As to their dirty habits, we are aware that Chinese wash their feet with far greater regularity than their faces. But that may be a peculiarity of theirs. It cannot be denied, however, considering that leprosy exists amongst them, that it is a wise precaution to make them encamp by themselves (Sydney Morning Herald, 21 August 1860).
Also, despite having relied entirely on Chinese labour to ensure the establishment of his newspaper at Kiandra, Thomas Garrett, proprietor of the Alpine Pioneer and Kiandra Advertiser, launched a scathing attack on the Chinese in Australia in an editorial that appeared within the first few weeks of publication. The heading of the editorial was 'Foreign Diggers' and its purpose was to argue for a repeal of the export duty on gold. Garrett argued, somewhat spuriously, that for the most part, except for a few Germans, French, Italians or Americans, that the diggers were really colonists, the same as the squatters. According to Garrett, however, there was one case to which all of his reasoning did not apply, the Chinese
. . . pour into the country in hordes, solely to dig and carry away, rendering no return. Their course of action is not base in any respect whatever upon the mutuality of industry and trade. They own no obligations but necessity. As residents if is not in any respect desirable to retain them. They never will be anything as colonists, because they bring no women, and do not care to settle. The common mode of receiving foreigners, therefore, is inapplicable in their case. They require to be dealt with in a manner so special that it will not apply elsewhere.
Even in their case, however, the export duty does not appear to be the right method of check. It is inefficient - it does not check them. All that the Chinaman thinks of is his lump of gold, or his bag of gold dust. Its comparative price, diminished or not by a tax, is not the object of his thought: it is gold, as much as he can contrive to get, he covets. The sum subtracted from his gathering is only to him like a loss at the gold fields; he gets as much as he can clear, and goes off with it, sending us nothing by way of trade or return. Of course there are exceptions, but this is the general case. It is evident, therefore, that the Chinaman requires to be dealt with in a manner different from any other foreigner, and we do not think the export duty is the right mode of dealing with him (Alpine Pioneer and Kiandra Advertiser, 31 August 1860).
Nevertheless, Kiandra still needed the Chinese, as the following advertisement that appeared in Garrett's newspaper on 21 September shows -
'Verily, the Chinese seem to be a queer lot'
Although there were still reports of large numbers of 'Celestials' passing through Braidwood en route to Kiandra towards the end of August, by the end of that month the glitter of Kiandra was starting to fade, and they began to disperse. Some returned to Beechworth as the Adelong Mining Journal notes - "a large band of 'Camels of Kiandra' (Chinese) about 100 men passed through Adelong, en route to Beechworth" (31 August 1860) - and some went to the recently discovered gold field at Burranong, or Lambing Flat, less that 200 miles from Kiandra, at Young in NSW (Carrington 1959:146).
For those Chinese who remained at Kiandra during the closing months of 1860, the work was relatively steady, gold returns were only fair and business between the Chinese and the Europeans was, on the whole, amicable. Reports show that Chinese were mining all over the Kiandra field during that time
. . . On Chinaman's Flat we are assured the miners are doing well, but last week's storm has greatly injured many of them in that part of the river . . .
Between Fluming Claim and Whipstick Gully, there are many parties very busily engaged, and from the energy and perseverance with which they set to work, we are inclined to believe the most of them are in paying claims, indeed, we are aware of several there who are earning good wages. There are several large parties of Chinamen on this part of the river, and from the steady, plodding industry with which this class pursue their avocations, we have no hesitation in stating that they are in receipt of average wages . . . (Alpine Pioneer and Kiandra Advertiser, 20 November 1860).
On Chinaman's Flat a few are at work and making wages. There are a great number of Chinamen at work in several parts of the river, and we were informed the other day by a gentleman who has great experience in gold-buying, that he never purchased so large parcels from any Chinese as he has done from those at work here, and these men are generally engaged in ground which Europeans have left as being worked out. . . . (Alpine Pioneer and Kiandra Advertiser, 18 December 1860).
There was, of course, a degree of lawlessness at Kiandra, and the Chinese were sometimes the perpetrators, but this appeared to be limited to a relatively small number of cases. There is no evidence to indicate that Chinese anti-social activities were any worse than those committed by the Europeans at Kiandra (Tait 1977:98). On a number of occasions the Chinese were falsely accused or rightly aggrieved. On these occasions they certainly knew how to argue within the European legal system, as evidenced by the wages claim discussed above, and were usually able to gain justice. Such was the case of Moo-Choo, a Chinese doctor who came to Kiandra to minister to his countrymen in October 1860. He was charged with obtaining money under false pretences. His day(s) in court are revealed in the following extracts
Court of Petty Sessions. Kiandra, Saturday, October 6. (Before Messrs. Scott and Dickinson.) SPURIOUS GOLD. Moo-Choo, a Chinese was brought up on a charge of obtaining money under false pretences by selling spurious gold to the storeman of Mr. Limbert, Kiandra. He was defended by Mr. Campbell. John Pascoe swore that he was in the employ of Mr. Limbert, storekeeper, Kiandra; on the 4th instant prisoner came to the store and offered for sale the contents of the box produced; he gave 22s for six dwts six grs., being at the rate of 71s per ounce; the prisoner purchased goods from to the value of 4s 6d., which he left, saying he would return for them. After his departure, he suspected the gold was not genuine, and applied the test usually used by Mr. Limbert in cases of suspected gold, viz. put it on a shovel, and heated it on the fire. The metal immediately turned black, and has remained so ever since. He then took it to Mr. Horton of the Oriental Bank, and to Mr. S. Moses, both of who pronounced it to be spurious. He then went down to Benjamin's, where he found the prisoner, and told him to come to the store, which he did; he then handed him over to the police. The case was remanded to Monday, for the purpose of having the contents of the box assayed by a chemist. Bail refused.
