The Melbourne See Yup Temple stelae: a genealogical resource

by Ely Finch

Entrance to the See Yup Temple, 2019 (© Paul Macgregor)
One of the two stelae inside the temple (© Paul Macgregor 2019)

The See Yup Temple in South Melbourne was erected in 1866, as a combination of club house, temple and memorial hall for people from the 四邑 See Yip (a.k.a. See Yup, Four Districts) region of Guangdong Province. It replaced a simpler wooden building that dated from 10 years earlier, and is now the oldest and grandest Chinese temple in Australia. Inside are two large stone tablets, also called stelae, embedded in an inner wall.

These stelae are inscribed with thousands of Chinese characters, and list the names of the organisers, community representatives, and individual donors who brought about the building’s 1866 reconstruction. The community representatives are listed by city or township, and these fifty-two place names provide a unique insight into the geographical spread of See Yip people in the colony of Victoria at this point in the gold rush. Most of the surface of the plaques, however, is taken up with the names of around a thousand individual donors, who are listed according to their native See Yip district, in order of the size of their donation. These names thus constitute a valuable source for genealogical research.

Our Chinese Past is about to commence a project to transcribe the See Yip stelae’s donor names onto our website,  and to present them with romanisations, so that they can be correlated with the names of 19th-century Chinese Australians in English-language historical records.

As an example of the genealogical benefits of these stelae, I discovered on one the name 陳亞植 “Chen Ah Jack”, and next to it the name 陳觀社 “Chen Quin Sia”. Chen Ah Jack is known to be another name for 陳觀植 Chen Quin Jack, the great-great-grandfather of Our Chinese Past committee member Kira Brown. Family oral history has it that Chen Quin Jack came to Australia with an elder brother and lived in Ballarat, Victoria, before moving to Tingha, NSW. The 陳觀社 “Chen Quin Sia” named on the stelae might be that elder brother, his surname and the first character of his given name being identical to Chen Quin Jack’s.

A detail from the donors’ stela, with the names highlighted for 陳亞植 “Chen Ah Jack” and 陳觀社 “Chen Quin Sia”. Chen Ah Jack may be Chen Quin Jack, who later moved to Tingha, NSW, and Chen Quin Sia may be his elder brother.

This is a continually evolving website, and more information about these stelae will be published as further research is conducted.