Discussions on the history and historiography of Australia's New England

Monday, March 03, 2014

The Chinese in Australia - introducing Francis Darby Syme

The Chinese who came to Australia during the nineteenth century did so as part of an organised trade that extended well beyond Australia. We often forget this when we come to look at Chinese immigration to this country.

Francis Darby Syme appears in the early records as one who played a major role in the trade. This excerpt is from The Takao Club file on Boyd & Co.

"Boyd & Co is one of many companies that show the strong links between Formosa and Amoy that existed in the late 19th century.

The origins of Boyd and Company go back to the 1850s when Thomas Deas Boyd managed the interests of F. D. Syme & Co, which was owned by Francis Darby Syme. Syme was involved in the Coolie Trade, the shipment of indentured Fuchien labourers to work in foreign colonies and countries. It was said that the coolie from Fuchien possessed the best temperament to work long hard hours without complaint. F. D. Syme & Co shipped thousands of coolies from Amoy to Australia, Bourbon (Reunion), British Guiana, California, Havana, Hawaii, Mauritius and Peru between the years of 1845 and 1852.TDBoyd

Thomas Deas Boyd was born at Cupar, Fife, on 1 March 1831. Although the 1851 Scottish Census shows him  to be still in Scotland and working for the British Linen Bank, Thomas Deas Boyd must have come out to China shortly thereafter, for, in March 1856, he married Isabella Elder, a young lady from Fife, at Canton, China.

From Canton the young couple moved to Amoy where the 1859 China Directory shows "Thos. D. Boyd & family" to be resident and working for F. D. Syme & Co. The 1861 China Directory also shows Thomas Deas Boyd to be a merchant working for for F. D. Syme & Co, with W. A. Sturrock and W. A. Cornabé as assistants.

However, in March 1862, Francis Darby Syme sold his property at Amoy to Thomas Deas Boyd, so one can presume that Boyd took over the interests of Syme in that year.

Boyd & Co was founded at Amoy in 1862 by Thomas Deas Boyd and William Alexander Sturrock, who were both previously employed by F D Syme & Co at the same port, and they also employed William Alexander Cornabé as an assistant. By 1872, Thomas Deas Boyd had replaced his junior partner with Robert Craig, and opened offices in Takow and in Taiwanfoo. In 1873 Boyd & Co had recruited Thomas George Harkness, and the following year David Moncrieff Wright, to work at Amoy."

From the reference to thousands of coolies, you will see how big the trade was.

Wikipedia describes Amoy, a centre of Symes' operations,in this way:

"Xiamen (also known as Amoy, is a major city on the southeast (Taiwan Strait) coast of the People's Republic of China. It is administered as a sub-provincial city of Fujian province with an area of 1,699.39 square kilometres (656.14 sq mi) and population of 3,531,347 at the 2010 Census.[2] The city's urban area includes the old urban island area and covers all six districts of Xiamen and has a total urban population of 1,861,289. It also borders Quanzhou to the north and Zhangzhou making this a unique built up area of more than five million people. The Jinmen (Kinmen) Islands administered by the Republic of China (Taiwan) are less than 10 kilometres (6.2 mi) away.

Xiamen and the surrounding southern Fujian countryside are the ancestral home to large communities of overseas Chinese in Southeast Asia. The city was a treaty port in the 19th century and one of the four original Special Economic Zones opened to foreign investment and trade when China began economic reforms in the early 1980s. It is endowed with educational and cultural institutions supported by the overseas Chinese diaspora. In 2006, Xiamen was ranked as China's second "most suitable city for living", as well as China's "most romantic leisure city" in 2011."

Wikipedia adds:

"In 1541, European traders (mainly Portuguese) first visited Xiamen, which was China's main port in the nineteenth century for exporting tea. As a result, Hokkien (also known as the Amoy dialect) had a major influence on how Chinese terminology was translated into European languages. For example, the words "Amoy", "tea" (茶; tê), "cumshaw" (感謝; kám-siā), and "Pekoe" (白毫; pe̍h-hô), kowtow (磕頭; khàu-thâu), and possibly Japan (Ji̍t-pún) and "ketchup" (茄汁; kiô-chap) originated from the Hokkien.

During the First Opium War between Britain and China, the British captured the city in the Battle of Amoy on 26 August 1841. Xiamen was one of the five Chinese treaty ports opened by the Treaty of Nanking (1842) at the end of the war. As a result, it was an early entry point for Protestant missions in China. European settlements were concentrated on the islet of Gulangyu off the main island of Xiamen. Today, Gulangyu is known for colonial architecture and the tradition of piano-playing and organized sports.Many natives of Xiamen and southern Fujian emigrated to Southeast Asia and Taiwan during the 19th and early 20th century, spreading Hokkien language and culture overseas."

Tea was a critical export for the East India Company, and part of a global trade network that included the new colonies in Australia. I gave an introductory feel for this in First Chinese connection with the newly established settlement at Port Jackson. I will talk about the Opium Wars  in another post.

The first Chinese who came to the new Australian colonies came via people like Francis Syme. Those who came during the gold rushes were part of a more complex trade. That, too, is part of another story.


Digging a little further, I came across this piece in the Glasgow Herald (8 April 1879) of a later court case that appears to involve the widow of Francis Darby Syme, again with Boyd links. I also found this piece in the Internet Archives Correspondence with the Superintendent of British Trade in China : upon the subject of emigration from that country (1853) that deals with the coolie trade.


Neil said...

I am sure you have consulted James Jupp's monumental "The Australian People". Pages 97 ff have interesting information and stats on the Chinese in Australia.

Another figure very significant in the coolie trade and also the Kanaka trade was Robert Towns, brother-in-law of William Charles Wentworth and man of many ventures. He died at Cranbrook in 1873. There is a strong connection with my father's home town of Shellharbour also, and with Shellharbour School of which my maternal grandfather was Principal in the 1930s. "On land granted by D’Arcy Wentworth, the first school in Shellharbour was opened by Captain Robert Towns in c1843 for the children of settlers brought to Shellharbour by Caroline Chisholm. Towns engaged Michael Hassen to teach these tiniest immigrants in a
slab hut located on the south-east corner of Addison and Wentworth Streets. Hassen stayed
at the school until his death in 1858 at which time the control of the school was taken over
by a committee of local men on behalf of the Board of National Education..."

Jim Belshaw said...

My thanks, Neil. I hadn't read Jupp's book. I will do so. How interesting, though. I had come across Towns, but had no knowledge of the Whitfield connection!

Neil said...

Christison as far as the school is concerned, though plenty of Whitfields, my father included, went there. The school dates itself back to 1859 as that is when it became what we might now call a state school. I was there for the centenary in 1959 at age 16 with my grandfather Roy Christison who was then the oldest surviving headmaster. A great day!

Jim Belshaw said...

It must have been, Neil.

Matthew Piscioneri said...

Hello Jim, thank you for this...just wondering if you knew whatever became of the villainous F.D Syme from the Amoy coolie riots etc? Many thanks in anticipation:

Jim Belshaw said...

Hi Michael. I can't remember. Returned to England, I think. But I will do a check at the weekend.

Matthew Piscioneri said...

Thanks Jim, very kind of you :) Prof. Chin (Singapore) whose book on China's imperial maritime history I am editing (and the reason why I have become interested in F.D Syme) reckons a great many rubber plantations in Malaysia are still owned by the Syme's...felt there was a link there. I read the link to the Court documents you provided...again, very interesting,

many thanks again and best regards, Matthew