Court of Petty Sessions. Kiandra, Monday, October 8. (Before Messrs. Dickinson and Scott.) Moo-Choo, remanded from Saturday, was again brought up. Inspector Saunderson saw the spurious as well as some genuine gold tested. The latter preserved its colour. Mr. Campbell, for the defence, produced a Chinaman, who was sworn by blowing out a match, and was present when defendant, who was a Chinese doctor, exchanged some opium for this lot of gold at Tumberumba, some seven weeks ago; and also the driver of the coach from Beechworth to Albury, who brought the prisoner so far on his road, and stated he had a box of medicine with him when he was his passenger. Moreover, the prisoner being short of funds in Albury, had obtained money from another doctor at Spring Creek, which money he had since collected. Mr. Campbell then urged on the bench that as Moo-Choo left his purchase at Limbert's store, after having disposed of the metal to him, he evidently had no intention of cheating Limbert. He was a Chinese doctor, and had obtained the gold at Tumberumba from a fellow countryman in exchange for opium. The bench took this view of the case and dismissed it, the Chinaman to return Pascoe the 22s. he received from him. (Alpine Pioneer and Kiandra Advertiser, 9 October 1860).
By the end of December 1860, together with the Europeans, most of the Chinese had left Kiandra in search of their fortunes, or to ply their trades at other fields in NSW and Victoria.
The year of 1861 was not a particular happy period for Chinese and European relations in NSW. Like their European counterparts, Chinese miners were constantly in search of better gold finds. The new field at Lambing Flat held such promise. But as payable gold, and the water necessary for its extraction, was becoming scarce, finds and fields were being jealously guarded. As early as 14 December 1860 the Yass Courier reported from Lambing Flat "one day last week, a string of Chinamen made their appearance on the ground, but as soon as their presence was known to the diggers, they were compelled to quit". In March 1861, the same newspaper was recording that a number of Chinese miners who were either expelled or quit by themselves were returning to Kiandra from that field. At the same time, European miners and storekeepers were deserting Kiandra
Our population is still diminishing: many going to Lambing Flat, and others to their various homes, having sold out on good terms to returned Chinamen. I believe that two hundred of the Mongolians have returned within these eight days, and I am sure that they will do well. (Yass Courier, 16 March 1861).
By the end of the 1860/61 summer, when it was realised that Kiandra would not receive the population rush it had expected, local storekeepers who had been hoarding goods in anticipation of getting high prices, released these goods on the now limited market. The release of these stored goods caused an economic glut and some businesses were forced to close as prices fell. Goods were given away just to get rid of them. When the returning Chinese arrived in Kiandra, they became a purchasing population that saved many businesses (Tait 1977:89)
This situation is reflected in a report from Kiandra on 11 May 1861, in which the reporter also notes that although the return of the Chinese was a happy event for most, it was not necessarily so for the publicans. The article is also interesting in that it gives a good description of the credit-ticket system that applied to the Chinese at Kiandra at that time
Prospects more promising. 400 to 500 Chinese on the ground - others en route, from Braidwood and Lambing Flat. They work for a boss, and work and strive for him from morning till night. The boss is generally better educated than his fellows. One boss has 150 men under him. He buys claims with their money and his own, puts, 10, 20, 30 men to each claim, and regulates their modus operandi usually securing a fifth or a fourth share for himself. He also acts as providor, charges at 23/- to 30/- a week for board, which he takes good care to deduct from their weekly earnings. This . . . on a good paying gold field quickly amasses a very considerable amount. Besides they generally erect the best house in the camp for themselves, and instal a joss in it - having a kind of attendant priest who makes the "oi polloi" pay for the devotion. . . . The return of the Chinese to Kiandra has been quite a God send . . . Publicans have an objection to Chinese because they seldom drink anything . . . Kiandrians must henceforth do without milk. (Perkins Papers Vol.3:687).
Shortly afterwards, European miners at Lambing Flat, frustrated by, among other things, the lack of water, lack of expected returns and the apparent better fortunes of the Chinese, attacked the Chinese camp there in June and July 1861. Tents were burned and a number of Chinese were maltreated, with some receiving serious injuries. Although the immediate aftermath of this incident saw the European culprits punished for their actions, it later resulted in the NSW Government enacting restrictive legislation against the Chinese, and left an indelible stain on Chinese and European relations in NSW for decades to follow.
This incident also prompted large numbers of Chinese to leave the Lambing Flat field. On 18 July 1861 The Empire reported "John Chinaman with a number of his friends passed through this town [Tumut] en route to the Snowy, bearing the marks of their recent engagement at Lambing Flat".
Fueled by the Lambing Flat incident, the anti-Chinese sentiment spilled over into Kiandra in August 1861. Europeans claimed that they had caught several Chinese clearing out Mr. Gee's race in Pollock's Gully and retaliated by burning some tents in the Chinese camp, terrorising the occupants and driving the Chinese away from Kiandra. Sub Commissioner Cooper reasoned with the Europeans and persuaded them to draft a petition rather than commit further violence. The petition was sent to the government in late August 1861, and the Chinese at Kiandra were forbidden to camp on or near the township but were required to live and work within the confines of their own camp (Tait 1977:89).
The petition contained two propositions: to prohibit rather than restrict the further admission of Chinese to the colony; and that the Chinese may be withdrawn from the Gold Fields of the colony. The petition, albeit not being very significant in itself, became part of a broader anti-Chinese movement in NSW in that year. This movement culminated in legislation being passed by the Government in November 1861 that sought to 'regulate and restrict the immigration of Chinese', and, among other things, a £10 tax was levied on each Chinese person entering NSW.
