A brief historical background

by Juanita Kwok

Tingha was founded on the land of Anaiwan and Gamilaraay people, who were dispossessed of their land by pastoral settlement commencing in the 1830s. The name Tingha originated from pastoral settlers Darby and Goldfinch, who were granted a depasturing licence for 80,000 acres in 1842, and called their run Tiengah, after a local Indigenous word for flat or level.[1

In the late 1840s and early 1850s, Chinese indentured labourers, mostly from Amoy, were brought to work five year contracts on pastoral runs in northwest New South Wales. When the goldrushes began in the 1850s, some Amoy men made their way to the Northern Goldfields. Others remained in the district after the completion of their contracts and continued working for pastoralists. Many of these married European women and had families, eg. John Guan married Elizabeth Battersby at Beverly station Bundarra in 1858; James Suey married Elizabeth’s sister Margaret Battersby at Wellingrove Station in 1860. [2] James Kim was working on The Grove station when he married Catherine Hibbet in 1869.

Tin was found on runs where Chinese shepherds were employed, such as Copes Creek, where in 1870, the bushranger Captain Thunderbolt robbed the wife of a Chinese shepherd on Captain Swinton’s run.[3] Company mining began in 1870 when prospectors Millis and Fearby applied for a conditional purchase of 240 acres of land on Tiengah. They employed a private surveyor to survey 100 acres of the selection into a town which they named Tingha, naming the streets after the gemstones found in the area. Together with other partners, Millis and Fearby formed the Britannia Mining Company and applied for the mining rights along the creeks. The company started mining tin along the banks of Copes Creek Tingha in 1871, about the same time as the Elsmore Sluicing Company commenced operations at the site of Joseph Wills’ tin discovery at Elsmore.[4] In March 1872, nearly all Copes Creeks and its tributaries were taken up in mining leases.[5] At the same time, tin was being mined at Wylie Creek, Wilsons Downfall and Glen Innes in northern NSW and at Stanthorpe and Warwick in Queensland.[6] Chinese were amongst the earliest to mine for tin in the north west. In March 1872, a newspaper report stated that “Chinese have availed themselves of the facilities for acquiring land and have taken up a number of blocks with the intention of mining”.[7]  

Chinese miners worked on their own leases, amongst the most successful of which was Chinaman’s Lead near the Tingha – Guyra road, which was worked continuously from 1873 to 1899.[8] Besides the Amoy men, large numbers of Chinese from the Pearl River Delta had been drawn to the northern goldfields and so when the mining focus turned from gold to tin, there were already experienced Chinese miners and merchants on the ground with an established system for exporting ore from the northern goldfields to Hong Kong via Sydney through the port of Grafton. In 1874, it was reported that boarding houses and lodges were legion in Tingha, many of them kept by Chinese. 400 “whites” and 200 Chinese (including a Chinese doctor) were on the field at Tingha and numerous parties both “whites” and Chinese were working claims on the tribute system. [9] In 1876, Millis and Fearby transferred ownership of the town of Tingha to the Britannia Mining Company under a freehold title.[10]  This company and other European owned companies, such as the Wesley Mine, employed workers on tribute.[11] Under the tribute system, miners did the work for the European leaseholders and in return for their labour received a percentage of the tin produced. In the 1870s and 1880s, Australia was the largest tin producer in the world and the Tingha area was Australia’s major tin mining district.[12] Between 1 January and 21 April 1881, 1425 of 2404 Chinese who arrived in Sydney went to the tin mines at Tingha and other places in the northern districts.[13]The tin boom was at its peak from 1881 to 1883.[14] In 1883, it was reported that Chinese were the chief workers in the tribute system.[15]

Besides living in camps on the mining leases, a Chinatown was established in Tingha, initially comprised of bark huts on Amethyst Street and the ends of Diamond, Ruby and Sapphire streets and Howell Road. 鄭尚 Chin Ah Song, who had moved to Tingha from the Rocky River goldfield, opened a store on Ruby Street in 1874, which he operated for the next 29 years. Sam Kee, who had arrived from Queensland, opened a store on the opposite side of Ruby Street. 陳 觀 植 Chen Quin Jack, who had come from Victoria via Uralla is credited with building both the Wing Hing Long store on Ruby Street and a temple on Howell Road.[16] George Gent Hoy had a store on Diamond Street.

Wing Hing Long store, Tingha
Wing Hing Long store, Tingha, built by Chen Quin Jack. Photograph courtesy Kira Brown.

