No. 1179 - Launceston - The Chinese Mission (1884-1896)

The Chinese Mission was an inter-denominational Christian mission established in Launceston in 1884. Its purpose was “to evangelise the Chinese”, notably the miners in Tasmania’s North East. For most of the twelve years that it was active, the Mission was headed by Reverend Bartholomew Wang Poo,  based at the tin mining town of Moorina. The focus of this article is on the work of this Mission as well as religious activity within Launceston’s small Chinese Christian community in the late 19th century.

Until the 1870s, Tasmania’s Chinese population was small in number. With the discovery of tin fields in the North East in 1874, there followed an influx of Chinese miners, who soon began to dominate the small-scale alluvial tin mining industry. When many European miners left the tin fields in response to the fall in tin prices in 1880s, Chinese miners continued to make a living from abandoned workings. The 1881 census counted 874 Chinese living in Tasmania, nearly all being tin miners. Over the next ten years numbers fluctuated around 1000, about one percent of the population. With the passage of the Federal Immigration Restriction Act (1901), the number of new Chinese arrivals was severely restricted.

In Tasmania, Chinese miners were generally better treated than on the mainland diggings and were respected as hardworking and law-abiding citizens. Launceston was the home of a small Chinese community, mostly engaged in small business and market gardening. Most had converted to Christianity and many were associated with Henry Reed’s Memorial Church.

The Chinese Mission was established in July 1884 following a meeting by “a number of clergymen and gentlemen held at the Mechanics Institute. Those present included Archdeacon Hales, the Revs. W. Law, H. Baker, C. Price, W.White and Mr Marshall, the Town Missionary. The Daily Telegraph noted that there were “about half a dozen Chinese present”.

“Mr. Law spoke very forcibly on the subject of forming a mission,….He did not want it to be a sectarian movement, but desired that all denominations would work for the cause…. Mr Marshall, the Town Missionary, supported the resolution saying that the Town Mission [City Mission] had held meetings in town for the last two years for the Chinese and they had been very successful.… Mr. Ah Catt, a Chinese merchant and mining speculator,  said “he had much pleasure in seeing this movement started, and he felt it would be a success, and if he could do anything to help he would always do it”. 

Consequently a committee was formed which held regular meetings at the Y.M.C.A. Rooms in the Quadrant.  In mid 1885, as a result of the committee’s work,  Reverend Bartholomew Wang Poo was appointed as missionary. In late July The Examiner reported that Wang Poo was:

“…Expected  to arrive by the s.s. Flinders.… After discussion it was agreed the that the Rev. Mr. Heyward, the Secretary of the Mission, meet him on the wharf. A deputation of Chinese brethren will also meet him on his arrival. The Rev. B. Wang Poo has  been labouring in Sandhurst, Victoria, and more recently in Hay, New South Wales, and in both places his labours have borne good fruit.  Mrs. Wang Poo, who is a Scotch lady, will accompany her husband. On Monday afternoon a special meeting of the Committee will be held at 3 o'clock, when Mr. Wang Poo will be introduced to the Committee….”.

Soon after his arrival, Reverend Wang Poo moved to Moorina, which the Committee considered to “be the most central place for him to reside”. He was to report to the Chinese Mission Secretary monthly and was paid £120 annually, with travelling expenses added.

In September 1885, Wang Poo delivered a brief report on his progress at the Mission’s first annual meeting, held at the Wesleyan schoolroom on Patterson Street. The Examiner reported:

“Mr. Wang Poo addressed the meeting at some length, referring to the universal kindness received from English and Chinese alike, and gave an interesting account of work amongst his countrymen, their desire for the Bible, and their eagerness to hear the gospel”. 

Having arrived at Moorina on 11th August, the first service was held on 16th August and a week later another service was held at Weldborough, with 73 persons in attendance.  On 30th August a further service was held at Garibaldi with 105 in attendance. 

Reports of the Mission were published annually by local newspapers, and these are an important source concerning its progress. The following reports on meetings held at the Paterson Street Wesleyan School-room, provide some insight into contemporary attitudes and concerns of Launceston’s Christian establishment.  

In September 1888 the Mercury reported:

“He (Wang Poo) has trained, if not converted, a number of them, and to-night a choir of about 20 Chinamen delighted a large audience with their rendering of Sankey's hymns to the accompaniment of an organ. It might have been more harmonious certainly, but the Chinese words to the music of Sankey were certainly interesting. The audience at any rate contributed £18 to the funds”. 

Reporting on the 1889 annual meeting the Examiner’s seemingly grumpy correspondent complained:

“The only drawback of the evening was the thoughtless conduct of a number of people who thought fit to leave the hall just before the conclusion of proceedings, so that what with the creaking of their boots and that of the doors, the last speakers were almost inaudible”.