As mentioned earlier, this restrictive legislation, and similar measures in Victoria, saw the number of Chinese in NSW fall by over 5,500, and in Victoria by nearly 7,000, from 1861 to 1871. Kiandra's Chinese population declined commensurately, falling from around 450 in 1861 to about 150 in 1872. Accounts of Chinese at Kiandra, and of Kiandra itself, during this period are rare, but it appears that relations between the Chinese and Europeans stabilised. This is attested to by the lack of newspaper and court reports suggesting clashes between these two groups. Apart from a few reports from the area during that time - a Chinese pig dealer was robbed near Adelong, and an altercation between some Chinese miners and an Englishman at Adelong occurred 1864, a Chinese man was arrested in Tumut for selling non-genuine opium in 1865, a Chinese storekeeper was arrested in Upper Adelong for possessing 'spiritous liquors' in 1867, and another Chinese storekeeper was shot dead by bushrangers in Adelong - Kiandra itself remained peaceful.
This period saw a great number of Chinese return to China, leaving behind their hopes and dreams of striking it rich in Australia. Those who remained continued to work patiently on gold fields as miners, and in and around country towns as gardeners and at other trades. This was also the case at Kiandra. The Chinese, who formed a large part of the population of the town, 53.8% in 1863 and 42.9% in 1872, had decided to either try to continue to find their fortune and return to China sometime in the future, or to abandon their homeland completely and establish a new home in a new country. Whichever was the case, they continued to eke out a living re-working old ground at Kiandra, and little is heard of them until late 1870.
Christmas 1870 sees Kiandra return to newspaper headlines with the statement of 'SERIOUS FRACAS AMONG CHINESE - there has been a great fight among the Chinese'. This event also sees the first recorded appearance of a Chinese man, Ah Yan, who later plays a major role in the shaping of Kiandra for the remainder of its days. On 5 January 1871, The Sydney Morning Herald reported the incident
The correspondent of the "Monaro Mercury" states that on 22 December  a mining dispute connected with the Chinese was determined at Court; and on their return to the camp the losing party attacked the other side in a most savage manner, using very freely-long handled shovels, Chinese forks, and tomahawks, inflicting some very ugly wounds. Dr Schaffer was called in and under his care the wounded men are doing well. Five or six of the ringleaders were apprehended on the spot by the police and lodged in the lockup. They were afterwards brought before the Court and heavily fined.
During the fracas one of the wounded Chinamen was robbed of £20. A search warrant was issued to search the premises of Charlie Ah Chee, for the lost money. Sr. Constable Breen, whilst searching this fellow's bed, came across several little documents which were stolen from Mr. Horsburg's house at Nine Mile, together with a quantity of gold dust, on 12th Nov. last; thus connecting him with the robbery. Another party had been suspected of this robbery at the Nine Mile. Underneath the Chinaman's bed, upon which he had been sleeping were two or three small scraps of paper which 99 out of 100 men would have passed over. Breen detected a "water permit", a Post Office registration, and other memoranda which were stolen at the same time as the gold. Charlie Ah Chee has since been committed on this charge, and also for robbing the Chinaman.
An examination of the Kiandra Court Records from that time show that the dispute appears to have occurred as a result of a mining argument between two Chinese men named Ah Yan and Ah Foo. Case No. 15 of 22 December 1870 lists Ah Yan as the complainant and Ah Foo as the defendant. Ah Yan won the case, and apparently Ah Foo was not happy with the judgement. Police charges brought for trial before the Bench of Magistrates at Kiandra show that in Case Nos. 1-5 of 23 December 1870 Ah Foo and five other Chinese men were arrested for violent assault and each fined £5 or 4 months imprisonment, and that they chose to pay the fine.
As a result of the robbery during the above fracas, Kiandra Police Records reveal that Charlie Ah Chee was convicted on the charges of 'stealing money from a dwelling' and 'stealing money from a person' on 23 December 1870. He was sentenced to 18 months imprisonment.
This, however, was not the last that was heard about the results of the fracas. On April 14, 1870 a Sydney Morning Herald headline read 'MURDER AT KIANDRA', and the accompanying article said
Information was received in Cooma early on Thursday morning [30th March] says the "Monaro Mercury", 1st Inst. to the effect that a brutal murder had been committed in Kiandra on the previous evening. The victims name is Jemmy Johnson, the Chinese Interpreter at Kiandra, who died within an hour of the attack being made on him. The alleged murderer is also a Chinaman, who, it may be remembered by our readers, acted as interpreter in the case of stealing preferred at the last Cooma Quarter Sessions against the celestial Charlie Ah Chee, the latter having been committed from Kiandra. Dr Davidson started on Thursday morning for the scene of the murder. Verily, the Chinese seem to be a queer lot. The murderer has only recently arrived from Sydney, he having been engaged by wealthy Chinese merchants there to watch the late case against Chinese.
The above, somewhat belated, outcome of the above case, and the accompanying newspaper comments, reveal a significant degree of misunderstanding by the reporter, and probably many other Europeans, of Chinese people in Australia at that time. The incident, and the report, show that, even if the Chinese were regarded as 'a queer lot', they were certainly well organised and had extensive influence and communications networks throughout the country. As can be seen from the case, such networks meant that the Chinese arm of justice in Australia reached out from Sydney to correct what must have been seen as an apparent mishandling of a minor case of theft that occurred in faraway Kiandra. Whether or not murder was the planned outcome is, of course, not known. It may be that it happened accidentally as pressure was being brought to bear on the unfortunate interpreter who was seemingly held responsible for losing the case.
