previous
next



  ― 5 ―

The Life of Quong Tart.

or, How A Foreigner Succeeded In A British Community.

Quong Tart was born in the Canton district in 1850, and was the second son of his father, who carried on the business of an ornamental wares merchant for many years in that part.

At a precociously early age, Quong Tart began to make enquiries about those lands which were to be found in the “centre of the earth.” The superstitious belief that every Englishman was red-headed, and that as a race the Britishers were a terribly ferocious, man-eating and boy-murdering lot, instead of filling Quong with overwhelming fear, served to whet his curiosity. He resolved to see the outer world, but there was the difficulty, how was he to get away from home? At last there came to his quiet home, tidings of the fabulous wealth which could be collected on the Australian goldfields. Quong was only nine years old, but such was the earnestness of his pleading that he obtained permission to accompany an uncle of his, who was journeying to the sunny south. His uncle was going to Australia to take charge of a lot of Chinese, and it was intended that little Quong should act as interpreter. However, little Quong had made up his mind to try his luck on the goldfields, and decided that the interpretation could be relegated to any who might choose to do it.

He arrived in New South Wales, where he was favoured by the fates in having as his guardians the well-known families of Messrs. Simpson, Want and Scarvell. In 1859, Mr. Percy Simpson, brother of the distinguished Supreme Court Judge of that name, who is now Sir G. B. Simpson, leased the great alluvial area on the Braidwood goldfields known as Bell's Paddock, where he employed many hundred miners, principally Chinese. Mr. Tart, who was then about nine years old, rode a very small pony, and accompanied Mr. Simpson among the miners as an embryo interpreter.

He went to the goldfields, expecting to find the precious metal in great lumps, and he thought that the only thing


  ― 6 ―
required to be done was to rake it together and “realise.” But how different the anticipation and the realisation! Instead of it being all gold and no work, it was all work and very little gold. Soon after he landed little Quong's bravery sustained a severe shock. He had always ridiculed the tales about the people in these climes being man-eaters, until one day he saw a brutal-looking fellow take deliberate aim with a gun at what Quong thought was a boy in a tree. The man was a good shot, and down came the “boy,” and away went Quong as fast as his nimble legs would carry him. He thought that he had at last seen a veritable man-eater, who, wanting a delicacy for his dinner, had shot a boy. Quong, then as ever, was anxious to see wrong righted, and his alarm about the man-eating murderer led to enquiries and the disclosure of the truth. What was shot was a “'possum up a gum tree.”

He was educated by Mrs. Simpson, who took a lively interest in his welfare during the years he remained on the field, and, on leaving, Mr. Simpson gave him a big interest in an important gold claim, which the fortunate young protege turned to the best advantage. Mr. Tart employed about two hundred Chinese and Europeans, and in the course of a few years his mining speculations made him a comparatively wealthy man. He built a beautiful villa residence at Bell's Creek, erected a school and a church at his own expense for the benefit of the European miners and their families, and was soon after gazetted a member of the School Board. Mr. Tart became a patron of cricket, horse-racing, and every manly sport, and was in truth the most notable resident on the Braidwood goldfields, to whom many families were indebted for assistance, employment and other advantages. Mr. Tart was associated with many Scotch families on the diggings, from whom he acquired a good knowledge of the Caledonian customs, manners and habits. He could sing Scotch songs with singular pathos, recite Burns' poems with a genuine accent, play Scotch airs on the piano, and jokingly alluded to himself as being a native of Aberdeen. He governed to a large extent the Chinese settled on the surrounding goldfields, adjusted their disputes, gave those needing it employment, and minimised all Chinese difficulties.

A certificate of naturalisation was granted to him on the 12th July, 1871, and he was Government Interpreter for the districts of Braidwood, Araluen and Major's Creek, and he was elected a member of the Manchester Unity Lodge, No. 46, on the 31st of August of the same year. He was the first Chinaman elected to an Oddfellows' Lodge in New South Wales. Afterwards he also became a Forester and a Freemason.

