Highlands History | Chinese settlers make Bowral home

From the 1880s several Chinese market gardens were established at Bowral. 

Despite early reservations, the community came to accept the Chinese settlers. A compilation of newspaper reports continues here. 

On 29 July 1896 the Bowral Free Press advised that: “Jang Fong, Chinese, aged 65, who died in the Cottage Hospital at Bowral, was buried in the Primitive Methodist portion of the general cemetery, being a believer. Mr Allerdice had charge of the funeral, at the insistence of Hap Sing, one of the Chinese gardeners. A number of the deceased’s countrymen followed the hearse to the cemetery, including his son and several of his cousins; and after the service they fired off a few fireworks. The event attracted quite a number of Europeans.”

RESPECTED: Headstone of Chinese resident Jang Fong, buried in Bowral Cemetery in 1896. His funeral was well-attended by all nationalities. Photos: BDH&FHS.

RESPECTED: Headstone of Chinese resident Jang Fong, buried in Bowral Cemetery in 1896. His funeral was well-attended by all nationalities. Photos: BDH&FHS.

Another Chinese man who settled at Bowral was Ah Soon Long, known as Coon Sing. He is mentioned in the BFP of February 2, 1898, in a description of Chinese New Year:

“Last Sunday week Coon Sing's garden at Bowral was the scene of a good number of happy Chinese faces, nearly all the Chinamen about visiting. Last Sunday the celebrations were kept up at Jimmy Ah Moy's garden at Mittagong, when all the Chinamen round about visited and seemed to enjoy themselves. A good number of Europeans also visited and found things kept very clean. During the afternoon a number of the whites partook of the good things provided by the China men.” 

In May 1900, the BFP described a tea at St Jude’s held for local Chinese to meet the Rev Soo Hoo Ten, a visiting missionary. Coon Sing attended along with Ah Jang, Ah Fung, Ah You, Huan Ten and Wong Hing, from one garden; Hap Sing, Ah Tok and Ah Jack from the other; George Sing, from the Bowral Hotel; and Mok Li and another from Mittagong.  “Chrysanthemums and other flowers were used as decorations, and a pleasant time was spent by guests and friends.” 

Coon Sing's life in Bowral had not been without misadventure. Back in July 1893 the BFP headlined an article with ‘Smart chase down Bong Bong Street’.

“About dinner-time on Saturday there was a fall of hail in Bowral, sufficient to collect it in places. Coon Sing was bringing his vegetable cart along the main street, and had reached the Post Office. He was nearly frozen, and in no humor for snow-balling.”

“One of Bowral's prominent young lads, however, was in such a humor, and having gathered up a couple of handfuls of frozen hailstones, decided to have a bit of fun at Coon's expense. His first hit was a miss, but the second was a bulls-eye fair in Coon's face. Coon had never received such rude treatment in the Flowery Land and uttered anathema at his enemy. He drove as far as Corry's shop, his antagonist following close up. By this time his blood boiled, he stopped his horse, jumped from the cart, and gave chase.”

“Young Australia was a long way ahead, but Coon was gaining slightly. From Corry's he dashed past Pinkerton's, Tonks's, Riddles's, the Free Press, Pugh's, Stokes's Mart, clean over two dogs at Hill Bros, past the Primitive Methodist Church, Williams's, the ES&A Bank, over Wingecarribee street like a reindeer, passed Harrison's, Miss Byrnes's, Prior's, Soutter's, Turner's, Dunwoodie's, Radford's and Billy Moore's, down even to the Post Office.” 

BOWRAL CHASE: In 1893 Coon Sing left his cart out front of Corry’s store, pictured here c1912.

BOWRAL CHASE: In 1893 Coon Sing left his cart out front of Corry’s store, pictured here c1912.

“Young Australia then crossed over and returned up the street again, along the other footpath, Coon after him in hot pursuit but nearly puffed out. Young Australia kept cool; he also kept a respectable distance ahead. For be it known that Coon was seen to stoop down during the chase and pick up something off the road, not hailstones, but pieces of trachyte. So it was to Young Australia's advantage to keep ahead somewhat, and on reaching Corry's (where Coon's cart was) he turned back again. Coon was getting winded, found he could not get near enough to have vengeance, and so got up in his cart again, and started for the gardens.” 

“Even now he very nearly altered his mind, but when he saw the colonial already in the distance, he gave it up, merely threatening in a foreign tongue, which no doubt meant what he would do if he could only get hold of him in his own country. Altogether Young Australia may reckon himself fortunate in getting off as he did.”

Coon Sing recovered and thrived at Bowral until his 80s. He died in 1936. 

  • Berrima District Historical & Family History Society – compiled by PD Morton. Part 2 of a 6-part series. To be continued.