The simplicity and immediacy of the Chinese justice system, at least among the Chinese at Kiandra, is concisely stated by a Chinese man named Po Ti in February 1873. After an inquest into the murder of another Chinese man, named He Nock, on 25 January 1873 at Kiandra, the following report appeared
An inquest was held in Kiandra on 27th Ult. [of January] on the remains of a Chinaman, He Nock. Dr Daniell of Cooma made the post mortem. Senr Constable Walsh, J. M. Lett JP., Catherine Wheatner, Ah Sang, and Ah Loon gave evidence. A Chinaman, Po Ti was committed for trial for the murder. The deceased was stabbed. Po Ti said - "He Nock owe me money; no pay me; I cut him with knife" (Sydney Morning Herald, 3 February 1873 & Illawarra Mercury, 7 February 1873).
However it is not surprising that such events occurred during the 1870s as they were being played out against a backdrop of a stagnant township and a depleted goldfield. Reports from the Kiandra goldfield in 1871 give a grim picture of the area and say that
a good few of the original claims at the new rush, are about worked out, nor do the miners appear to find anything fresh, notwithstanding the endeavours of a great many who are prospecting in that direction. I would especially caution any man from coming here on mere "heresay", unless they are prepared for a couple of month's prospecting in the mountains. There is no work of any kind to be had at the new rush, therefore parties going with empty pockets could not remain long (Monaro Mercury, 21 January 1871).
In January and February 1872 a special correspondent for the Town and Country Journal undertook a 'Tour of the South' that ranged from Cooma to Kiandra and Lobb's Hole. His report of 2 March shows that the Chinese were a significant presence at Kiandra at that time, about 80 Europeans and 150 Chinese then lived in the township proper, and it gives an insight into the conditions and some of the activities of the Chinese then residing there
Mr. Horsburgh then accompanied me to the Chinese quarters, where active preparations were being made for celebrating the Chinese new year. Large supplies were being laid in of groceries. The bakers and butchers were also busy, as were also the Chinese tailors, making flags for their Joss Houses. The loud 'yabbeering' at two of the houses induced me to enter, and I found them to be gambling-houses. The Chinese did not seem to be the least disturbed by my entrance, but proceeded with the play. The game was by peculiar cards, long narrow strips of paper, about four inches and three quarters of an inch wide. The excitement was fearfully intense. I have seen nothing like it among Europeans. The money passed was in Chinese coin, but I believe they often play for English money. The rooms were crowded to suffocation. At the end of the game their pent-up feelings find vent in a storm of noise that a word would hardly be possible to be understood, I should think even in their own language. As an instance of the fearful extent to which gambling is carried out, one Chinaman was pointed out who, last year, having lost everything, had staked and lost his next winter's earnings, a penalty which he faithfully paid. (Town and Country Journal, 2 March 1872)
It was the nucleus of these remaining Chinese men who moved into buildings located on the southern outskirts of the town in the latter part of the nineteenth century. From there they became prominent businessmen in the Kiandra community. Thomas Ah Yan, probably the same Ah Yan who featured in the mining dispute of 1870/71, was one of these men.
Land Title records show that Thomas Ah Yan bought Lot No. 3 of Town Section No. 14 in Kiandra from John Maximus Lett, a Kiandra magistrate, miner and storekeeper, on 15 November 1882. A number of weatherboard buildings, including a store, were situated on that allotment.
This was at a time when the town was almost at a standstill, with only about 200 to 300 people, of which the Chinese comprised possibly a third of the population. Property prices would have plummeted and any European building owners or storekeepers would have been happy to sell their, probably, disused premises at very low prices. Most likely the buildings on the allotment purchased by Tom Yan were in disrepair and not in much of a habitable state when he bought the land. Photographs taken of the buildings in this area of town in the 1890s and early 1900s certainly show this to be the case at those times. Nevertheless, he had moved into the town and made a foothold there. This action seems to have marked a transitional phase at Kiandra showing the greater acceptance of Chinese, or at least some Chinese, into the remaining community.
Tom Ah Yan, later known as Tom Yan, had come a long way. He had been born in Canton, China in 1845, came to New South Wales when he was very young, and was at Captain's Flat and Tumut when there were gold rushes at those locations. He had worked at various occupations during his time in NSW, including as a packer, breaking in horses and, of course, as a miner. It is not known when he came to Kiandra but, apart from the mention of him in the 1870/71 mining dispute, he appears to have been there at least as early as the mid-1860s. Given that he had been in the Tumut area, probably at Adelong in 1858/59 when gold mining was in full swing there, it would also be safe to assume that he went to Kiandra in the early days of the gold rush in 1860, or shortly afterwards.
From genealogy records it appears that Catherine Johanna Wortz became Tom Ah Yan's de-facto wife in June or November 1868 at Kiandra. Catherine Weidner (sometimes written Whitner, Witner, Wheatner or Weeden) was born in the village of Schriesheim near Heidelberg in the State of Baden Baden, Germany, on 1 June 1846. She arrived in Melbourne, Victoria, from Germany on about the 20th of December 1854, on the German sailing ship 'Victoria', and lived at Albury, NSW, for around 9 years before going to Kiandra. When she was 17 she married a 26-year-old English farmer, Charles Cleveland Campbell Henry Heathcote McGeorge Angelo, in Yass, NSW, on 8 December 1863. Her first son, Charles Heathcote Weeden Angelo was born just over a year later, on 24 December 1864. Some time after she also had a daughter by this marriage.
At a later, unknown date, Catherine married Phillip Wortz (sometimes written Worts, or Wurts), and at that time her son, Charles, changed his surname to Wortz. By this time she and her husband were living at Kiandra. Charles grew up in Kiandra and married a local Kiandra woman, Sarah Jane Ball in 1886 in Cooma.