In 1874 Mr. Tart had reached the zenith of his popularity on the goldfields; he was then a young man filled with energy and vivacity, in well-to-do circumstances, and it is more than probable that had he offered himself for Parliamentary honours


  ― 7 ―
at this period he would have been returned as member for the Braidwood electorate. He did not, however, aspire to such distinction; but resolved on leaving the district to try his fortune in some other speculation. As soon as Mr. Tart's intention was made known, the residents, including all classes and creeds, decided on entertaining him at a public banquent at the Commercial Hotel, Braidwood, where at least two hundred gentlemen assembled. Judge M‘Farland took the chair, and the toasts were proposed by Mr. Solicitor Scarvell, Messrs. Maddrell, Bunn, Hassall, and Roberts, Js.P., who spoke of their distinguished guest in the highest terms of appreciation, to whom they presented an address and valuable souvenirs in gold and silver, as a practical testimony of the citizens' esteem. Mr. Tart replied in a felicitous and manly speech, and concluded by singing “Auld Lang Syne.”

On reaching Sydney, Mr. Tart matured his plans to establish himself in the metropolis as a tea and silk merchant, and this necessitated a visit to China to perfect his arrangements in that quarter. When leaving, he received letters and credentials from the Premier and principal residents, and in due course reached the home of his progenitors. Mr. Tart visited Hong Kong, Canton, Nankin, and many cities in the southern portion of the vast Empire, where, on introducing his credentials, he was received with high marks of favour by the principal Officers of State, to whom he related the satisfactory condition of Chinese subjects in British territory, where they had the utmost freedom and protection, and discussed the opium question, which he regarded as having a demoralising effect on many of his countrymen. He was assured that the Chinese Government, notwithstanding the difficulties arising through the customs and international law, would do everything possible to minimise the evil.

Crowds followed Mr. Tart as he moved from place to place. Strange remarks were sometimes levelled at him, but they were always received in good humour.

He was entertained by several distinguished Mandarins, who made suitable presents, and introduced to several Chinese ladies at their special request. Mr. Tart's sojourn in his native land was not, however, without incident. He visited a village in the Province of Foo Chow, the great centre of scientific agriculture, where the inhabitants regarded him as a rare curiosity, owing, probably, to his being dressed as an English gentleman, and wearing a black silk hat. While inspecting some ploughing operations in an adjacent field, a buffalo attached to the plough took fright, bolted, smashed the plough, rushed frantically through a narrow street in the village, upset the street stalls and their occupants, and did much damage to property. This incident caused indescribable excitement, not only amongst those concerned, but also the entire residents, which was, after a brief period, allayed by Mr. Tart paying three-fold for the damaged property. So


  ― 8 ―
pleased were the citizens at the stranger's liberality that some of them were most anxious that he should inspect other field operations, but Mr. Tart declined with thanks, on the ground that he had gained sufficient experience in that line.

During his visit his mother was most anxious that her son should get married, for, unlike most of the well-born Chinese, Quong Tart had no one selected for him when young, and she herself selected several Chinese women of distinction, who would willingly have accepted him. But, again, Quong's good sense asserted itself, for he told his mother that when he did marry, it would be a European, for a Chinese woman in Australia would be but little help for him in carrying out the good works he intended doing.

On returning to Sydney, Mr. Tart not only established himself as a tea and silk merchant, but also opened various restaurants in the arcades between George, King and Pitt Streets, on a scale of splendour never before seen in Australia; and it was here that for years Mr. Tart on various occasions, entertained in a princely fashion, free of charge, large numbers of clergymen and representative gentlemen visiting Sydney on synods and conferences, and acted most liberally in all matters affecting the social well-being of the poorer classes of Sydney, regardless of creed or country. This was exemplified in a special manner, when he inaugurated the movement to provide annual treats for the inmates of the Government institutions in Sydney and the County of Cumberland. He obtained the patronage of Lord and Lady Carrington, and the cordial support of Chief Justice Darley, the Supreme Court Judges, Minister of the Crown, the heads of the various religious denominations, and many influential citizens.

Mr. Tart's labour on behalf of the poor was in keeping with his generous nature. He acted on the principle of the Quaker, who wrote: “I expect to pass through the world but once; if, therefore, there can be any kindness I can show, or any good things I can do, to any fellow human being, let me do it now, for I shall not pass this way again.”

