From Canton to Parramatta

The earliest Chinese contact with Australia appears to have come from fishermen searching the north-western coastline of Australia for sandalwood, bêche-de-mer (trepang) and sea cucumbers. Chinese sources actually refer to a 1477 map that shows the outline of the Australian continent. In the journal of HMS Investigator (1802–1803), Matthew Flinders noted that the Aboriginal people of the Gulf of Carpentaria seemed familiar with firearms and iron tools, and he reported seeing pieces of earthen jars, bamboo latticework and other articles which he thought to be of Chinese origin. Records show that about 18 Chinese settlers had immigrated to Australia before 1848. The earliest known Chinese immigrant to arrive in Sydney is reported to have been Mak Sai Ying.

Chinese labourers 1850

Chinese labourers 1850

Chinese Labour

Life for Chinese labourers in Australia before the 1850s was often one of physical hardship in harsh conditions. On the right, Chinese labourers in search of work walk along a winding country road past bullock teams. On the left, Chinese workers are clearing bushland.

China Rose

China Rose

China Rose

In the early 1800s walking through a beautiful & lush exotic garden around the Red Cow Inn in Parramatta. China Roses were a luxury in the new colony. Roses originally came from China, not from England.

John Shying (1798 – 1880)

Mak Sai Ying (1798 -1880) was born in Guangzhou (Canton) and is one of the first recorded Chinese born to settle in Australia. He arrived as a free settler in 1818. He purchased land in Parramatta and was granted the licence for The Lion, a public house in Parramatta. He was known by many names, including John Pong Shying, Mak Sai Pang, Mai Shi Ying, Mark Opong, and (possibly) John Sheen. Mak Sai Ying married Sarah Jane Thompson (1802 – 1836) on 3 February 1823 in St John’s Church, Parramatta.

Mei Quong Tart (1850 – 1903)

Mei Quong Tart was a complex individual. Chinese born, he was arguably one of the most westernised of Australia’s Chinese. A successful businessman, particularly as a tea importer and restauranteur he also worked for social causes both within and outside the Chinese community. Mei received some education in China before arriving in Sydney in 1859 at the age of nine. In 1886 he married an English women, Margaret Scarlett and had six kids – 4 daughters and 2 sons.

Posts – From Canton to Parramatta

The ‘White Australia’ Policy

There was never an actual policy or law that was referred to as the ‘White Australia’ policy. Rather, the ‘White Australia’ policy refers to a range of policies which determined Australia’s approach to immigration from the 1850s, until its official abolition in 1973....

George Tin Sing

George Tin Sing, who was also known as George Sing, arrived in Australia from China in 1893. He was eighteen years of age. George worked throughout Australia as a storekeeper and greengrocer. In 1905 he received his naturalisation papers in Perth. George remained in...

Chinese Settlement in New South Wales

Life for Chinese labourers in Australia before the 1850s was often one of physical hardship in harsh conditions. On the right, Chinese labourers in search of work walk along a winding country road past bullock teams. On the left, Chinese workers are clearing bushland....

Mak Sai Ying Aka John Shying

Private John Joseph Shying, Grandson of John Shying, Source: Sydney Living Museum Photo - Charles Picking Courtesy Winsome Doyle Chinese migration and settlement in New South Wales has a long history. Records show that about 18 Chinese settlers had immigrated to...

Cheng Fan-Cheong/ Ah Hing /Henry Fine

Henry Fine (Ah Hing)  and Lily Ah Poo Wedding June 1896. Brad Powe family photographs and documents, 1862-1931, relating to Chinese ancestry. State Library of NSW. Henry Ah Hing Fine Chong was a successful merchant and portraitist who lived and worked in Parramatta...

George (Guoc) Ah Poo

Born in Canton, China in 1843, George (Guoc) Ah Poo also known as George Harper arrived in the colony of NSW before 1862. Ah Poo was one of the many Chinese immigrants who came to Australia seeking to make their fortune on the gold fields.  Following the anti-Chinese...

Rosa Chinesis – China Rose in Parramatta

Rosa chinesis was introduced from China to the Western World between 1760 and 1790 resulting in horticulturalists and nurseries hybridising the plant. Many different species were created, including the China rose, tea roses, Noisette rose and other varieties. Rosa...

History of Chinese Market Gardens

Three market gardens in La Perouse, among the oldest in the State, have been listed on the State Heritage Register for their significant heritage values, particularly to Sydney's Chinese community. Working farms with links to the life of 19th century Sydney, they are...

Images From Our Collection

Resources From Our Collection

Resources From Our Collection
  • Williams, Michael, Chinese settlement in NSW : a thematic history, NSW Heritage Office, 1999
  • Clyne, Joanna, Smith, Richard & Hodges, Ian, Chinese Anzacs, Canberra Department of Veterans’ Affairs, 2015
  • Cheng, Shirley, Cooking and sharing – a booklet of Chinese recipes, Dundas, N.S.W. : Dundas Area Neighbourhood Centre Chinese Social Group, 2013 (Chinese and English versions)
  • The Chinese Times newspaper [microfilm], 12 December 2002 to 27 March 2003
  • Ryan, Jan, Ancestors : Chinese in colonial Australia, Fremantle, W.A : Fremantle Arts Centre, 1995
  • Stacker, Julie, Chinese immigrants and Chinese Australians in NSW, ACT : National Archives, 1998, c1996
  • Boileau, Joanna, Families of fortune : Chinese people in the Tweed, Murwillumbah, N.S.W. : Tweed Shire Council, 2009
  • Jones, Doris Yau-Chong, Remembering the forgotten : Chinese gravestones in Rookwood Cemetery 1917-1949, Pymble, N.S.W. : Invenet, c2003
  • Fitzgerald, Shirley, Red tape, gold scissors : the story of Sydney’s Chinese, [Sydney] : State Library of New South Wales Press, 1997
  • Brook, Jack, From Canton with courage : Parramatta and beyond: Chinese arrivals 1800-1900, [Parramatta], N.S.W. : Jack Brook, 2010
  • Jones, Paul, Chinese-Australian journeys : records on travel, migration and settlement, 1860-1975, [Canberra] : National Archives of Australia, c2005
  • Pearson, Michael, Tracking the dragon : a guide for finding and assessing Chinese Australian heritage places, Canberra : Australian Heritage Commission, 2002
  • Gervasoni, Clare, Castlemaine petitions : petitioners for a Castlemaine municipality and petitioners against the Chinese Residence Licence, Ballarat, Victoria : Ballarat Heritage Services, c1998
  • Young, Faye, Sources for Chinese local history and heritage in New South Wales, Kareela, N.S.W. : F. Young ; Alexandria, N.S.W. : N. van Barneveld, 1997