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Chinese Australia

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1138 Quong Tart, A Plea for the Abolition of the Importation of Opium, Sydney, John Sands & Co., 1887.

Full Document Caption:

This pamphlet, written by Mei Quong Tart, includes a copy of the petition about to be presented by Tart to the Legislative Assembly of New South Wales. It refers to an earlier unsuccessful attempt by Tart, in 1884, to petition the NSW government to ban the importation of opium. The pamphlet makes the following points:
- Earlier attempts to control opium only temporarily reduced the amount of opium smoking. The problem is now as bad, if not worse, than before.
- As opium is highly adictive banning opium’s importation would benefit the wider community.
- Opium should only be allowed to be sold under strict conditions.
- Government revenue lost through opium smoking would be gained on tobacco duties as addicts became tobacco smokers.
- Government leaders are morally obliged to attend to the welfare of people and not merely to fiscal matters.
- If NSW took the lead on banning opium importation other states would follow, particularly Victoria (refers to a visit by Tart to Victoria campaigning against opium).
- Describes the damage done to people and society in China through opium addiction.
- If the Chinese in Australia were free of opium addiction they would be viewed better by the general population.
- Opium causes individuals to become lazy, weak and unclean and leads to gambling as this is the only activity addicts have the strength to undertake.
- If Chinese individuals stop taking opium, more would turn to Christianity and become westernised
. - If opium wasn’t available in Australia, fewer Chinese would immigrate and a ‘better class’ of Chinese would come.
- A considerable number of European women are seduced by opium.
- Violence against the Chinese community is the result of their opium addiction.
- Don’t blame the Chinese for smoking opium, blame the government for not stopping it.
- Anti-opium movement is supported by a large number of ‘squatters and gentlemen’ who believe it will improve the quality of their Chinese workers.

The accompanying petition asks for a ban on opium importation into the colony of NSW except for medicinal purposes aunder strict conditions. The petition argues that:
- Opium consumption within the Chinese community is increasing.
- Widespread opium consumption harms both the smoker and the wider population.
- Opium damages an individual’s moral and physical capacity.
- Opium addiction results in substandard workers.

- The confined rooms where opium is smoked are a source of disease. - European women are being induced to use opium, leading to the ‘grossest immorality’ - Opium smokers are not well regarded by the rest of the Chinese community. - A ban on opium importation would reduce the incentive for lower classes of Chinese to immigrate and that the resulting improved conditions would encourage a ‘superior class’ of Chinese to immigrate.

Source: Quong Tart, A Plea for the Abolition of the importation of opium, Sydney, John Sands & Co., 1887.

Region: Date From: 1884 To: 1887
New South Wales    

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(The Profits on the Sale of this Pamphlet will be handed to the Committee for the Relief of the sufferers by the recent mining disaster at Bulli)

DURING the year 1884 a petition was presented to the Honorable the Executive council of N.S.W. praying for the abolition of the importation of opium to this colony, except for strictly medicinal purposes; but the reception it met with was not nearly so favorable as was anticipated, not withstanding the fact that the petition contained upwards of 4,000 signatures of every nation and creed. No doubt 4,000 is a small number compared with the whole population of the colony, but be it understood they consisted of the names of the principal clergy of every Church, members of Parliament, nearly seventy mayors and aldermen, besides other leading residents of N.S.W, the Press, and over 500 Chinese.

Mr Hardie, who was then mayor of Sydney, and the Rev. Dr. Steel accompanied me when I presented the petition, in the presence of the Hon. G.R. Dibbs, to Sir A. Stuart. Sir Alexander was quite in favor (as regards himself) of the abolition of the opium traffic, but he looked at it in this way:- Were it not imported into this colony it would be smuggled into it from the various other colonies; consequently, he said, "the smoking would not cease, but still the colony would lose the revenue, which is considerable." Our interview terminated by Sir A. Stuart promising to enter into communication with the adjoining colonies in order to ascertain whether they would do all in their power to suppress the trade. I fancy, however, that the other duties which our Parliament had to perform were regarded as of more importance and the opium question was forgotten, for nothing more has come of it, and the result of the action of those who interested themselves in the matter has been nil. I do not feel at all disheartened over that attempt, but intend to use all the personal influence I possess, and with the assistance of my friends to make another attempt.

The Hon. G.R. Dibbs, assisted by Inspector Seymour and his officers, certainly deserve great praise for the manner in which they went with me to the various common Chinese places, to look into the condition of affairs for themselves. Some persons were caught indulging in the use of the juice, while others heard of the intended visit and were prepared. I really think that official visit in the city, Mr. Inspector Brenan's exertions in the country, and my own (the time I was sent by Inspector-General Fosbery to investigate the Chinese camps) frightened a number from commencing to smoke and restrained those who had just begun. But now, through the matter being allowed to lie in abeyance so long, they are, I am sure, as bad if not even worse than before.

