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‘True and Pious Men’: Anglican Ministry to Chinese Settlers in Southern Queensland, 1850–1914

Published online by Cambridge University Press:  31 January 2020

Little Brothers of Francis, Tabulam, New South Wales


Chinese men began emigrating to the Australian colonies from the 1840s onward. Past historiography has been sceptical of the impact of Christianity on these Chinese immigrants. This paper revisits this theme, placing it in the wider context of mission to Chinese immigrants in other anglophone countries. It documents the ministry of the Anglican Church among Chinese settlers in colonial Queensland, and especially the role that Chinese converts played in the evangelisation of their fellow countrymen. It provides a new perspective on the ways in which the Chinese embraced Christianity, and their contribution to the evangelisation of their countrymen.

Research Article
Copyright © Cambridge University Press 2020

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This paper was originally presented at the Dragontails Conference in Bendigo, Victoria, in December 2017. My thanks are due to attendees who constructively criticised that version. Thanks also to Margaret Slocomb, David Hilliard, Beverley Kingston and Marian Quartly, who commented on earlier drafts of the paper, and to the reviewers for this Journal.

It should be noted that most colonial Chinese – the majority of whom were illiterate in their own language, and so were very dependent on the spoken word for communication – were from the ‘four counties’ of the Pearl River area in Canton/Guangdong, and spoke various dialects of Cantonese, some of which were mutually incomprehensible. ‘Cantonese’ (sensu lato) is used throughout this article with this proviso.


1 Curthoys, Ann and Markus, Andrew (eds), Who are our enemies? Racism and the Australian working class, Neutral Bay, NSW 1978Google Scholar. Particularly relevant are the chapters in this volume by Keith Willey, Frank Lewis, Verity Burgmann, C. N. Conolly, Ann Curthoys and Ray Markey. See also Markey, Raymond, ‘Race and organised labor in Australia, 1850–1901’, The Historian lviii (1996), 343–60Google Scholar.

2 It would be difficult to locate and collate all the relevant material from the different Christian denominations whose members sought to evangelise the Chinese. Often their work was not central to the objectives of the various Churches’ activities, which may be one way of viewing Cronin, Kathryn's conclusions in her Colonial casualties: Chinese in early Victoria, Carlton, VIC 1982, 123Google Scholar. Likewise, Shirley Fitzgerald is diffident about the inroads of Christianity into the Chinese community in Sydney: Red tape, gold scissors: the story of Sydney's Chinese, Sydney 2007, 136–7.

3 Raymond Evans and Kay Saunders eloquently explain the context of this historiography in the preface to the 1988 edition of Raymond Evans, Kay Saunders and Cronin, Kathryn, Race relations in colonial Queensland; a history of exclusion, exploitation and extermination (1975), St Lucia 1988Google Scholar. See also Curthoys, Ann, ‘“Chineseness” and Australian identity’, in Chan, Henry, Curthoys, Ann and Chiang, Nora (eds), The overseas Chinese in Australia: history, settlement and interactions, Canberra 2001, 1629Google Scholar.

4 Austin, Denise, ‘Kingdom-minded people’: Christian identity and the contributions of Chinese business Christians, Leiden 2011CrossRefGoogle Scholar. See also Howard Le Couteur, ‘“The Mongolian candidate”: James Chiam's 1861 election to the Maryborough municipal council’, paper given at the Australian Historical Association conference, Sydney University, 7 July 2015, 7, 8.

5 Yong, C. F. provides a very helpful overview of missionary activity among Chinese settlers: The new gold mountain: the Chinese in Australia, 1901–1921, Richmond, SA 1977, 201–8Google Scholar.

6 Cole, Keith, The Anglican mission to the Chinese in Bendigo and central Victoria, 1854–1918, Bendigo 1994, 110Google Scholar.

7 Austin, Denise, ‘Citizens of heaven: overseas Chinese Christians during Australian Federation’, in Couchman, Sophie, Fitzgerald, John and McGregor, Paul (eds), After the rush: regulation, participation and Chinese communities in Australia, 1860–1940, Fitzroy, VIC 2004 (Otherland Literary Journal ix [2004]), 7588Google Scholar; Ian Welch, ‘Alien son: the life and times of Cheok Hong Cheong (Zhang Zhouxiong), 1851–1928’, unpubl. PhD diss. ANU 2003; ‘Cheok Hong Cheong, 1851–1928’, St Mark's Review clxxi (Spring, 1997), 23–6; and ‘The Anglican Chinese mission in Victoria, Australia, 1860–1898’, St Mark's Review clxi (Autumn, 1995), 26–30; Fitzgerald, John, Big white lie: Chinese Australians in white Australia, Sydney 2007, esp. pp. 177209Google Scholar; Kuo, Mei-fen, Making Chinese Australia: urban elites, newspapers and the formation of Chinese-Australian identity, 1892–1912, Clayton, VIC 2013, esp. pp. 3951Google Scholar.