At the 1891 meeting:

“Mr Wang Poo's description of the havoc wrought by the opium curse in his district are startling and most painful. He affirms that many Europeans also are falling into the same ruinous habits. The report concluded by stating— “We are unable to report any distinct cases of conversion; some have expressed a wish to be baptised, but your Missionary has not considered it advisable to bring them forward just yet”.

At the 1892 meeting Reverend Law observed:

“The mingling of nations which was now going on was, he thought, an indication that God had made all men of one flesh and blood, having one common fatherhood. The Chinese in our midst were industrious, thrifty, sober, and law abiding, and it was the duty of the mission to teach them the Gospel, but it was a harder task to commend Christianity by the example of our daily lives”.

In 1892 Wang Poo became a citizen of the Colony following an application for ‘naturalisation’. In 1893 he resigned as ‘missioner’ at the age of 52. Little is known about him beyond this time. In 1893 the committee of the Launceston City and Suburbs Improvement Association recorded its thanks to Wang Poo for a donation of plants for beautifying the Cataract Gorge Cliff grounds:

“He presented the Improvement Association with about fifty boronia plants, reared by him at Moorina, where, we understand, he has gained no little celebrity as a successful grower of this graceful and sweet smelling shrub….”.

By 1895 Wang Poo had settled at Turner’s Marsh with his family where he engaged in farming. According to a report in the Daily Telegraph: “Mr. B. Wang Poo” had lent a paddock for use for the Turner’s March Methodist church’s annual Sunday School picnic. 

Wang Poo’s departure in early 1893 effectively brought an end to the original Mission. However, the Anglican Church was to briefly take up the work "which had previously been carried out by the Non-conformists". In 1894 Reverend Yung Chow was appointed catechist. At a public meeting held in June 1895, chaired by Bishop Montgomery, an account of the the Mission’s progress was given:

“Mr Yung Choy, who spoke in Chinese, Mr Chin Kitt acting as interpreter, explained that he was engaged on missionary work on the mining fields on the East Coast. The population was very much scattered, and he travelled a great deal. Last Sunday he preached to 75 Chinamen at Garibaldi, and on one occasion he spoke to 35 of his countrymen and to 60 at Branxholm. The work of conveying the Gospel to the Chinese in the colony was a most important one, but it would take a long time. One Chinaman had been baptised at Garibaldi, and he gave lessons every evening to others. Some of the Chinese in the Garibaldi district were married, and their children were being taught Christianity…..”.

At the 1895 annual meeting of the Mission, held at the Trinity Church school-room, it was reported that:

“It was decided that he [Yung Choy] should concentrate all his effort on Garibaldi, a decision recognised to be a wise one, as Garibaldi was their chief centre. The camp at Garibaldi contained some 120 Chinese, of whom four were Christians. There were six half-caste families with 32 children in all, of whom six were Roman Catholics and the remainder belonged to the Church of England. It was estimated that in addition to these some 50 Chinamen visited Garibaldi on Sundays. The evangelist was one who showed much zeal in his work, and did not spare himself when occasion required….Yung Choy was assisted by Lee Pah Leang, the native doctor, and a man of influence, a baptised member of the church…”.

However, Yung Choy’s mission was short lived, partly due to lack of funding needed to sustain it. In April 1896 the Launceston Examiner reported Yung Choy’s departure:

“Yung Choy, has left his field of work, but he is still in Launceston staying with a friend till the diocese can pay what is due to him, so that he in his turn may pay his debts. About £15 is wanted still. The question of the support of the Chinese Catechist has been an anxious one for the Bishop…”.

Another Chinese Mission under the authority of the Methodist church was established in 1902. In July 1902 the Daily Telegraph reported:

“Mr Yee Keet, a Chinese missionary evangelist, arrived from Sydney yesterday. He has been appointed' by the Australasian Methodist Missionary Society to labor amongst the Chinese in the north eastern part of Tasmania. He will be under the direction of the Rev. James Haslam, and, while making his headquarters at Launceston, he will work out to the Chinese camps in the neighbourhood of Branxholm, Derby, Moorina, Gladstone, Weldborough, on the East Coast. He was cordially received on his arrival by a number of Chinese residents of Launceston”.

Little is known about this mission and further research is needed. It was very likely short-lived given the decline in tin-mining in the region after the turn of the century.