I wish to make it as clearly understood as possible that were a law to be passed against the importation of the juice, it would not only be an inestimable blessing bestowed upon the Chinese in general but upon all classes of the community, for this drug, when indulged in by any person a few times, has such seductive qualities that it is almost an utter impossibility to keep it from him so long as money can procure it. It is not to be compared with intoxicating liquors, for people often turn against drink, but opium they never take a dislike to - not even in their dying moments: and the only way to prevent indulgence is to put it quite beyond the reach of those who have become slaves to it, and that can easily be done by allowing none but chemists to sell it, and then to those only who produce a note from a duly qualified medical practitioner. It may be mentioned that that sold by chemists is vastly different from that used by the Chinese - it undergoes a different preparation, and it would be of no use to them for smoking.

There would still be a slight revenue upon opium, so that the Government would not lose all revenue derived from it. Then again, the Chinese who were in the habit of smoking it would smoke tobacco instead, and that would give an additional revenue in another direction. But I am sure none of the worthy gentlemen comprising our present Parliament would say "import opium for the sake of the revenue," because such broad-minded and highly principled men as we have amongst our freetraders and protectionists would consider the saving of souls long before the mere question of £ s. d. I feel positive that there is not one gentlemen who would like to see anyone belonging to him using this slow poison, but if it is not stopped, they are sure, some of them, sooner or later to be trapped. Then why should they not put themselves together as a body and stop it at once? Now is the time and the best time, while we have such a noble Governor as Lord Carrington, in the jubilee year of our most gracious Sovereign's reign. What more notable event could New South Wales do or have in this year than the "Abolition of Opium Importation?" I am sure every sensible and well-thinking man will say "None." I am almost certain that if New South Wales showed the example by stopping the traffic, Victoria would follow suit, judging from the way Mr. Service, who was then Premier, the Hon. Graham Berry, several members of Parliament, and the Inspector-General of Police treated me while I was trying to get an insight into the state of affairs as regards opium-smoking in that colony. They took an active part with me in visiting some of the Chinese places in Melbourne. We were a little baffled in our fist visit, but the second proved more successful, for we caught some (consisting of European women and Chinese) in the very act of smoking. The whole of the newspapers of that colony were in full favor of my exertions, as were also the leading Chinese merchants; and in Ballarat a meeting was held and everyone present supported the movement to stop the trade, and promised to do all that could be done to help me when called upon. That in itself speaks volumes.

When opium was first imported into China (by the East India Company), the authorities of that country did not see the evil, but as soon as they discovered it they tried to put a stop to it. Alas! It was too late, for they were prevented by international agreements, and all they could do was to shut their eyes and say no more. It is a most lamentable sight to view the misery existing in some of the habitations in China, caused simply by the use of opium. Homes that once were happiness itself, and supplied with every comfort, were denuded even of furniture of any description - all had been sold or disposed of by other means simply to gratify a taste for this cursed drug. I know of one case where the father of a family who used to be pretty well to do took to opium-smoking. His means ran short and he sold all he could, leaving the family quite destitute, to get money to buy opium. One of his sons became seriously ill and died. He had no means to bury him, and when he asked people for assistance he was refused, for no one in China will look upon or help an opium-smoker - no matter what his troubles may be. The mother, when things were in this terrible plight, gave to him some money (she had saved by her own hard industry, unknown to him) to go and get their son a coffin. The father when he got the money, instead of putting it to the use intended, took it off to an opium-house and smoked it all away. The mother anxiously waited for his return, but no. A messenger was despatched, who soon returned with the news that her husband was housed in an opium-shop, and had never been near the undertaker. This is only one case out of hundreds similar. Why not then try to stop it in this young country, before it reaches a state equal to what I have described?

Evidences of the evils caused by opium-smoking were given me by Signor Raimondi, the Roman Catholic Bishop of Hongkong, during a conversation the other day. The Bishop has lived in China more than twenty-eight years, moving from one province to another, and he says it is totally impossible to thoroughly describe the miseries the families of Chinese opium-smokers undergo. He goes further, and says he would not agree to opium being brought into this colony even for chemists except in a liquid condition. Any Chinaman known to use opium is not admitted to the Church. I think I can safely say that in twelve months' time after the prohibition of the importation, all gentlemen who have spoken publicly against the Chinese would speak very differently. Words cannot express how dreadfully hurt the respectable Chinese feel when things are said publicly against them, for the gentlemen who denounce make no allowance but class all alike, although that is anything but fair, for no criminal case against the Chinese has ever come from any of the respectable business houses, large or small, but has in every case originated in places where opium is used. I had a conversation lately with some of the large Chinese importers, and they admit it is a cursed evil, and would be pleased to see it stopped from coming into the colonies. They said, "But as long as it is allowed to be imported, why should we not benefit as well as any other man." It is through this opium that the Chinese get indolent - in some cases too lazy or weak even to keep their persons clean; that they crowd together in very badly ventilated rooms, where a number can, as they think, enjoy the poison together, and that horrible smell so many people complain of is caused. Then again - and worse than all - these men lose all inclination for work of any kind, and so commence that wicked and pernicious vice gambling, simply because they can do it with little exercise of strength. I don't say for one moment that the police have not done their duty as far as hunting some of these gambling dens out, but I do say there are a number of places that are still to be found. Why not save the police this "blind man's buff" work by stopping the opium. Then the gambling would cease; and more than they, the Chinese, if they intend to remain in the colony, would completely reform with the assistance of the different Chinese clergymen (Church of England, Wesleyan, Presbyterian, and Roman Catholic), and become more attached to the European customs, and in time form a splendid addition to the workers of this colony. Then some of the better class of people in China, when they find that the Chinese are being appreciated and held in higher estimation by the people here, will cast in their lot among us. Whereas at present we have coming to the colony a very mixed class, for in numerous cases people are sent here by their relatives or parents because no good can be got out of them through their having taken to opium. I heard and saw (while on a visit to China in the year 1881) of some cases where the parents went so far as to threaten to murder their sons unless they gave up smoking opium, but even that did not frighten them - in fact, took no effect; so rather than see them go to ruin the parents gave them some money and sent them about their business. And where did they go? Well, to the place where they knew they could get any amount of opium without any remonstrance from anyone.

