Asian Studies Program

Chinese Australia

Problems and Procedures

In 1986 the problems facing the administration of the New Ballarat Cemetery were highlighted when the authors of this study attempted to locate a particular Chinese grave. The grave we were looking for was listed as in the New Cemetery in Section 3, Grave 25. As there was no longer a complete map of the Chinese section of the cemetery it was not possible to locate the grave.

Three partial maps had been drawn at various times over the preceeding hundred and forty years but they did not appear to match the current layout of the Chinese Section. The Altar and Furnace, marked on one map as being in the seventh row from the western end, are in reality further to the east. The longest rows are to the west, although existing maps locate them toward the centre of the cemetery .The cemetery listings also showed considerable re-use of numbers. It appeared there were either four or more burials in many graves or that there had been a renumbering of rows, such that two original rows were now listed as one. This was true for rows one to four. Lack of an accurate picture of the Chinese area had prompted cemetery officials to cease listing Sections (rows) and Graves.

In 1986, when this study began, there were over four hundred gravestones in the New Cemetery. The majority were decipherable, although due to weathering this is unlikely to be the case for much longer. In that year Professor Lu Binqun, Chairman of the English Department of Nanjing College of Education, visited Australia as an International Teaching Fellow. Part of his time was spent at Ballarat University College (then Ballarat College of Advanced Education). As a classical Chinese scholar he was interested in the problems of the transliteration and translation of the Chinese gravestones and matching the stones with cemetery records.

Professor Lu offered to transcribe, transliterate and translate the gravestones from the New Cemetery .As we worked, we recognized that the information on the gravestones themselves offers the most accurate record of the true identity and background of the occupants of the graves. With the information from the gravestones (date of death and the true name) and Professor Lu' s assistance in giving probable European pronunciation of names, it has been possible with a reasonable degree of accuracy to correlate the old maps, the cemetery records, and the twenty two rows of gravestones. The area has been remapped and previously unstated locations of Chinese deaths recorded in due course. A full-scale map has been deposited at the cemetery and a section of the redrawn map and matching gravestone locations is reproduced in the present volume.

The European name given to the occupant was an approximation of the sound of the true name. European records listed places of birth simply as Hong Kong, Canton or China. By establishing a link between the European records and the gravestones we could, for the first time, trace the identity of the person.

Professor Lu' s time in Australia was limited but his achievement was substantial. He spoke Mandarin, Cantonese, a little Hakka dialect and English, and his ability to pronounce the information on the gravestone as Europeans would hear it, as well as linking burial records with grave location and dates on the gravestone, enabled us to match many gravestones to European records with reasonable certainty. By the time of Professor Lu' s departure the records of the New Cemetery had been completed. Mme. Zhao Xueru, an International Teaching Fellow from the Foreign Language Department of Suzhou University, took up where Professor Lu left off, and recorded the gravestones found in the Old Cemetery.

The fruits of the labours of Lu Binqun and Zhao Xueru are to be found in the transcriptions, translations and, in many cases, the correlated cemetery records set out in the first half of this volume. As a rule, each gravestone records the full name of the deceased, place of birth and date of death according to the Chinese calendar.

Cemetery records are included after each set of transcriptions and translations. For the New Cemetery they are in many cases correlated with gravestones. The cemetery records give the name by which the person was known by the Europeans, the age at death (often just a guess as indicated by the abnormally high incidence of age thirty, age thirty five, age forty and other rounded numbers in the records) the place of residence in the Ba1larat district, occupation, burial location (if known), the date of burial by the European calendar and, in many cases, the cause of death. The burial of paupers at public expense is also noted in the records, usually by the term 'remit'. This was of some assistance in our attempts to correlate graves and records as paupers were not permitted gravestones.

Causes of death of Chinese over the age of seventy have not been transcribed from cemetery records unless easily accessible. For the rest, the cause of death is often recorded as 'Inquest,' 'Enquiry' or 'Accident.' To give a clearer picture of the history of the occupants of the cemeteries, we have included inquest records for Chinese deaths in the Ballarat district for the years to 1880. Correlation at this level is difficult. Many of the inquests relate to Chinese buried in cemeteries in the outlying districts, and the European versions of the name often vary from inquest to burial record. It is often only feasible to match a range of entries. A burial record may appear to match more than one possible inquest entry. For this reason the inquest records are included separately.

On many burial records the residence of the deceased is listed as Hospital or Benevolent Home. As an additional aid to identification, we have located the relevant records of the Ballarat Hospital and the Ballarat Benevolent Asylum for the period to 1880, and have compiled a comprehensive listing of periods of hospitalization of Chinese. Here correlation is best achieved by inference, that is, by matching date of burial with records of death (or discharge) on hospital records. In some cases a hospital stay preceded death even though a death was not recorded against the stay. Many records of hospital releases are annotated with remarks such as 'no better' or 'refused amputation -discharged himself.' All relevant records have been included to facilitate maximum correlation.

Four sources of reference have been used for burial records: computer listings, incomplete maps, registers and burial records. The computer listing was held to be inaccurate whenever it deviated from the other three. Whenever a discrepancy appeared among the three original records, the discrepancy was simply noted.