8 Cole, The Anglican mission, 18, 22, 23, 41, 43. This was also the pattern adopted in Sydney under the Revd George Soo Hoo Ten, and in Brisbane.

9 Ibid. 109, 110.


10 Places mentioned are easily located using mapping software.

11 Wang, Jiwu, ‘The Chinese community's response to Protestant missions prior to the 1940s’, Canadian Ethnic Studies xxxiii/2 (2001), 1630Google Scholar; ‘Organised Protestant missions to Chinese immigrants in Canada, 1885–1923’, this Journal liv (2003), 691–713; and ‘His dominion’ and the ‘yellow peril’: Protestant missions to Chinese immigrants in Canada, 1859–1967, Waterloo, ON 2006.

12 Idem, ‘Organised Protestant missions’, 691, 710, 712.

13 Ward, W. Peter, ‘The Oriental immigrant and Canada's Protestant clergy, 1858–1925’, BC Studies xxii (Summer, 1974), 4055Google Scholar at p. 44.

14 For example, Ng, James, Windows on a Chinese past, II: Round Hill; Alexander Don; missions; mixed marriages; the opium evil, Dunedin 1995, 72, 136, 138, 143Google Scholar.

15 Ibid. 157.


16 Moloughney, Brian and Stenhouse, John, ‘“Drug-besotten, sin-begotten fiends of filth”: New Zealander and the oriental other’, New Zealand Journal of History xxxiii (1999), 4364Google Scholar, esp. pp. 60–2.

17 Susan Chivers, ‘Religion, ethnicity and race: the mission of the Otago Church to the Chinese, 1860–1950’, unpubl. MA diss. Otago 1992, 92–4.

18 Stevan Eldred-Grigg, Diggers, hatters and whores: the story of the New Zealand gold rushes, Auckland 2011; Stevan Eldred-Grigg and Zeng Dazheng; White ghosts, yellow peril: China and New Zealand, 1790–1950, Dunedin 2014.

19 Cronin, Kathryn, ‘The yellow agony’, in Evans, Raymond, Saunders, Kay and Cronin, Kathryn, Race relations in colonial Queensland: a history of exclusion, exploitation and extermination, St Lucia 1975, 289–91Google Scholar.

20 Morrison, Hugh, ‘Negotiated and mediated lives: Bolivian teachers, New Zealand missionaries and the Bolivian mission, 1908–1932’, Itinerario xl (2016), 429–49CrossRefGoogle Scholar.

21 Darnell, Maxine, ‘Life and labour for indentured Chinese shepherds in New South Wales, 1847–55’, Journal of Australian Colonial History vi (2004), 137–58Google Scholar.

22 He had been appointed to the cure of the Darling Downs in 1850 by Bishop William Tyrell of Newcastle, of whose diocese the Downs was a part.

23 Benjamin Glennie, ‘The Australian diary of Benjamin Glennie’, unpubl. typescript, biographies and histories box, Arnott Reading Room Library, Anglican Diocese of Brisbane Archives, Brisbane; Maurice French, Pubs, ploughs and ‘peculiar people’, Toowoomba 1992; Watson, Tom, ‘The Reverend Benjamin Glennie: a lone survivor?’, Journal of the Royal Historical Society of Queensland xiv (1992), 433–48Google Scholar; Hogg, Robert, ‘An Anglican clergyman on the frontier: Benjamin Glennie on the Darling Downs, 1848–1860’, Journal of Religious History xx (2016), 185203CrossRefGoogle Scholar.

24 This author has a copy of the marriage certificate. See also Kate Bagnall, ‘Golden shadows on a white land: an exploration of the lives of white women, Chinese men and their children in southern Australia, 1855–1915’, unpubl. PhD diss. Sydney 2006, 110, 134–5.

25 Glennie, ‘Diary’, entries for 21, 31 Mar., 31 May 1857. The following year Keong was naturalised, a sign of his self-understanding as a settler rather than as a sojourner.