Amongst Launceston’s Chinese community, the Memorial Church was the primary place of worship. It was here that the Chinese were taught “English, reading and writing” in the church schoolroom. In 1894 the Examiner reported that a ‘tea meeting’ was held by the Chinese community in appreciation of the work done by the church:

“The Chinese, with the view of showing their appreciation of the efforts of their instructors, gave a tea last evening in the school-room attached to the church. About 200 invitations were issued and accepted, and the affair proved a most enjoyable one. Sixty Chinese were present and took part in the proceedings. The room was very prettily decorated, a feature being an ornamental arch at the desk, surmounted by Chinese lanterns and the words "God is love." After the tea, Pastor Cherbury presided over the meeting, and addresses were delivered by several of the     Chinese friends, who also sang hymns in their native language…”.

In the previous year, a similar event had been held at the church:

“Part of the proceeding was the presentation to Mrs Solten of an album, which contained the signatures of all the donors, both in Chinese and English characters. Its frontispiece wan adorned with a water-colour drawing of the Cataract Gorge, by the son of the worthy Chinese interpreter, Mr Chin Kitt. The presentation was made by Mr J. T. Farmilo, who has for years post shown an active interest in the welfare of the Chinese in this city, and presides over the Sunday service and classes for them…”. 

The classes and meetings held in what became known as the “Chinese vestry”. These were an important reason why many in the community converted to Christianity and continued to support the church. This is evident from a birthday function held in 1943 to honour Mr James Chung Gon, the “Chinese Patriarch”, who had a long association with the Memorial Church:

“A function was held In the Launceston Baptist Memorial Church last night in honour of Mr. James Chung Gon, who has been associated with the church for 66 years. Patriarch of the Chinese community of Launceston, Mr, Chung Gon celebrated his 88th birthday…During the period he has been in Launceston, nearly 70 years, he has earned the highest respect from everyone for his honesty in business and benevolence…..Last night's function was arranged by the Memorial Church choir, [and] the Christian Endeavour and Women's Auxiliary….Mr. Chung Gon became a Christian and was connected with the church when Chinese classes and meetings were held in the Chinese vestry”.

Launceston Examiner, Saturday 22 September 1885

Reverend William Law, (Congregational Church) was a leading advocate of the Chinese Mission. Source: QVM, Registration Number 1983: P: 0161

The annual meeting of the Chinese Mission was held in the Wesleyan Schoolrooms until 1893.

The first Chinese Mission was held in the Wharf Mission before the establishment of the non-conformist churches Mission established in 1884. (Daily Telegraph, Thursday 3 July 1884)


Daily Telegraph, Thursday 3 July 1884, page 1
Launceston Examiner, Thursday 24 July 1884, page 4
Daily Telegraph, Friday 25 July 1884, page 3
Daily Telegraph, Monday 20 July 1885, page 2
Launceston Examiner, Thursday 23 July 1885, page 2
Launceston Examiner, Wednesday 29 July 1885, page 2
Launceston Examiner, Saturday 22 September 1885, page 4
Launceston Examiner, Friday 25 July 1884, page 3
Daily Telegraph, Wednesday 29 July 1885, page 2
Daily Telegraph, Saturday 1 August 1885, page 2
Launceston examiner, Saturday 15 August 1885, page 4
Daily Telegraph, Monday 7 September 1885, page 2
Launceston Examiner, Wednesday 23 September 1885, page 3
Daily Telegraph, Wednesday 15 September 1886, page 2
Launceston Examiner, Wednesday 14 September 1887, page 2
Launceston Examiner, Wednesday 26 September 1888, page 3
Mercury, Wednesday 26 September 1888, page 3
Launceston Examiner, Wednesday 25 September 1889, page 3
Tasmanian, Saturday 28 September 1889, page 11
Colonist, Saturday 19 October 1889, page 4
Launceston Examiner, Tuesday 23 September 1890, page 2
Daily Telegraph, Wednesday 30 September 1891, page 3
Launceston Examiner, Wednesday 7 September 1892, page 4
Daily Telegraph, Saturday 4 March 1893, page 4
Daily Telegraph, Monday 2 October 1893, page 2
Launceston Examiner, Saturday 18 August 1894, page 7
Mercury, Saturday 18 August 1894, page 4
Tasmanian, Saturday 25 August 1894, page 10
Launceston Examiner, Friday 12 October 1894, page 5
Daily Telegraph, Wednesday 20 March 1895, page 3
Launceston Examiner, Wednesday 20 March 1895, page 7
Launceston Examiner, Friday 21 June 1895, page 3
Daily Telegraph, Monday 18 November 1895, page 3
Launceston Examiner, Saturday 11 April 1896, page 3
Daily Telegraph, Friday 11 July, page 2
Launceston Examiner, Friday 11 July 1902, page 2
Examiner, Thursday 12 August 1943, page 4
Examiner, 28 January 2017.


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