IDENTIFYING TEMPLE DONORS – “Cheung Ah Tze” 張阿四 Thomas See

By Juanita Kwok and Gill Oxley

Amongst the temple artefacts Our Chinese Past (OCP) researched in the Temples project, is a pair of plaques in the collection of the Inverell Pioneer Village Museum, dubbed on the OCP website the “Names Plaque dated 1866” and “Donation Plaque dated 1866.” [1]

Our Chinese Past member Paul Macgregor identified these plaques as having been made for a temple that opened in Rocky River in 1866. The names plaque lists the names of two firms and 153 people that were members of the “Yeung Fook Tong” association.[2] These members are given to have collectively donated one or more entrance adornments and door-like screens to the temple, including the Yeung Fook Tong Entrance Adornment.[3] So far only a handful of persons named on the names plaque have been identified. Now, thanks to family history research by Joanne Real and translations by Ely Finch, it seems likely another person has been identified – “Cheung Ah Tze” 張阿四 Thomas See.

Name plaque dated 1866 - Inverell Pioneer Village
Names Plaque dated 1866 – at Inverell Pioneer Village (IMG_6881 16.4.21) Our Chinese Past website, Photo by Paul Macgregor.

Names plaque dated 1866 – Our Chinese Past

Processional Placard 1 – at McCrossin’s Mill (IMG_4533, 15.7.19), Our Chinese Past website, Photo by Paul Macgregor,
Processional Placard 1 – at McCrossin’s Mill (IMG_4533, 15.7.19), Our Chinese Past website, Photo by Paul Macgregor.

Processional placards – Our Chinese Past

Previous research established that Joanne’s great-great-grandfather Samuel Lum Sing, a storekeeper at Tingha, was a donor who contributed to the temple furnishings of the 1883 Howell Road temple in Tingha.[4] Samuel Lum Sing’s name 梁林勝 “Leong Lum Sing”, is inscribed on the picket support of one of six processional placards now housed at McCrossins Mill Museum in Uralla. [5]

New research indicates that Joanne’s great-great-great-grandfather, Thomas See (1835-1905), was one of the 155 donors named on the earlier temple artefact mentioned above, the Donor Plaque dated 1866. This discovery came about after Joanne photographed Thomas See’s gravestone in Armidale Cemetery and commissioned Finch to produce an annotated translation of the Chinese characters. He transcribed and translated the inscription as follows:

安邑張碧波公墓 Grave of Mr. “Cheung Pik-Po” of On Yap.

Gravestone of Thomas See, Armidale Cemetery (2016). Photo courtesy of Joanne Real
Gravestone of Thomas See, Armidale Cemetery. Photo courtesy of Joanne Real (2016).

Research led Finch to the conclusion that Thomas See’s Chinese surname was 張 “Cheung/Jong”, his given name 泗 “See” (familiar form “Ah See”), and his courtesy name 碧波 “Pik-po”.[6] His home district of On Yap 安邑 is another name for the district of San On, in the 廣州府 prefecture of Canton, in the 大清國 Manchu or Ts῾ing Empire’s 廣東省 province of Kwang-tung. San On once encompassed the entire area of Hong Kong and much of the modern-day 深圳市 city of Shenzhen.”[7]  

From information on Thomas’s marriage certificate, we can calculate that he arrived in Australia in or about 1854.[8] Joanne and other family members have no documents to provide clues as to what Thomas did between his arrival in 1854 and his marriage to Caroline Louisa Kraatz in 1870.[9] The given name Ah See, which might also indicate a fourth-born son, became a common surname of Chinese people in Australia, and there are many contemporaneous records for persons named Thomas or Tommy Ah See.

Finch’s research on temple inscriptions for the OCP Temples project may provide an answer as to where Thomas See was in 1866. The name “張阿四” features in the ninth row of the 1866 names plaque; it is transliterated on the OCP website as “Cheung Ah Sze” but could also be written “Cheung Ah See” or “Jong Ah See”. Given that Thomas and family later settled in the Armidale district, it is quite possible that he is the “Jong Ah See/Cheung Ah Sze” named on the Rocky River donation plaque. The district of origin on Thomas See’s gravestone also fits with Finch’s finding that many of the persons named on the 1866 names plaque likely hailed from the San On region.

The OCP Temples project established that Chinese miners from Rocky River near Uralla migrated to Tingha, taking temple artefacts with them. It is possible that Jong Ah See was amongst them, though as yet no evidence of him living in Tingha in the 1860s has been found. It is uncertain when he was baptised and given the name of Thomas, but this may have been when he moved to Rockhampton, where there were gold rushes, firstly at Canoona in 1858, then at Crocodile Creek in 1865 (re-named Bouldercombe), Rosewood in 1867 and Mount Morgan. The Reverend Hartley was active at these diggings and may have baptised Jong Ah See as Thomas.[10]  The town of Rockhampton grew up around Port Curtis and by 1868, storekeepers Sue Yek and Wing Wah had opened stores in Rockhampton.[11]

On 20 September 1870, 27-year-old boarding-house keeper “Thomas Gong See” married 16-year-old domestic servant Caroline Kraatz in the Primitive Methodist Church in Rockhampton. Caroline was born 1854 in the village of Grüneberg, Brandenberg, Germany. Her parents Gottfried Kraatz (1820-1895) and Charlotte Christine Caroline Eggert emigrated from Germany in 1861/1862.[12] Gottfried was indentured to a property owner at Albinia Downs, between Springsure and Rolleston, Queensland.[13] According to a family story, Thomas See and Caroline Kraatz met at Springsure. On their marriage certificate, the officiating minister was Robert Hartley.