26 The Church Chronicle xi (1 Sept. 1900), 21.

27 Hogg, ‘An Anglican clergyman’, passim.

28 Margaret Slocomb mentions another Chinese Christian in Ipswich, Sim, John: Among Australia's pioneers: Chinese indentured pastoral workers on the northern frontier 1848 to c. 1880, Bloomington, In 2014, 277Google Scholar.

29 From 1857 to 1870 the Revds T. L. Dodd, R. Postlethwaite, D. C. Mackenzie, H. J. Poole, H. C. Claughton and G. G. Danvers baptised the children of Chinese men in Maryborough. In Gayndah the Revds D. C. Mackenzie, W. H. Dunning, H. Claughton, T. V. Alkin, Charles West, Frederick Richmond, F. R. Newton and Bishop Hale recorded such baptisms in the Gayndah register up to 1877.

30 Maryborough Baptismal Register, Anglican Diocese of Brisbane Archives; Slocomb, Among Australia's pioneers, 266–8.

31 Michael Gladwin has exhaustively documented the ministry of early Australian Anglican clergy, giving us a much broader appreciation of their contribution to colonial society, including a more sympathetic understanding of the plight of indigenous Australians: Anglican clergy in Australia, 1788–1850: building a British world, Woodbridge 2015. For the work of Anglican clergy among Aborigines see pp. 153–62. In the period covered by Gladwin the Chinese population was negligible.

32 Slocomb, Among Australia's pioneers, 277, citing MBFP, 23 Aug. 1859.

33 Ibid. 276, citing Dundas Crawford, ‘Notes on Chinese immigration in the Australian colonies’, 1877, Great Britain Foreign Office Archive, 1879–81, confidential print no. 3742, <>.


34 Le Couteur, ‘“The Mongolian candidate”’, passim.

35 Moreton Bay Courier, 20 Nov. 1861, 2. He took his oath on the Bible, gave his birthplace as Amoy in China and described himself as a butcher.

36 My thanks are due to Sue Laidlaw of the Anglican Diocesan Archives in Brisbane and to Sandi Robb for this information.

37 Bishop Hale made a strong reference to this in his reply to an address of welcome after his arrival in Brisbane: ‘Reception of Bishop Hale’, Brisbane Courier, 17 Dec. 1875, 3.

38 Keith Rayner, ‘The history of the Church of England in Queensland’, unpubl. PhD diss. University of Queensland 1962, 56ff.

39 Cronin, Colonial casualties, 17.

40 For Bishop Hale's appointment see Rayner, ‘History of the Church of England’, 69.

41 Robin, A. de Q., Mathew Blagden Hale: the life of an Australian pioneer bishop, Melbourne 1976, 4157Google Scholar; Gourlay, Michael, The good bishop: the story of Mathew Blagden Hale, Brisbane 2015, 2536Google Scholar.

42 Brisbane Courier, 17 Dec. 1875.

43 Synod proceedings: Diocesan yearbook 1887, Brisbane 1887, p. xvi.

44 CEM, 1 Oct. 1874, 12; Cole, Anglican mission to the Chinese, 23–5.

45 Cole, Anglican mission to the Chinese, 23.

46 Ballarat Star, 19 Jan. 1878, 2.

47 CEM, 1 Oct. 1874, 12.

48 Ibid. and 6 May 1875, 4; Argus, 5 Oct. 1877, 3. See also Cole, Anglican mission to the Chinese, passim.


49 CEM, 5 Oct. 1877, 3. Welch specifies that he was catechist at Hepburn Springs from 1874 to 1879: ‘Alien son’, 375.

50 Ah Chee was a farmer at Synott's Diggings and was baptised by the Revd J. B. Stair at St Arnaud on 30 November 1873: CEM, 1 Oct. 1874. On Ah Chee see Cole, Anglican mission to the Chinese, 29, 82, 83; Ballarat Star, 19 Jan. 1878, 2; and Argus (Melbourne), 16 May 1879, 4.

51 CEM, 5 Oct., 1877, 3. Bishop Hale referred to the delay in Ah Chee's departure for Brisbane in a sermon at Christchurch, Milton: Brisbane Courier, 30 Apr. 1879, 2.

52 See also ‘Odd notes by a Bohemian’, and ‘Correspondence’, The Week, 26 June 1880, 2, 18, in which the Revd Black was involved in something of a verbal ‘stoush’ with ‘Bohemian’ and the Catholic priest, Fr Dennis Fouhy, over Ah Chee's ministry to a condemned man in the Brisbane gaol and the condemned man's subsequent baptism. The material published is more interesting for its coverage of Ah Chee's ministry than of the ‘stoush’.