After a long illness, Catherine died, aged 66, on 11 August 1912 at Kiandra and was buried in the Kiandra Cemetery. Her grave is one of the few well-preserved sites in that Cemetery. Catherine, a German national, had resided in Australia for 58 years, and, probably in the knowledge of her impending death, must have expressed a wish be Australian before she died. She completed naturalisation documents on 31 July 1912, and they were sent off to the Department of External Affairs in Sydney. A Certificate of Naturalization (No. 14265) was issued for her at Sydney on 14 August 1912 - sadly, three days after she had died. The papers were returned to Sydney. Catherine Wortz stated in her application for naturalization that she had nine children. Seven of these were also Tom Ah Yan's children.
In his recollections, Bill Hughes, a former resident of Kiandra noted that Tom Ah Yan's store and residence stood on the eastern side of Cooma Street [The Snowy Mountains Highway] near Pollock's Gully. He noted that
It had a brick oven, well and pump plus several storerooms at the rear. I spent quite a bit of time on that pump and was rewarded with precious sweets. Mr. Yan, known to all and sundry as Tommy, was one of nature's gentlemen, slightly built, graceful, artistic. His account books were kept in Chinese script, each character being delicately formed with a fine (hair) brush and his reckoning done on an abacus. His grandchildren are well known, around Tumut (Hueneke 1987:45); and
There was one old Chinaman had a place, he sold confectionery and had a baker's oven and cooked bread (Hueneke 1976).
The years following Tom Ah Yan's move into the township proper in 1882 saw gold production at Kiandra continue to drop and, by the end of the 1880s the Chinese remaining at the camp about a kilometre from the town began to abandon it. Coincidentally, this was at a time when anti-Chinese sentiments were again growing in Australia. Although there appears to have still been some residual antipathy towards the Chinese in the area, the lack of profitable returns seemed to be providing an answer to any worries that the Europeans may have held in this regard at Kiandra
The Chinese Question is solving itself in this district. They have extracted all the gold out of the ground which had been opened, prospected, and left by Europeans, and the number working in the neighbourhood shows a very noticeable falling off during the last two or three years, which is amply confirmed by the fact that the Chinese storekeeper in their own wretched and tumble down camp is gradually selling off his stock with the intention of returning to his native land. (Sydney Mail, 3 March 1888).
By the early 1890s the Chinese camp, which once comprised hundreds of Chinese men at Kiandra in 1860, contained only a handful of men. At the time that the Census papers were distributed in early April 1891, one report noted that it was being "performed in a perfunctory way in this district" and that when
all the papers are supposed to be filled up tonight, the writer knows at least 5 or 6 places in the immediate neighbourhood of this town [Kiandra] where no papers have been delivered - for instance at the Chinese camp .., where 9 Chinese reside." (Sydney Mail, 11 April 1891).
It appears that by the turn of the century the Chinese camp at Kiandra had been completely abandoned.
A report in the Sydney Mail from 26 January 1889 says that there was only one European storekeeper in Kiandra, and that "The Chinaman has also disposed of his business in the same line to Ah Chee". As there were a limited number of Chinese storekeepers at Kiandra at that time - namely one - it may be assumed that 'The Chinaman' in this report is the same one referred to as 'selling of his stock' the previous year. The person named 'Ah Chee' in the latter report was a miner, George Ah Chee. He, and possibly Tom Ah Yan, appears to have been operating a store shortly after 1890 in one of the buildings on the southern outskirts of the town, on allotment No. 4 of Town Section 14, next to that owned by Tom Ah Yan. Land Title records show that George later bought that allotment on 11 April 1895.
No doubt this is the store referred to by Balbour when he described his trip through Kiandra in 1895
Kiandra at the South West end of what is called the Long Plain, a valley devoid of foliage but surrounded by wooded hills must present a particularly bleak picture in the Winter times. The town is composed of a short straggling narrow street or road with a few dilapidated buildings huddled together and chiefly inhabited by Chinamen. A bottle of milk and bread from a Chinese baker was obtained and after a few snow yarns were told for our benefit, we pushed on. (Gregors 1979:23)
George Ah Chee appears to have married a woman with the surname of Mae in Cooma in 1887, and together they seem to have had five children between 1892 and 1901. Although George sold his block of land in 1902, he seems to have remained in the area for at least short time afterwards. The Kiandra Court records show that he brought a case against Barbara Ball on 9 April 1904, accusing her of 'Throwing night soil in a public place'. Unfortunately for him the case was dismissed. There appear to be no records of his activities in the area after that time, which may indicate that he left Kiandra towards 1910.
However, when George Ah Chee sold his block of land, and presumably his store on the allotment, on 5 February 1902, it was to another Chinese man, Henry (known as Harry) Ping Kee, a carrier from Tumut. Harry married a woman named Catherine (Kate) from Kiandra, and they had a son, also called Henry, and a daughter. Harry raised his family in Kiandra while working at his store, again, probably in conjunction with Tom Ah Yan, for a number of years until 1916. During that time either Harry, or his young son Henry, was at one time negligent of their duties, for on 7 November 1906 Henry Lewis, Enacted Inspector of the Neglected Childrens' Act, and took Harry to court. Harry appeared before the Bench of Magistrates at Kiandra on a charge of 'Neglected child'. The outcome was that young Henry was released on probation to his father "on condition that the child [young Henry] to attend Church, Sunday School & Day School" and that he was "To have suitable home training" (Kiandra Court Records). The court appearance seems to have had the desired effect. The Public School Roll from the following year, 1907, shows that young Henry Ping Kee had an almost perfect attendance, at least for the first two quarters of the year shown in the available records.
