Friday, February 10, 2012

The Chinese Mt Albert Connection

Chinese people have been in NZ for over 130 years since
1865, when the Dunedin Chamber of Commerce invited
them to rework the goldfields in Otago. There was much
dissension over this, the basic reason being the considerable
difference in race and culture from the Europeans. These
differences fostered recurring controversy on the advisability
of permitting Chinese immigration, out of which grew the
belief that Chinese and other Asians should be kept out of
NZ. On the whole though, NZ discrimination did not take
on the anti-Chinese extremes seen in Canada, the USA and
Australia. (i)
Sir George Grey at a public meeting in 1888 gave his opinion
of ‘the Chinese question.’ He was very much against Chinese
immigration “and what was more, he would if necessary
retire to private life rather than give up his conviction that
NZ should be a pure
Anglo Saxon country.”(ii)
(He does not seem to
have noticed the Maori
population already in
This intense feeling was
written into laws and
regulations and was
spoken of as the White
NZ Policy, though it
was never formally
documented as statute
or decree. The Chinese
Immigrations Act 1881
was passed to control the
immigration of Chinese
and included was a Poll
Tax of £10 to be paid by
each Chinese immigrant
regardless of place of
origin. Certifi cates of
exemption were available to Chinese already resident in NZ
and to Chinese who were leaving temporarily. In 1896 the Poll
Tax was increased from £10 to £100 under an amendment to
the existing legislation.
From 1881 the Chinese population fell, possibly as a result
of the poll tax. The 1891 Census shows a decrease of 16.49%
of Chinese in the colony (3711 against 4444) (iii) so one
wonders why the 1896 Chinese Immigration Amendment
Act of increasing the poll tax by 1000% was necessary. Was
it just to fi ll the government coffers or was it the White NZ
Policy? A bit of both I suspect.
Under the Immigration Restriction Amendment Act 1908,
Chinese leaving NZ to travel overseas temporarily were
required to fi ll in a certifi cate of registration in duplicate.
Thumb or fi ngerprints were added to the certifi cates and
the individuals also provided 2 photographs to the Collector
of Customs. On his return, once positively identifi ed, the
individual was allowed to enter. Fig 1 shows an example of
a registration with thumbprints and photo. (v) The absence
of this registration forms the basis for the following letter of
appeal to the Collector of Customs on behalf of Ah Leongformerly
of Mt Albert but then stranded in China.

The Collector of Customs Auckland June 9th 1911
Dear Sir,
We are acting for the friends of Ah Leong, a Chinaman formerly
of Mount Albert, Market Gardener, who left the Dominion for
China about the month of April 1909. He was accompanied by
his brother Ah Foo, Wong You and Wong Wei, all of whom have
returned to New Zealand. Ah Leong, however, omitted to register
his name and thumb-print in your offi ce before his departure,
and now, wishing to return, is of course refused by the steamship
companies trading from China.

We think that the Minister would perhaps consider his return
to New Zealand if satisfactory evidence of identifi cation were
produced. Ah Leong was well known to many people both here
and at Thames, and we are informed that there would be no
diffi culty in obtaining such evidence. Mr A.W. Page, Merchant, of
Kingsland, who met him in business frequently, is one who could
identify him.

We hold a photo of Ah Leong which was taken before he left New
Zealand. We might mention also that this is his third visit to his
native country, having been home and back twice previously.
Yours faithfully,

Nicholson & Gribbin, Barristers & Solicitors

Did Ah Leong make it back to NZ? At this point I don’t know
but I hope I can continue the search (or perhaps if anyone
knows the story, please let us know). We can take heart that
even then there were people in the Mt Albert area like Mr
Page of Kingsland, who could rise above racial prejudice and
the ‘White NZ Policy’ and support individuals such as Ah
The poll tax was fi nally abolished in 1944.
In February 2002, the then Prime Minister of NZ Helen
Clark made a formal apology to Chinese New Zealanders (iv)
who had paid a poll tax and suffered other discrimination
imposed by statute. Chinese people were deprived of their
right to naturalisation in 1908 and this was not rescinded
until 1951. No other ethnic group was deprived of this

Mary Inomata, January 2012.
Wong You Certificate of Registration 10th
April 1916. Archives New Zealand
Fig 1. BBAO 5575 7a 26/1917.
(i) Chinese Settlement in NZ Past & Present –James Ng, (ii) Auckland Star 16 May 1888 p.2, (iii) Bay of Plenty Times 25 Jan
1897 p 2, (iv) Helen Clark, Prime Minister 12 February 2002, (v) Customs Department Auckland. Immigration Restriction Act
1908 and Poll Tax Registrations. Archives New Zealand, (vi) Customs Department Auckland. Inwards letters. Archives New

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