In February 1871, Thomas and Caroline were in Sydney, where Thomas was a storekeeper at 112 Gloucester Street when the couple’s first daughter Annie Susan Gongsee was born.[14] The store was in Sydney’s first Chinatown at the Rocks, close to shipping arrivals and departures.  

By 1872, when the couple’s second daughter Sarah Jane See was born, the couple had moved once more, this time to Oban, New South Wales, the site of a tin mining rush in early 1872.[15] Sarah’s birth at Oban in 1872 makes it likely that the Ah See who was selling bags of tin ore from his store in August 1872 was Thomas Ah See[16]. If so, Thomas was very early on the field.

By 1874, the family had moved to the Armidale district, where all the children bar Annie, Sarah and thirteenth child Lester were born. This does not mean all were born in Armidale per se, but rather that Armidale was the registration district for the area where the family lived at the time. In all, fifteen children were born to the couple, of whom fourteen survived into adulthood. Their names were Ada Margaret, Frances Caroline, William Henry, Samuel Allen, George Augustus, Charles Frederick, Alfred Walter, Louisa Grace, Godfrey (who died in infancy), Archibald Phillip, Lester Maximilian, Godfrey Edward and Harold Oliver. Of the children, all apart from Samuel married, but only Sarah and George married into the Chinese community.

The birth of Lester, which was registered at Inverell in 1888 and the marriage of daughter Sarah to Samuel Lum Sing in 1889 at the Chinese Wesleyan Church at Tingha in 1889, suggest Thomas, Caroline and family were in Tingha in 1889. Tingha not only had a significant Chinese population, but also a significant population of Chinese Australian families, including the family of John See and Sam Kue, who moved from Grafton to Tingha around 1882 and lived there until 1887.[17]  According to figures provided by archaeologist Rebecca Lin Yit, in 1890 the combined Chinese population of Tingha and the other centre of tin mining Emmaville was 1050, compared to the combined European population of 800.[18] A news article dating from 1876 suggests that Thomas had an earlier connection with Tingha in the 1870s. The account of a court case in 1876 involving the theft of a mare mentions that Ah Fat, of Copes Creek Tingha, notified Ah See, boarding house keeper at Armidale, about the theft.[19]

For the most part, the family lived in Armidale, where historical parish maps from NSW Land Registry Services show that the See family owned two adjoining portions of land, totalling 93 acres, from at least 1896. These were portions 325 and 326 in the Parish of Armidale, County of Sandon, located approximately between Tilbuster Ponds Creek and Dumaresq Creek. [20]After Thomas died in 1905, Caroline appears to have lived mainly in Armidale until she died at age 83 in 1938. There is a brief mention of her residing in Sydney in the 1935 newspaper obituary of her first son, William Henry.[21] Although six of her children predeceased her, electoral rolls from 1930 to 1937 indicate that Caroline’s primary residence from at least 1930 onwards was 82 Erskine Street, Armidale.[22] The same electoral rolls also show that sons Alfred and Harold, their wives, and, later, some of Caroline’s adult grandchildren lived close by.[23]

Caroline See née Kraatz (1854 – 1938) Image courtesy of her grandson, Max See, 2015.

Caroline is buried in the Presbyterian section of Armidale cemetery, and her husband Thomas is buried nearby. Thomas See’s grave has one of only three headstones in Armidale’s old cemetery with a Chinese inscription. At the time of his death, his occupation is stated on his death certificate as “gardener”. His newspaper obituary of Saturday, 20 May 1905, in the Armidale Chronicle describes him as “an honest, industrious man” and states that he was laid to rest in “the Chinese portion of the general cemetery”.[24] The same obituary also tells us that his funeral was “very numerously attended”, a testament to his character and to his popularity in the Armidale district and surrounds.[25] Despite a thorough search, Finch has been unable to locate any reference to his death in Chinese-language newspapers.[26]

Thomas See’s life demonstrates his remarkable energy and entrepreneurship, being on the forefront of new business opportunities at Rockhampton, Sydney and Oban before settling at Armidale. Thomas does not seem to have been naturalised and therefore may have been unable to purchase land in his own right. His marriage to Caroline assisted his success, providing him with family life, facilitating communication, social and economic transactions, and giving him the ability to acquire land in his wife or children’s names. See Sandi Robb, 2019, for more information on how the presence of women and wives assisted Chinese Australian families to thrive and communities to grow and endure.[27] Thomas’s life is also indicative of the mobility of Chinese businessmen before colonial and then Commonwealth laws restricted their inter-colonial mobility and business opportunities.

