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Chin Kaw (1865–1922)

by K. S. Liew

This article was published in Australian Dictionary of Biography, Volume 7, (MUP), 1979

Chin Kaw (1865-1922), by unknown photographer

Chin Kaw (1865-1922), by unknown photographer

National Archives of Australia, B6443:1134

Chin Kaw (1865-1922), popularly known as Ah Kaw, merchant and community leader, was born on 17 July 1865 at Shui-hu village, K'ai-p'ing district, T'ai-shan county, Kwangtung province, China, son of Chin Lang Lan, merchant, and his wife Yu Chin Lang Lan, née Yugim. Many details of his career cannot be established with certainty. About 1879 he arrived at the Chinese tin-mining community of Thomas's Plains, near Weldborough in north-eastern Tasmania, where his uncle Chin Ah Heang owned a general grocery and herb store. Besides helping in this retail business and later taking up mineral leases in the area, the young Ah Kaw found his basic literacy a great help to his uneducated fellows. He returned to China in the mid-1880s and married Luey Fong, daughter of a well-respected Sunning-shan family, in 1887. He was back in Tasmania by 1890 and the subsequent arrival of his wife as a 'princess' from China stirred local imagination.

In 1899 Ah Kaw moved from Weldborough to Launceston where he established Sun Hung Ack & Co. in St John Street. He took over the general store and wholesale tobacconist business of James (formerly Chin) Ah Catt, another Cantonese who had already had business dealings with Ah Kaw and Ah Heang in the establishment in 1890 of the store Ah Catt & Co. at Thomas's Plains. Ah Catt was a well-known and popular 'Christianized' Chinese whose funeral on 18 November 1907 was the largest in Launceston for some time and at which the hymn 'Rock of Ages' was sung first by the European mourners and then by the Chinese in their own language.

In subsequent years Ah Kaw took an extensive interest in mining and banking enterprises as well as local welfare, including the well-being of his own countrymen. He early identified his interests with those of his adopted land and was naturalized as a British subject. His shop became an important meeting-point for the Chinese migrants who used it for news of their native land, for remitting money home and as a place of rest and recreation.

Before Federation Chin Kaw was one of those who sought to circumvent the impending immigration restrictions by speeding up migration to Tasmania, where, although a poll-tax was exacted from each Chinese migrant, the limitation on numbers was less severe than in the other colonies. He was probably one of the four Launceston merchants who petitioned against the immigration restriction bill in August 1898. His efforts continued to be gratefully remembered by many Chinese families in various parts of Australia. In 1916, as the mining industry in north-eastern Tasmania was tapering off and the Chinese population dwindling, Ah Kaw moved to Melbourne as a herbalist. He died on 11 April 1922 at Hawthorn after a short illness, survived by his wife, four daughters and six sons, two of whom were to graduate in medicine and law respectively from the University of Melbourne. Following traditional custom, his remains were sent back to China to occupy a place of honour in his ancestral temple.

Select Bibliography

  • Cyclopedia of Tasmania (Hob, 1931)
  • Examiner (Launceston), 16, 18 Nov 1907
  • Weekly Courier (Launceston), 27 Apr 1922
  • private information.

Citation details

K. S. Liew, 'Chin Kaw (1865–1922)', Australian Dictionary of Biography, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University, http://adb.online.anu.edu.au/biography/chin-kaw-5581/text9523, published first in hardcopy 1979, accessed online 22 February 2018.

This article was first published in hardcopy in Australian Dictionary of Biography, Volume 7, (MUP), 1979

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