It is impossible to match headstones and records by location alone, as distances from gravestone to gravestone are uneven and in many cases the gravestones appear to bear little relation to deaths recorded on the burial records. Many dates on the gravestones are either missing or indecipherable. Furthermore, when they can be deciphered, the Chinese lunar months on the gravestone are different to the months listed as date of burial except in the most recent of graves. For fear that we may build more errors into the data we have not attempted to translate Lunar months to the European calendar.

The New Cemetery showed an interesting pattern. Periodically a burial would be processed without a given location. When this happened there had nearly always been an exhumation from the Chinese section in the preceeding few days, as a body was removed for transporting back to China. Matching of gravestones with these unlisted locations confirmed our belief that the empty graves had simply been refilled, and the missing locations were rewritten accordingly.

The information from the relatively modern grave shown overleaf illustrates some of the difficulties encountered in identifying the deceased even when the gravestone is intact, legible and one of the very few showing a 'pinyin' name.

Gravestone Matching Burial Record: A Sample from Gravestone 15.

Huang sha tou village
Zeng yi district
Huang sha tou village
Zhu Laifu / Gee Loy Fook name
Seventh Year of the Republic (1918), Ninth Month, Seventh Day date of death

Matching Burial Record:
Row 18 Grave 02
Ah Loy, Buried 14th October 1918 Aged 73 at Ballarat Hospital

Note: Pinyin translation of the name is Zhu Laifu; Early-style Cantonese transliteration on gravestone is Gee Loy Fook; the name on the burial record is Ah Loy. All refer to the one person.

The correlation was made possible by Professor Lu comparing the burial record with his interpretation of the current and past sounds represented by the calligraphy on the gravestone. Pronunciation of Chinese names varies considerably. When the links between names are tenuous and the dates are incomplete, correlation is an inexact procedure. In other cases, when the gravestone appears to be over the grave of an occupant with a totally mismatching burial record, correlation is noted in the tables by an asterisk.

The old maps and the cemetery register for the New Cemetery showed Rows 1A - Row 13A. Rows 1A to Rows 4A were traceable but Rows SA -Rows 13A did not physically match the appearance of the gravestones. The recorded location of these rows was in fact a patch of boggy ground entirely unsuitable for graves. This depression has recently been filled. There were no matching gravestones for relatively modern burials of the 1930s. When translating gravestones we found stones to fit the records at the end of the long older rows, and concluded that cemetery officials abandoned their numbering system around the turn of the century and had simply renamed the rows.

We have made no attempt to match the gravestones to burial records in the Old Cemetery. Over two thirds of Chinese burials recorded in the Old Cemetery register are listed as Location Not Known, and there are no known existing maps or partial maps. We have, however, included the raw data in our tables. For ease of comparison, burial records for which rows and numbers appear in the register have been listed in the same row order as the listing of the gravestones.

Burials, inquests and hospital records have been compiled by searching for 'Chinese names' in the relevant records. This is itself a source of inaccuracy. If a Chinese person was using a European sounding name it has not been recorded here unless, as was often the case, "Chinese" was marked against the entry. In some cases Chinese nationality has been assumed because of the date or the location of the burial.

The inquest records were compiled by searching through the records of inquests for the colony for the years 1840 to 1880. Because inquest summaries were compiled alphabetically in volumes covering several years and those summaries cover the whole of Victoria, we may have missed an occasional entry. We were reading hand-written records from microfiche and some entries were illegible.

Hospital records have been researched in much the same way, by sifting through dated entries and retrieving those patients with Chinese names or with birthplace listed as China. Because the records have been retrieved from original registers, some of which are exceedingly frail, mistakes and omissions are inevitable in their transcription. The handwriting in the original records is often faded or unclear .In these cases we have left gaps. Elsewhere, uncertainty is indicated.

In order to demonstrate how the linking of gravestone, burial record, hospital record and inquest record may yield comprehensive information about the occupant of a grave, we include below an illustrative sample: Gravestone 258 of the New Cemetery at Ballarat, the resting place of Li Guanghe of Tangzhou Village in Nan Yi District

Gravestone 258 of New Cemetery. Photo: Linda Brumley

Place of origin:Tangzhou Village, Jingtou, Nan Yi
Name: Li Guanghe

Matching Burial Record:
Row 3 Grave 4
Name Wah Quang, Rec.No.2549, Age at death -30
Buried 30.9.1873
Place of residence: Hospital
Occupation: Miner
Cause of death: Accident

Matching Hospital Record:
Name Quong Wah, Rec.No.5575, Age 48
Admitted 25/9/73 Died 28/9/73
Address Little Bendigo
Miner, Buddhist, Birthplace Canton
Years in colony: 7.

Matching Inquest Record:
Name Quong Wah, Ballarat
Cause of death: Fall of Earth.
Inquest reference 848 73.

Note discrepancy in recorded age.

The full inquest record, as retrieved from the Public Record Office at Laverton, VIC., can be viewed by clicking here.