An unclaimed cover in 1882 turned out to be a revelation of Australia’s past history, of which most Australians are not proud. A long cover with a green 1d Victoria stamp was postmarked with an incomplete RICHMOND/ VICTORIA, barred numeral ‘71′ duplex. The cover was addressed to Mr. Ah Toy, Chinese Garden, Appleton St., N. Richmond. There were 2 other markings, an indecipherable manuscript (denoting a form?) and a purple boxed ‘UNCLAIMED AT/ RICHMOND’ (Figure 1).
The reverse has several markings relating to the fact that the cover and contents could not be delivered: a small red D.L.B. (Dead Letter Branch)/ AU 7/ 82/ VICTORIA, a vertically placed manuscript ‘not known/ 4/7/82 / (indecipherable name)’ partially obscuring the unframed Richmond Victoria postmark. On the flap, printed in black is the insignia of Richmond Corporation (Figure 2).
The enclosed form from the City of Richmond, Town Clerk’s Office is addressed to Mr. Ah Toy residing at Appleton St. Richmond. The contents of the form were as follows:
“You are hereby required to take notice that I have omitted your name from the Citizen’s List prepared by me under Section Fifteen of the Act 6 Vict., No. 7, or Section Seventy-seven of the Act No. 506, for the City of Richmond, on the ground that I believe that you are a Chinese, and that you are not known to me as being either a natural born or a naturalised subject of Her Majesty Queen Victoria.”
“If you feel aggrieved at being so omitted and think that your name has been improperly omitted from such List, you can claim under and in accordance with the provisions of Section Sixteen of the said Act 6 Vict., No. 7, or Section Seventy-nine of the said Act No. 506 to have your name inserted in the said Citizen Burgess* or Voter’s List.”
Dated at Richmond, this 4th day of July 1882″ (Figures 3A & 3B)
* Melbourne Incorporation Act 6 Vic., No.7 (1842) stipulated that lists were to be made of all persons entitled to be burgesses. The list was to be called the Burgess List. The lists were to be displayed publicly and procedures were put in place whereby people could object if someone who was not qualified had been included, or request to be inserted if they had been omitted from the Burgess List.
The aim of this paper is not to relive the drama of the White Australian Policy and its many injustices, but an early publication which was devoted to the Aborigines in one section and the Chinese in another is J.K. Tucker’s The Aborigines and the Chinese in Australia, published in Sydney by Joseph Cook and Co. in 1868, the Chinese-relevant section being pages 32 to 45. It does express some of the concerns for the Chinese, from a Church Mission perspective. The entire text can be seen as a PDF format at https://nla.gov.au/nla.obj-52814004/view?partId=nla.obj-97109461#page/n0/mode/1up . Pages 32 and 33 are shown as Figures 4A and 4B.
I did not have great expectations of finding Ah Toy and the Chinese Garden, Richmond, Victoria in the year 2006, for the cover was unclaimed in 1882. I did find a reference, but no facts, to Ah Toy’s bakery in Pine Creek, Northern Territory and information in an (unseen) journal by Ian Jack et al, 1984: Ah Toy’s Garden: A Chinese Market-garden on the Palmer River Goldfield, North Queensland,in the Australian Journal of Historical Archaeology, 2, pp. 51-58.
There is well documented evidence that some of the early Chinese migrants moved around from one gold find to another, not only in search of gold, but also with support businesses and market gardens at the new sites. So it is possible that one or both of the above may have been the Richmond-based Ah Toy, but Sophie Couchman has warned me that Ah Toy is not all that uncommon name.
Sophie Couchman who has an M.A. thesis written about Social History of Melbourne’s Chinatown 1900-1920, suggested that I should research the National Archives of Australia immigration and naturalisation records. In one ‘Eureka! moment’ I found a Melbourne Lew Ah Toy photographed in 1900. Is he the “Real McCoy”, who can say, with absolute authority? (Figure 5).
My thanks go to Sophie Couchman who responded so quickly to my email, and whose guidance led to the finding of a photo of an Ah Toy.