53 The Telegraph (Brisbane), 13 Apr. 1880, 2.

54 See n. 30 above.

55 ‘Diocesan synod’, The Week, 17 June 1882, 8. Welch records that he became a lay-reader under the Revd Fong Yat San at St Stephen's Hong Kong, and that he later moved to Kowloon: The Missionary at Home and Abroad (Mar. 1884). Both Cronin and Welch claim that Ah Chee was dismissed from his post in Brisbane, but I have been unable to find any verification of this in Brisbane sources. See Welch, Alien son, 520.

56 ‘Diocesan synod’, The Week, 17 June 1882, 8. Author's emphasis.

57 ‘King Tem’ and ‘Chinese catechist’, The Telegraph (Brisbane), 18 Feb. 1889, 4, 5.

58 The Rev. Bernard R. Wilson of Portsea and Brisbane: a memoir, Portsmouth 1910.

59 TPC, Sept. 1887, 4. According to the Revd Manley Power this was organised by the Revd Bernard Wilson. For Soo Hoo Ten see Yong, The new gold mountain, 204.

60 TPC, Oct. 1887, 5.

61 The Telegraph (Brisbane), 14 Oct. 1887, 5.

62 Ibid; Gympie Times and Mary River Mining Gazette, 11 Oct. 1887, 3; TPC, Nov. 1887, 3.


63 TPC, Nov. 1887, 3.

64 TPC, July 1888, 5.

65 TPC, Mar. 1889, 7. See also n. 44 above.

66 The Telegraph (Brisbane), 18 Feb. 1889, 4, 5; Brisbane Courier, 18 Feb. 1889, 4; The Queensland Times, Ipswich Herald and General Advertiser, 19 Feb. 1889, 5; Brisbane Courier, 19 Feb. 1889, 4; 22 Feb. 1889, 4; The Queenslander, 23 Feb. 1889, 346.

67 Archdeacon Nathaniel Hawes was the incumbent of South Brisbane parish, and soon to become the first Anglican bishop of Rockhampton.

68 The Queenslander, 23 Feb. 1889, 346.

69 The Queensland Times, Ipswich Herald and General Advertiser, 19 Feb. 1889, 4.

70 There was a strong anti-Chinese movement in Queensland at the time: John Potts, One year of anti-Chinese work in Queensland, with incidents of travel, Brisbane 1888; Welch, ‘The Anglican Chinese mission’, 29–30.

71 Diocesan yearbook, 1889, Brisbane 1889, 36.

72 Diocesan yearbook, 1890, Brisbane 1890, 97–8.

73 The Week, 4 Dec. 1891, 15.

74 TCC, 6 Dec. 1891, 4. The Church Chronicle followed on from The Parish Chronicle as the diocesan magazine.

75 Gympie Times and Mary River Mining Gazette, 28 June, 1892, 2. See also TCC, 1 Feb. 1893, when King Tem took advantage of Christmas holiday excursion fares to take the train to Gympie and Bundaberg.

76 Ian Welch notes this Hong Kong connection: ‘The Anglican Chinese mission’, passim.

77 TCC, 1 Nov. 1892, 4.

78 Ibid.


79 TCC, 1 Feb.1893, supplement; 1 Mar. 1894, 13.

80 TCC, 1 Feb. 1893, supplement; 1 June 1893, 12.

81 TCC, 1 Nov. 1893, 3.

82 TCC, 12 Nov. 1894, 2; The Telegraph (Brisbane), 12 Nov. 1894, 2.

83 ‘Brisbane diocesan synod’, Brisbane Courier, 9 June, 1898, 7; TCC, 1 Aug. 1898, 9.

84 He was probably invited there by Frodsham, with whom he worked in Brisbane: TCC, 1 Jan. 1903, 91.

85 Riverine Grazier, 17 Dec. 1897, 2.

86 TCC, 1 Oct. 1900, 39; Brisbane Courier, 15 June 1901, 12. Leong Bong returned to his former ministry at Hay and Narrandera. He returned to China in 1903 for health reasons but was back in Sydney again in 1909: Johnston, S. M., A history of the Church Missionary Society in Australia and Tasmania, Sydney 1925, 294, 297Google Scholar.