Harry Ping Kee moved to Tumut sometime after 1916 and lived down towards the Washpen Lagoon. One Tumut commentator, Jack Bridle, later described him as the best known of all the Chinese of the Tumut Plains. According to Bridle, Ping Kee (or Pinkie as he called him), and his wife Kate and their family lived near the hill just upstream of the present Snowy Mountains Highway. When he knew Ping Kee, Kate had been long dead and was buried in the Old Cemetery at Tumut. Their daughter married Sum Lee and is still living in Tumut with her son, Arthur Lee. In the early 1930s Ping Kee had his wife's remains exhumed and re-buried on the hillside above Washpen Lagoon near where they lived. Bridle recalls that
I happened to be shepherding cattle on the road the day that Rolly Ibbotson came along in his spring cart, accompanied by Ping Kee and Catherine's remains wrapped up in boxes. I opened the gate for them, Ping Kee explained to me that it was too wet in the Old Cemetery and it was nice and dry on the hill. 'Ping Kee' he says 'is not buried there as some people believe'.
According to Bill Hughes
Ping Kee's Emporium, next to Tommy Yan's store, was owned by Ah Chee and Ping Kee. Opium smoking was the rule in the rear of the shop. I had the opportunity to see recumbent devotees kneading and rolling a little brown ball of opium on a hot palette before transferring it to the bowl of their pipe. It was this that eventually led to the destruction of the store by fire. The smell of the place was distinctive (Hueneke 1987:51).
These two stores belonging to Tom Yan and George Ah Chee/Harry Ping Kee, and the other buildings on allotments 3 and 4 of Town Section 14, formed the social and economic centre for the remaining Chinese at Kiandra until 1916. Bill Hughes recalled that Ping Kee's store was the town residence of the Nine Mile men (Chinese miners who worked at the gold diggings at Nine Mile Creek in the Kiandra district) when they walked in for a holiday or supplies (Hueneke 1987:53).
The above date of 1916 is significant in that it was the date that both stores on those allotments were destroyed by a fire, and a Chinese man named Jimmy Ah Doo died. The Cooma Express reported the fire
On Saturday last [13 May 1916] a fatal fire occurred at Kiandra, when a Chinese named Jimmy Ah Doo was burned to death. Mr. Coroner Gunn held an inquiry on Monday when a verdict of accidental death was recorded. The evidence showed that the deceased was seen entering the house at a late hour and shortly after the place was discovered in flames. The body was so badly burnt that it was impossible to recognise the features. The adjoining house was also occupied by a countryman of deceased [Tom Yan] and it was with difficulty that he was persuaded to leave the premises, exclaiming "Wha For !" "Wha For !" Both houses were destroyed (The Cooma Express, 19 May 1916).
Tom Yan had known Jimmy Ah Doo for at least 10 years in Kiandra. They were caught together illegally mining on Crown Land in late 1906 and taken to Court in early 1907. At the time they preferred to pay the fine of seven shillings rather than spend three days at hard labour in the Kiandra lock-up.
The fire was not only a tragedy in terms of loss of human life, but it also represented the passing of an era at Kiandra. The last of the early Kiandra Chinese had lost their gathering place in the town.
Tom Yan stayed in Kiandra with his family and continued to live and work there until his death on 27 October 1925, aged 80. He was buried in the Church of England section of the Kiandra Cemetery, but the location of the grave is unknown. He was the last of the full-blooded Chinese at Kiandra.
His death was reported in the Tumut and Adelong Times and twice in the Manaro Mercury in November 1925. One of these reports said
An old identity, Thomas Yan, 90 years of age [actually 80 years of age], died at Kiandra last week and was buried in the Church of England Cemetery. The service being conducted by the Rev. H. S. Brown. Deceased, who was born at Canton, came to New South Wales when young, and was at Captain's Flat and Tumut when there were gold rushes to those places. He went to Kiandra and worked on the Three-mile dam, and has lived at that centre since, where he owned some good claims from time to time. In his younger days he used to break in horses, being then considered somewhat of a "sport". He remembered the building of the old Kiandra Post Office, the timber for which was carried in by a number of his countrymen a distance of four miles. Deceased, who had for six weeks prior to his death been bedridden, was a widower and leaves two sons, George and Frank of Kiandra; and daughters, Mrs. George Ball, Victoria; Mrs. Madrid, Queensland; Mrs. Jacob Wilson, Mrs. Quinn (and Miss Quinn), all of Kiandra; 28 grandchildren, and two great grand-children. The funeral arrangements were carried out by Mr J. F. Allen. (The Manaro Mercury, 6 November 1925).
In fact, Tom Yan had seven children, not six as mentioned above. He and his partner, Catherine had two sons - George and Frank, and five daughters - Barbara, Catherine, Margaret, Mary and Emily. It was this generation that consolidated their place as respected Australian citizens at Kiandra and continued the Chinese legacy that started there with the gold rushes of 1860.
At this point it is interesting to note some of Bill Hughes' memories on the Chinese at Kiandra. His recollections come mainly from when he was a young boy at Kiandra in the early part of this century. He was born at the Nine Mile Diggings in 1903, grew up in Kiandra, lived and worked there for most of his life, and was the navigator on the first successful winter crossing from Kiandra to Kosciusko in 1927. He died in 1984 (Hueneke 1994:352). He knew the area and the people well
Ping Kee's was a happy hunting ground and a place of intrigue and wonder for the local children. It was a treasure trove of old Chinese bric-a-brac and lots of Chinese coins which they had brought out but could not spend, Chinese books, dragon papers, ginger jars, powder and shot flasks and the very earliest firearm shells. Using a prospecting dish one could probably still dig up some interesting stuff. If there was ever a joss house in Kiandra this would have been the premises.
Mr. Yan's [Tom Yan] wife was of Germanic origin, she was bedridden for a considerable time before her death . . .
Children were treated very kindly by the Chinese. There were no Chinese born women. On feast days, which were looked forward to eagerly, a procession set out from the town led by ceremoniously dressed mourners carrying baskets of fishcakes, rice puddings, ginger, rice brandy, salt preserved apples and prunes, lychees and peanuts for the cemetery. Slow burning joss sticks were lit and placed on the graves with the patter of Chinese and childish English. The food was spread out, rice brandy and wine sipped from tiny basins and the remainder emptied over the grave.