The authors extend their thanks to Joanne for sharing her family research and photos. Joanne in turn adds her sincere thanks to all the See cousins who contributed to piecing the family story together, in particular, Susan Hayes, Christina Cree, Bev Karonidis (deceased), Anne Hollis, Liz Foster, Fred Hillier, Leslie “Phil” See (deceased), Max See and Coral Forbes.

The authors also gratefully acknowledge the input of Ely Finch and Kira Brown in researching, writing and publishing this post.

This is a continually evolving website, and more information about this topic may be published as further research is conducted.


[1]Finch, Ely and Macgregor, Paul, Names Plaque Dated 1866, 2022, https://ourchinesepast.org.au/names-plaque-dated-1866-inverell-pioneer-village; https://ourchinesepast.org.au/donation-plaque-dated-1866-inverell-pioneer-village

[2] “Yeung Fook Tong” is an organisational name whose constituents give it the overall sense of “association that hopes for good fortune”. The form and auspicious sense of the name “Yeung Fook Tong” is typical of temple-committee names.

[3]  https://ourchinesepast.org.au/yeung-fook-tong-entrance-adornment-wing-hing-long

Note that romanisation in inverted commas is the translator’s romanisation rather than one that has been confirmed to have been used historically. It is fashioned according to older spelling conventions for the standard Cantonese pronunciations of the characters in question.

[4] (1) CONNECTING TEMPLE DONORS AND DESCENDANTS…. – Our Chinese Past Inc | Facebook

[5] Finch, Ely and Macgregor, Paul, Processional Placards – Set of Six Placards Originally Displayed in the 1883 Howell Road Temple in Tingha, 2022, https://ourchinesepast.org.au/processional-placards-mccrossins-mill

[6] Finch, Ely, Translation of Thomas See’s Gravestone Inscription and Associated Research, 2023.

[7] See the translation, ibid, for an explanation in full.

[8] Online index entry for Thomas See and Caroline Kraatz, married 20 September 1870, Registrar of Births, Deaths, and Marriages Queensland, 507/1870.

[9] Sandi Robb identified Thomas See and Caroline Kraatz as the great-great-great grandparents of Joanne Real.

[10] “No title”, The Rockhampton Bulletin and Central Queensland Advertiser, p.2, https://trove.nla.gov.au/newspaper/article/51565611

[11] “The Sue Yeks of Rockhampton”, The Central Queensland Herald, 23 June 1955, p. 29, https://trove.nla.gov.au/newspaper/article/79250721; “Advertising”; Northern Argus, 30 May 1868, p.3, https://trove.nla.gov.au/newspaper/article/214369093

[12]  Mützelburg, Owen B, A Goodly Heritage, Toowoomba, Australia: Downs Printing, 1980.

[13] Ibid.

[14] Online index entry for Annie Gongsee, born 1871, Registrar of Births, Deaths, and Marriages New South Wales, 442/1870.

[15] No trace can be found of the registration from 1870 to 1879 inclusive of the birth of Sarah Jane See with the parents recorded as Thomas See and Caroline Kraatz”, NSW Registrar of Births, Deaths and Marriages, 2008, (on her 1st and 2nd child’s birth certificates, it states Sarah was born at Oban NSW (personal communication, 2024, Joanne Real).

[16] “A charge of stealing tin ore”, Armidale Express and New England Advertiser, 3 August 1872, p. 3. https://trove.nla.gov.au/newspaper/article/188987885

[17] Bagnall, Kate, Chinese women in colonial New South Wales: From absence
to presence, Australian Journal of Biography and History, 2020

[18] Lin Yit, Rebecca, The Archaeology of Chinese Suburban Settlement, Hons, ANU, 2005, p. 13.

[19] “Local Intelligence”, The Armidale Express, 1 December 1876, p. 6, https://trove.nla.gov.au/newspaper/article/188959311

[20] NSW Land Registry Services, Parish and Historical Maps, “Parish of Armidale, County of Sandon” 1896, https://www.nswlrs.com.au/Parish-and-Historical-Maps

[21] “Mr. William Henry See”, The Manning River Times and Advocate for the Northern Coastal districts of New Sout Wales (Taree), Saturday 7 September 1935, p. 3. 

[22] Ancestry.com Operations, Inc., New South Wales Electoral Rolls 1930 – 1937. Provo, UT, USA (2010), Original data: Australian Electoral Commission; Canberra, Australia; Electoral Rolls.

[23] Ibid.

[24] “Mr. Thomas See”, The Armidale Chronicle, 20 May 1905, p. 5.

[25] Ibid.

[26] Finch, Ely, Translation of Thomas See’s Gravestone Inscription and Associated Research, 2023, p. 5.

[27] Robb, Sandi, North Queensland’s Chinese Family Landscape: 1860-1920 PhD, James Cook University, 2019.