Tingha was a town in which Chinese-European marriages were not uncommon. Emily Yaupang, the daughter of Samuel Yaupaung (Yap Hong) and Esther Holland married storekeeper Sam Kee, while her sister Agnes married dealer 李 基 祥 Lee Kee Chong. [17] Ellen Tootong, the daughter of Esther McClure and Amoy miner William Tootong married merchant Fong Mon How.[18] Mary Ann Fuller, who married Chen Quin Jack, was Esther McClure’s daughter from a previous marriage. Tingha storekeeper George Gent (G.G.) Hoy married Susan Miriam Long in a Roman Catholic ceremony in 1882.[19]

Chen Quin Jack Chinese miner and wife Mary Anne Fuller c1890s
Portrait of – Chen Quin Jack (Chan Gwin-Tsack / 陳 觀 植) on left. Family portrait of Chen Quin Jack, with his wife Mary Ann Fuller and possibly their firstborn child – William Henry ‘Billo’ born 1887, this could date the photo to late 1880 to mid-1890s. Photographs courtesy Kira Brown.

There were also women in Tingha who were born in China. In the early 1880s John Ah See and his wife Sam Kue (Kwok) who had operated a store in Grafton, moved with their children to Tingha.[20] Ah Lin, the Chinese wife of Chin Ah Song lived in Tingha between 1888 and 1894. Stories and artefacts belonging to other Chinese-Australian families, such as the Duck Chongs, the Fongs and the family of herbalist Dr Tet Fong are documented in historian Janis Wilton’s Golden Threads book.[21] The Chinese female population of Inverell in 1891 was second only to Sydney’s.[22]

In 1885, there were at least three buildings described as joss houses in Tingha.[23] Translation of temple artefacts by Ely Finch has revealed that Chen Quin Jack and Tingha storekeeper 梁林勝 Samuel Lum Sing were temple donors.[24] Artefacts also reveal that the Yee Hing Association, known in English as the Chinese Masonic Society, had a strong presence in Tingha. The presence of John See and his family in Tingha suggests an active Yee Hing membership in Tingha. The visit of Liang Kai Chu (Liang Qichao) in 1901 indicates the Chinese community had a keen interest in political reform in China.[25]

Amongst the Chinese Australian community were many who converted to Christianity. In mid-1884 the Wesleyan Methodist Mission appointed the Reverend Joseph Tear Tack to minister to the resident Chinese population in Tingha.  Tear Tack, his wife Emma Tear Tack  (nee Lee Young) and family lived in Tingha until 1896.[26] 

Wesleyan Methodist Church Tingha. The caption on the original photograph reads “The interior of the present Methodist church Tingha. The minister is a Chinese missionary Rev, Tear-Tack. You will notice the congregation are mostly Chinese. This church was built by a Chinese carpenter when most of Tingha’s population were Chinese”. Photograph courtesy Kira Brown https://chenquinjackhistory.com/2018/07/08/wesleyan-methodist-church-tingha/

The economic dependency of European leaseholders and pastoralists on Chinese tributors, intermarriages and the leadership of prominent citizens such as George Gent Hoy and the Reverend Tear Tack allowed the Chinese community to flourish in Tingha. Clan and village distinctions and racial boundaries were overcome to form a community with a strong Chinese Australian identity. [27] The “suburban Chinatown” became the centre of the business district in Tingha. In 1902, four of five general stores in Tingha were managed by Chinese people.[28] 

Due to a drop in the price of tin, drought and a raft of anti-Chinese legislation, this population began to decline towards the end of the century. Nevertheless, Chinese Australian families maintained a significant presence in Tingha well into the twentieth century, playing an active part in the social, sporting and economic life of the community.[29] The Sam Kee store managed by Tommy Wong Young, then Edward and Lily Fong, and their sons and later their nephew Gordon Fong, stayed in business up until 1975. The Wing Hing Long store was in cooperative ownership before Chinese herbalist J.J. Lowe bought out the other partners in 1918. The store remained in the hands of members of the Lowe family until 1998 when J.J. Lowe’s daughter Mavis Pratt retired from management. The Wing Hing Long store, now a museum on the NSW State Heritage Register, houses a number of temple artefacts.[30] Tingha also maintained a significant Aboriginal population – predominantly Anaiwan nation and Nucoorilma clan of Gamilaraay nation. Descendants of Aboriginal-Chinese marriages between Boney – Suey, Williams – Loy, Livermore – Loy and Elizabeth “Dolly” Bloomfield – Samuel Kim still live in Tingha and the northwest today.

With thanks to Gillian Oxley and Malcolm Oakes for sharing their genealogical research and Kira Brown for sharing her family history research and photographs.

[1] Helen Brown, Tin at Tingha.  Broadmeadow, (NSW: Newey and Beath Printers Pty Ltd, 1982), 14.

[2] Elizabeth BATTERSBY to John GUAN at Armidale NSW BDM M1219/1858; Margaret BATTERSBY to James SUE [SUEY] at Wellingrove NSW BDM M2734/1860. Three other Battersby sisters married Chinese men – Ann BATTERSBY to Josephs [Joseph] HAY [HONG HAY] at Armidale NSW BDM M1400/1865; Sarah BATTHERSLY [BATTERSBY] to Tom LOYS [LOY] NSW BDM M1540/1868; Isabella BUTHERSBY to SEE Tie at Inverell NSW BDM M5058/1882. See also Elizabeth Wiedemann, A World of Its Own: Inverell’s Early Years 1827-1920.  (Inverell: Inverell Shire Council, 1981), 217.