In 1883 numerous disorderly proceedings took place at several Chinese camps, principally in the Riverina portion of the colony, during the shearing season, which members of Parliament denounced in scathing terms. Inspector-General Fosbery took prompt action to have the causes of these disturbances thoroughly investigated, and, with that end in view, recommended to the Premier (Sir Alexander Stuart) the appointment of Mr. Brennan, the then Superintendent of Police, and Mr. Quong Tart as a commission of inquiry, which was approved, and the reports furnished by those gentlemen at the termination of their investigations covering the conditions of Chinese camp living, justified in a special manner the wisdom of their appointment. Mr. Tart's reminiscences of that tour would form a volume of interesting reading.




  ― 9 ―

In addition to the able reports on the Chinese camps, for which he was thanked by the Government, Mr. Tart published an interesting pamphlet, designated “A Plea for the Abolition of the Importation of Opium,” which had a large sale, the proceeds of which he applied in aid of the Bulli Disaster Relief Fund. Large meetings were held in Sydney by ladies and gentlemen favourable to the views propounded by Mr. Tart in his pamphlet, when resolutions were unanimously carried, and embodied in a petition to the colonial Legislature, praying for the passing of drastic measures in the matter of opium importation. Mr. Tart furnished the principal officers of State in China with copies of his report on the Chinese camps, his pamphlet against the importation of opium, and other proceedings relating thereto, and in due course these were acknowledged with thanks.

In 1886 he married Miss Margaret Scarlett, of Liverpool, England, and was very happy in his married life, and his children (of whom there are six, two boys and four girls) combine all the cleverness and good qualities of their parents.

In 1887, as a result of the first visit to Australia of two Chinese commissioners, he had the honour of a Fifth-class Mandarin conferred upon him for valuable services rendered on behalf of his countrymen, and three years later he was further honoured by being advanced to a Mandarin of the Fourth-class, combined with the extra degree of the peacock's feather, a distinction equivalent to a K.C.M.G.

Chinese distinctions, unlike those of Europeans, travel backward, and not forward; that is to say, they are not hereditary. The Chinese idea, which may or may not be superior to our own, is that if a living personage is worthy of distinction, such honour should not descend to succeeding generations, but be fastened upon his forefathers.

In 1888, during the Chinese difficulty, he was appointed a mediator, and when he paid another visit to his people the following year, for his services in that respect, the Viceroy sent a special steamer to convey him up the river, and he was received with a guard of honour—a distinction never conferred upon anyone else, with the exception of Imperial personages.

At every port of call on his way home, Mr. Tart was received and honoured by leading public men, including Sir Thomas M‘Ilwraith (Brisbane) and the Hon. John Douglas (Thursday Island). At Hongkong the leading merchants, including Dr. Ho Koi, a member of the present Upper House, received him handsomely, and he was able to explain to them the actual state of public feeling in Australia against the admission of the Chinese, which had the effect of softening considerably the bitterness entertained towards the people of this country.




  ― 10 ―

On August 19th, 1902, a murderous attack was made on Mr. Tart at his business place in Queen Victoria Markets, and although it did not immediately prove fatal, it was really the beginning of the end, which occurred on July 26th, 1903.

He had been 44 years in Australia when pleurisy took him off at the age of fifty-three, leaving a wife and six little children to mourn the loss of a true husband and a loving father. He was one of “nature's gentlemen,” and no man in the city of Sydney was more widely known or respected, and indeed it will be long before we look upon his like again. Quong tried hard to encourage all kinds of sport, and one of the proudest days of his life was that on which he was asked to act as starter and fire the pistol at some pedestrian sports in Sydney. No social gathering was considered complete unless Quong was there to whoop up the praise of “Annie Laurie,” and I really believe very little persuasion would have induced him to don the kilts and dance the “Gillie Callum.”

In conclusion, I can only say Mr. Tart's life was a series of good deeds, and whose aspirations tended to the realisation, of the noble sentiment—

When man to man o'er a' the world
Shall brothers be for a' that.

previous
next