Royal Reels: Gambling


An ordinary looking cover was sent from SYDNEY/N.S.W/ 11 JAN/ 1936/ 4 45 PM/ POSTED IN/ PILLAR BOX, Code 1, with a roller cancel postmarking the red 2d KGV Head stamp, with SOUTH AUSTRALIA/ CENTENARY/ CELEBRATIONS/ 1936. It was addressed to a fruiterer at Young, N.S.W. and it had a return address of a Box number, Haymarket, Sydney (Figure 1).

The fine reverse showed a 3-storey corner building clearly marked WING ON & CO. LTD on two sides of the building, as well as activity on the street level. In addition the top of the building displayed an illegible flying pennant. We learn from the side panels that the Eastern and General Merchants were also Wholesale Fruit and Commission Agents and it was sited at the corner of 10-11 Ultimo Road & Quay Street, Sydney, N.S.W., Australia (Figure 2).

Of some interest, this whole block of Ultimo Road and Quay Street is now part of the site of the University of Technology Sydney [UTS], and as it is unusual to be able to identify the position of a former corner of 2 streets, where considerable development has occurred, I provide this drawing as Figure 3.

The founder of the advertised company shown on the cover was Kwok Bew (aka George Bew) was born in 1868 near Canton China and after the death of his father, Kwok left for NSW in 1883, working as a door-to-door salesman at Grafton and later as a produce merchant in Sydney. He married Darling Young a daughter of a Bourke merchant in 1896 at the Presbyterian Chinese Church in Sydney.

His Wing Sang & Co. expanded from general produce into a marketing agent for fruit and vegetables supplied by Chinese gardeners in Northern NSW, Queensland and the Pacific region. The company grew quickly and he soon managed to control the wholesale banana market in NSW and Queensland. In 1900 he started to import bananas from Fiji. In the early 1900’s he founded the Wing On & Co., an expanding commercial conglomerate.

He emerged as a Chinese business leader of considerable influence, and he played a leading role in the formation of the China-Australia Mail Steamship Line in 1917. He had become active in Chinese-Australia politics as vice-president of the Chinese Merchants’ Defence Association, formed to counter the propaganda of ‘White Australia’ merchants. He helped to establish the Chinese Republic News in Sydney, which circulated extensively in Australasia, the South Pacific, Strait Settlements, Hong Kong and China itself.

Late in 1917 he returned to China and founded the Wing On emporium in Shanghai, which specialized in quality local and imported goods and it became the largest department store in China. By the early 1920’s he expanded into banking, retail and manufacturing located in the foreign concessions in Shanghai and Canton. He died in 1932 in Shanghai, survived by his wife, 4 sons and 4 daughters. At his death he was a director of the Chinese Government Mint and managing director of the Wing On Co. Ltd.

This paper was excerpted from Bew’s entry in the on-line Australian Dictionary of Biography.

Addendum (August 2009):  Another advertising cover for Wing On & Co. has been found.  It was addressed to F. Cahill Esq., Oakwood, Tasman Peninsula, Tasmaniaand the blue 2d QV stamp of N.S.W. is caneled with a HAYMARKET P.O./ MY 6- 5- PM/ N.S.W/ 1911 roller postmark (Figure 4).

The reverse shows the advertisement for the Wing On & Co. Wholesale Fruit and Produce Merchants and General Commission Agents.  Head Office, 24 Campbell Street, Haymarket, Sydney.