87 TCC, 1 Dec. 1900, 75; Brisbane Courier, 15 June, 1901, 12.

88 Brisbane Courier, 3 Dec. 1904, 13.

89 TCC, 1 Oct. 1902, 43; The Week, 26 June, 1903, 31; TCC, 1 July, 1904, 186.

90 The Anglicisation of King Tem's name had shifted a little. In this and other reports he is referred to as King Tim.

91 Brisbane Courier, 25 Nov. 1904, 5.

92 Ibid. 3 Dec. 1904, 13.


93 See also Diocesan yearbook, 1904, Brisbane 1904, 150.

94 He was particularly supported by his brother-in-law, Leong Hing Leong, a prominent Brisbane merchant and leading member of the Chinese community in Brisbane: Brisbane Courier, 27 May 1905, 5; 17 June 1905, 14.

95 Current research by this author on the ministry of the Revd George Soo Hoo Ten in Sydney bears this out. The popular press, represented by satirical journals like The Bulletin (not unlike London's Punch), and labour movement publications (Bull-Ant, The Boomerang), promulgated anti-Chinese sentiment and satirised the Church.

96 Diocesan yearbook, 1905, Brisbane 1905, 66; Diocesan yearbook, 1907, Brisbane 1907, 75; Diocesan yearbook, 1908, Brisbane 1908, 82.

97 The Telegraph (Brisbane), 22 June 1906, 7; Brisbane Courier, 5 June 1907, 4; 13 June, 1907, 4.

98 The Queenslander, 10 Mar. 1906, 13.

99 Queensland Figaro, 19 Mar. 1908, 3.

100 The Telegraph (Brisbane), 14 Oct. 1937, 19.

101 Keith Cole records a similar decline in Bendigo and Maryborough in Victoria: Anglican mission to the Chinese, 73, 87.

102 This is first noted in the Diocesan yearbook of 1907.

103 Diocesan yearbook, 1906, Brisbane 1906, 162.

104 Also noted in the Canadian context: Ward, ‘The Oriental immigrant’, 44.

105 There is a biting satire of this in the Truth (Brisbane), 26 Jan. 1908, 9. See also, The Bulletin, 21 Aug., 1886, 11.

106 Jane Samson, Race and redemption: British missionaries encounter Pacific peoples, 1797–1920, Grand Rapids, Mi 2017. John Harris made similar arguments in his history of missions to indigenous Australians: One blood – 200 years of Aboriginal encounter with the Christian story of hope, 2nd edn, Sutherland, NSW 1994. The New Testament challenge is in Luke xxiv.48.

107 Cole, Anglican mission to the Chinese, passim, but esp. pp. 12, 13.

108 Diocesan yearbook, 1909, Brisbane 1909, 82.

109 Montgomery had been bishop of Tasmania, and Frodsham was writing to him in his capacity as the secretary of the Society for the Propagation of the Gospel in London; Rayner, ‘History of the Church of England’, 178.

110 Markus, Andrew, Fear and hatred: purifying Australia and California, 1850–1901, Sydney 1979Google Scholar; Markey, ‘Race and organised labor in Australia’, passim; Fitzgerald, Red tape, gold scissors, passim; Lake, Marilyn and Reynolds, Henry, Drawing the global colour line: white men's countries and the international challenge of racial equality, Cambridge 2008CrossRefGoogle Scholar; Chang, Kornel, ‘Circulating race and empire: transnational labor activism and the politics of anti-Asian agitation in the Anglo-American Pacific world, 1880–1910’, Journal of American History xcvi (2009), 678701CrossRefGoogle Scholar.

111 Welch, ‘The Anglican Chinese mission’, 26–30 at p. 29. See also Reeves, Andrew, ‘Trade Unionism and the Australian mining industry: the influence of central Victorian goldminers, 1870–1920’, in Reeves, Keir and Nichols, David (eds), Deeper leads: new approaches to Victorian goldfields history, Ballarat 2007, 164, 166Google Scholar. On anti-Chinese feeling among unionists Reeves cites Merritt, J., The making of the AWU, Melbourne 1986Google Scholar. Other resources include Yong, C. F., The New Gold Mountain: the Chinese in Australia, 1901–1921, Richmond, SA, 1977, 12Google Scholar, and Cronin, ‘The yellow agony’, 289–318.

112 Frederick Richmond, Queensland in the seventies, Singapore 1927.

113 Ibid. 42–4.


114 Ibid. 44.


115 Ibid. 48.


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