Some food and the still burning incense was left on the grave but most of it was repacked and taken back to town. Very little, if any, was eaten at the grave. It was in Kiandra that the big blow-out took place. Fireworks were let off continually on the way back to town and some unearthly yells indulged in to deter the spirit of the departed from following. . . . In later years well respected Chinese were buried inside the gates of the local cemetery, but previously they had been interned in a paling enclosure nearby. On occasion, when matured enough, the bones were sometimes dug out and returned to China.
As a small boy I can recall assisting two visitors to do this job; one crouching in the dark bottom of the hole and carefully ferreting out bone after bone separately and tossing them to the man kneeling at the top who wiped them carefully and added them to the pile which he assembled on a silk cloth. . . .
The Chinese used carrying sticks which were more likely to be of cane than the traditional bamboo. This cane had a spring in it and was 2-3 metres long. The loads were adjusted with a much higher percentage of weight on one end than the other and the bearer adopted a calculated jog which (with the spring in the stick) eased the weight off his shoulders momentarily each step or so, which was far better than carrying dead weight continuously. When carrying water or mining gear they always used a yoke. (Hueneke 1987:52-53)
An Australian Lineage
By 1903, when Bill Hughes was born, the eldest of Tom Ah Yan's children, George Henry, was 33 years old (and had three children), and Tom's youngest, Emily Therese, was already in her late teens.
All of Tom Yan's seven children appear to have been industrious and well-known identities in and around Kiandra in the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries. They were also excellent skiers. Many of them married locally and raised families in Kiandra and other areas in the district during that time. A number of current Tumut residents can trace their history to Tom Yan and Catherine Wortz from Kiandra.
George Henry Yan, Tom's eldest son, was born in Cooma in 1870. He married a Kiandra woman in 1897 at Adaminaby. Together they had 11 children, five boys - Frank (Jink), Reginald Thomas, Leslie James, George Arthur, Albert Eric - and six girls - Catherine Leila, Amelia (Millie), Ivy Rita, Irene Florence, Edith Pearl, and Phyllis Mary. One of these, Irene Florence Yan, married William (Bill) Paterick in Tumut in 1926. Bill Paterick was a postmaster at Kiandra, and was also a very proficient skier - winning the ski championships at Kiandra for a number of years.
Little is known of George's early life, but no doubt he helped in his father's store and probably also with his father's sporadic mining pursuits in the area. It appears that sometime after 1915 George was operating a store of his own in Kiandra. One of his docket books from February to June 1991 still survives (Hueneke 1987:25). The absent landlord George Irwin, Kiandra's schoolteacher from 1895 to 1899, who leased it to George until about 1924, owned the store. A letter that George Irwin wrote to George Yan from Canterbury, Sydney, on 28 January 1924 tells of this impending sale
It is now over twelve months since I was up with you, and we made an agreement regarding the purchase price of the Store etc. I did not rush things because I had to get the paddock lease extended, that is now completed and the lease will now run to the end of 1928.
You have a copy of the agreement and I would like to hear from you before starting to get the contract ready.
Please let me know as early as you can, I may no be able to get up this season.
Bill Hughes recalled that George Yan's store occupied a 15m frontage on Cooma Street [The Snowy Mountains Highway] (Hueneke 1987:48). The store has been the subject of a number of studies including by Gatis Gregors in 1979. Gregors' study gives a history of the store from when it was originally built in 1860 by Charles Cowper Junior, through the period of George Yan's ownership (until the 1930s or 40s), until it became derelict in the 1960s and was eventually demolished by the NSW National Parks and Wildlife Service in the late 1970s. He also provides a detailed description of the materials and construction stages of the store.
Gregors notes that George Yan, having gained some retail experience in his father's store, was expected to make at least a meagre profit from the store, but his mismanagement forced its closure shortly after he bought it (Gregors 1979:28). The two chimneys of that store, still known as Yan's store, have been restored and remain a landmark in Kiandra today.
George Yan and his sons also had other interests in the Kiandra area. He and two of his sons, Arthur and Frank, held extensive Snow Leases in the area around Kiandra, and established a house and a complex of other buildings on a Permissive Occupancy Lease not far from the town. In 1924 George Yan paid £6 3s 4p for 2,030 acres with an unimproved capital value of £592 for leased land in the area. By 1943 George and his sons were leasing over 20,000 acres of land around Kiandra.
George Yan also continued to mine for gold at Kiandra. A Mining Certificate of Title dated 27 April 1925, shows that George was the holder of the rights to a water race situated in Pollock's Gully that extended for half a mile. George Yan died in Tumut on 29 July 1952.
In 1978 Klaus Hueneke interviewed one of George's sons, Tom, at Adaminaby. In his recollections of the time he spent in and around Kiandra Tom stated that, probably in the 1920s and 30s, or before, "We have a store at Kiandra - the store, the hotel, the butcher shop, the hall, post office, had everything there". He noted that the two chimneys that were part of the store/residence, and remain today, were never used for baking but that "Grandfather [Tom Ah Yan] had the baker shop further down, towards that creek. Actually not far off the road, with Hughes. He had a baker shop, used to sell lollies, bread, anything." (Hueneke 1978:2-3).
Although 'having everything there' at Kiandra in the 1920s and 30s may have been an exaggeration on the part of Tom Yan (junior), in a sense he may have been right. In the tight knit community of Kiandra in the early part of this century Tom Yan's (senior) offspring had either married other local business people or formed alliances with them. One of Tom Yan's (senior) daughters, Margaret Elizabeth (known as Maggie), was the wife of the most prominent hoteliers in Kiandra, Jacob Wilson. Maggie also made a name for herself in her own right as a champion skier.