At the time of the general outcry against the Chinese, the Government had a thorough investigation made of the Chinese camps in Wagga, Narrandera, Deniliquin, Albury, and Hay, in order to find out the cause, and it was the outcome of these men using opium. Not only the Chinese in these five places visited were found to use this drug, but also seventy-five European women, and out of the seventy-five fifty were confirmed smokers. Now, readers, you can imagine for yourselves the results, when so many were found in five places alone.

If the Government had stopped the importation then, the cry would have ceased ere now, and as long as the use of opium is legalised, why cry out against the Chinese? Cry out rather against the Government for not stopping it, for the power is theirs and in their hands.

During my last attempt to get this curse removed, numberless squatters and other gentlemen wished me every success, for they have had in their employ Chinamen who smoke and those who do not. Speaking from experience, they said "Get the traffic stopped for all that is good, because it is a cursed evil. I would sooner employ a drunkard any day than an opium-smoker." So I pray that all will with one voice cry "Stop the importation;" and if anyone be found after a certain date selling the opium, except chemists, let a very heavy fine be inflicted or a long term of imprisonment. The smuggling would be very slight, and could be easily detected - if by no other means, the smell. The present large importers would have more honor than disgrace themselves by importing after the law was passed prohibiting its sale.

I wish all to understand that I have no other motive for taking up this great cause than true wishes and good feelings for the benefit and good of all, this generation and succeeding ones, living in New South Wales and even over the whole of Australia.

The following is a copy of a petition about to be presented to the Honorable Speaker of the House of the Legislative Assembly of New South Wales:-

THE PETITION of the undersigned Citizens of the Colony of New South Wales, and also of Chinese Residents within the same:


1. That your Petitioners, having in view the well-being of this community, regard with feelings of alarm the largely increasing consumption of opium by Chinese residents of the colony.

2. That the use of opium is exceedingly hurtful to those persons who habitually indulge in that narcotic; and also to the general population, for the following reasons, namely:-

(a) That the constant use of opium is calculated to impair the moral and physical systems, and consequently to induce habits of indolence.

(b) That by reason of the indolence so produced, persons are unfitted for and undesirous of pursuing any mechanical or other useful occupation; and to this cause are to be attributed the gambling and criminal propensities of those Chinese who consume opium.

(c) That the conditions under which opium is consumed in this community cause large numbers of Chinese to assemble in ill-ventilated and crowded apartments, whereby, in addition to the essential evil arising from the use of the opium, these resorts are turned into hotbeds for the generation of fevers and cognate diseases.

(d) That many European girls and women, after being induced to use the narcotic, become habitues of the same resorts, and scenes of the grossest immorality ensue.

3. That your Petitioners desire to point out that the use of opium in China is confined to the very lowest orders of Chinese society, and that those using it are unfavorably regarded by their fellow-countrymen.

4. That in the event of the introduction of opium into New South Wales being prohibited by law, there will be very little inducement for its consumers to come to this colony; while on the other hand, Chinese of a superior class, recognising that under the altered conditions their presence on these shores will be more favorably regarded, will, in all probability, cast in their lot among us.

Your Petitioners therefore humbly pray:-

That at an early date a measure may be framed and laid before Parliament, prohibiting the importation of opium into this colony, excepting for medicinal purposes; and that such measure may also provide against the sale of opium excepting for medicinal purposes, and where the purchaser produces a satisfactory prescription or certificate form a duly and legally qualified medical practitioner requiring that the same may be supplied.

And furthermore that the said measure may be so framed as to come into operation at the expiration of six months from the passing thereof.

And your Petitioners, as in duty bound, will ever pray, &c, &c.

Dated at Sydney this fifth day of April, in the year of our Lord one thousand eight hundred and eighty-seven.