[3] “Miscellaneous News”, Australian Town and Country Journal, 21 May 1870, 4, accessed 14 July 2021, https://trove.nla.gov.au/newspaper/article/70459614/4761197

[4] Helen Brown, Tin at Tingha, 25-28.

[5] “Elsmore-Newstead-Middle Creek and Cope’s Creek”, Maitland Mercury, 12 March 1872, 4, accessed 14 July 2021, 12 Mar 1872 – ELSMORE—NEWSTEAD—MIDDLE CREEK— AND COPE’S CREEK. – Trove (nla.gov.au)

[6] “The New England Tin Mines”, Maitland Mercury, 9 July 1872, 3, accessed 15 July 2021, https://trove.nla.gov.au/newspaper/article/18764988/135941

[7] “The Tin Mines”, The Sydney Mail and New South Wales Advertiser, 23 March 1872, 363, accessed 31 October 2022.

[8] Helen Brown, Tin at Tingha, 34.

[9] “N. Towns and Tin Mines”, The Armidale Express and New England General Advertiser, 7 March 1874, 7, accessed 8 July 2021, https://trove.nla.gov.au/newspaper/article/188979104

[10] Helen Brown, Tin at Tingha, 28.

[11] Brown, Tin at Tingha, 34; “Mines and Mining”, Australian Town and Country Journal, 18 August 1877, 18, accessed 8 July 2021, https://trove.nla.gov.au/newspaper/article/70608307

[12] “New England”, Singleton Argus, 12 December 1883, 2, accessed 8 July 2021, https://trove.nla.gov.au/newspaper/article/82594567

[13] State Archives New South Wales: Colonial Secretary Special Bundles, Chinese Immigration 1880-81, NRS 7933, 81/2897, Letter from George Read Esq. Superintendent in Charge, No. 1 Police Station, Sydney, 21 April 1881.

[14] Brown, Tin at Tingha, 34.

[15] “New England”, Singleton Argus, 12 December 1883, 2, accessed 8 July 2021, https://trove.nla.gov.au/newspaper/article/82594567

[16] Brown, Tin at Tingha, 109.

[17] See Samuel Yaupaung and Lee Kee Chong in Kira Brown’s blog, Chen Quin Jack, accessed 23 July 2021, https://chenquinjackhistory.com/

[18] See Kira Brown’s blog, “Chen Quin Jack”, accessed 8 July 2021, https://chenquinjackhistory.com/

[19] NSW BDM M4975/1882 Susan LONG to George Gent HOY at Murrurundi.

[20] See Kate Bagnall, Chinese Women in Colonial New South Wales: From Absence to Presence” Australian Journal of Biography and History, Vol 3, 17-19, accessed 8 July, 2021 https://eprints.utas.edu.au/35493/

[21] Janis Wilton, Golden Threads : The Chinese in Regional New South Wales, 1850-1950.  (Armidale: New England Regional Art Museum in association with Powerhouse Publishing, 2004).

[22]  The 1891 Census of NSW 1891 -Ages – Table VII recorded a total population in Inverell of 8647 people 693 of whom were Chinese. Of 44 Chinese women in Inverell, 33 were under 21 (probably half caste). 44 of a total of 601 women in the colony, second to Sydney with 67 Chinese women.

[23] “Notes on a Northern Tour”, Sydney Morning Herald, 2 March 1885, 4, accessed 8 July 2021, https://trove.nla.gov.au/newspaper/article/13576689; Helen Brown, Tin at Tingha, 100-101.  

[24] See Ely Finch Annotated Translations, Processional Placard 1 and candlesticks.

[25] See Rodney Noonan, “Grafton to Guangzhou: The Revolutionary Journey of Tse Tsan Tai.”  Journal of Intercultural Studies 27, no. 1-2 (2006).

[26] See Gill Oxley, “Emma Tear Tack nee Lee Young”, in Kate Bagnall’s blog The Tiger’s Mouth, 2016, accessed 8 July 2021, http://chineseaustralia.org/emma-tear-tack/

[27] See “A Chinese Banquet”, Evening News, 25 May 1882, 3, accessed 19 July 2021, https://trove.nla.gov.au/newspaper/article/108204307

[28] Elizabeth Wiedemann, A World of Its Own: Inverell’s Early Years 1827-1920.  (Inverell: Inverell Shire Council, 1981).

[29] See Rodney Noonan, “Trophies in the Window: Chinese Department Stores, Rugby League and the Great Depression in New England.” Sporting Traditions 26, no. 1 (2009).

[30] Wing Hing Long Museum Tingha website, accessed 8 July 2021, http://www.nnsw.com.au/winghinglong/index.html