Maggie Yan was born 4 October 1878 in Tumut, and died there on 3 October 1972, a day short of her 95th birthday. She married Jacob Wilson, and together they owned and managed the Kiandra, and Alpine Hotels at different times at Kiandra, and later the Commercial Hotel in Tumut. Jacob was born in 'Assyria' (Lebanon) on 31 December 1869 and died on 16 October 1957. Between 1904 and 1917, the couple had five children - Roy, Thelma Kathleen, Enid Catherine, Emily Therese, and Irene Marie - all of whom were born at Kiandra.
Maggie was always an industrious and active woman. When very young in the 1880s and 90s she, together with a number of her siblings, were already entering and winning ski races at the Annual Snow Shoe carnivals held in Kiandra. In 1894 it is reported that both Miss M. Yan won Ladies Races, while her brothers George and Frank were winners and placegetters in other events. That year also saw the Chinese ski Race won by Ah Fat. In 1895, the Ladies Race was again won by Miss M. Yan, who was described as "a perfect artist on the shoes" Cooma Express, 9 August 1895. The same year saw Ah Foo win the Chinese race, with Ah Fun coming second, and Ah Wung and Ah Yen tying for third place. This latter race was described as "great sport to see the somersaults and grim death hold of the sticks" which was "amusing to all except the four entrants, who were not good skiers" (Cooma Express, 9 August 1895).
It has been reported that the Chinese had their own ski race as early as the 1860s. While extremely hard to corroborate, it is nevertheless interesting to see what some commentators have said about these early Chinese Races
In the 'sixties [1860s] the Club [the Kiandra Snowshoe Club] ran a special day's racing for the Chinese members; probably the first organised games in which the Chinese took part (Haskell 1942:3), and
The most colourful picture which has been handed down to us is that of special races for Chinese miners on the field; a heat of a dozen or so Chinese streaming down Township Hill, screaming and shrieking with pig-tails flying in the wind, freely lambasting with their long poles any rival who happened to get ahead (Ryman 1970:12).
Whether or not such colourful pictures occurred before the 1890s is unknown but by 1894, at least, there was a special ski race for the Chinese. In an interview in 1966, Maggie Yan attested to having witnessed Chinese miners skiing at Kiandra. That interview is also interesting as it identifies Maggie and her sister as being the first Australian Lady Ski Champions. Extracts of that interview appear below.
She will be eighty-eight years young on 4th October and is far more full of life, both physical and mental, than lots of skiers many, many years younger. . . .
Between us on the table was an old butter dish showing dull yellow where the electro-plate had long since worn off but not so worn as to render in the least illegible the inscription which runs, "Ladies Championship Season 1909 won by Mrs. Wilson."
Mrs. Wilson is the widow of the famous Jacob Wilson of Kiandra. Mrs. Wilson was born Margaret Yan, born, yes born and bred at and always loyal to Kiandra and the great tradition it established in the skiing history of Australia. Mrs. Wilson's father was Chinese and her mother German. They were mining families but lived in and about Kiandra for years after the main gold rush had ceased. In 1900 she married Jacob Wilson in Cooma and they then took over the Kiandra Hotel.
"You were pretty successful on ski's [sic] weren't you, Mrs. Wilson?" I asked.
"I won the ladies championship four years in succession," she replied.
"Nice work," I said, "and your sister was pretty hot stuff on the skis too wasn't she?"
"Yes, she was, and she won the championship, the ladies championship, years before I did. When she knocked off, I took her place and I was the champion." . . .
"And what did you use for moko, for wax?" [Mitchell]
". . .and some of the moko was better than others, moko they used to call it . . ." [Maggie]
"That's it . . . it was some word meaning 'more go' wasn't it?"
"I don't know."
"Wasn't it a Chinese rendering of the English words 'more go'?"
"I don't know where it got its name from."
"Was it true that the Chinese miners wore their long pants and their black coats and their pig-tails when they went skiing?"
"I never saw them in those clothes but they always had the pig-tails of course . . . sometimes they'd fall down and their pig-tails would be flying back behind them, . . ."
My good friend Maggie commented, "You know, it was funny in those days, one of the ladies remarked what was I doing, half Chinese having the cheek to ski race with white people."
"And what did you say to that," I asked.
"I told her what was the difference between her and me anyway?" . . .
"And then how long is it since you have been skiing now?" I asked.
"Oh, I've never done any skiing since I left Kiandra."
"When did you leave Kiandra?"
"1927." (Mitchell 1966:34-35 & 59)
Although the above only shows glimpses of the lives and descendants of two of Tom Ah Yan's sons and daughters, George and Maggie, his other five sons and daughters also provided Kiandra with a new lease of life as they grew up there around the turn of the century. As well as Maggie, three of his other daughters - Barbara, Catherine and Mary - were also married, two of them to local men. His other son, Frank, and one of his daughters, Emily, apparently never married.
Today the descendants of Tom Ah Yan and Catherine Wortz may found be living and working as close as Tumut, and as far away as Far North Queensland.
The Final Word
The final word on the history of the Chinese at Kiandra must go to Tom Ah Yan. He came to Australia when he was very young, probably, in search of his fortune. Along with hundreds of his countrymen he went to Kiandra in the early 1860s to find that fortune. However his fortune was not to be found in precious metals but in finding a new home and establishing a family. He was the last of the full-blooded Chinese at Kiandra. When he died there in 1925, aged 80, he was given the respect befitting a prominent citizen, and buried in the Church of England section of the Kiandra Cemetery. His burial certificate is somewhat misleading, as it gives his age as 90 and his name as Tom Yan. His death certificate, however, is more accurate and gives his age as 80 and his real name, his Chinese name, as Fook Ying.
Lindsay M. Smith
BA UNE, GradDipArts(Prehistory) MA ANU
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