Asian Studies Program

Chinese Australia

Digital Documents Record

1623 Copy of letter from Quong Tart to Prime Minister Edmund Barton regarding the Immigration Restriction Act and NSW poll tax on Chinese

Full Document Caption:

A copy of Mei Quong Tart’s letter to the Prime Minister Edmund Barton following his depuation to the Prime Minister is held in the papers of George Ernest and Jennie Wark Morrison. G.E. Morrison (1862-1920) was a doctor of medicine, adventurous traveller and journalist He became a resident correspondent of The Times at Peking in 1897 and political adviser to the president of China, 1912-1920. He also supported the overseas Chinese in Australia.

In the letter Mei Quong Tart argues a large number of law abiding and upright Chinese were making their home in Australia. He suggests that for family and business reasons some of these Chinese may need to periodically visit China. He argues those of good character should be granted an exception from the Immigration Restriction Act - both its poll tax and dictation test. He also suggests that the State Acts with similar provisions to the Commonwealth Immigration Restriction Act be abolished as they cause unnecessary hardship for Chinese travellers and their businesses. Finally he argues that naturalised Chinese Australians (with naturalisation papers and proof of identity) should enjoy all the rights of a British subject and be free to travel without restriction.

Source: Copy of letter from Quong Tart to Prime Minister Edmund Barton regarding the Immigration Restriction Act and NSW poll tax on Chinese, Morrison, George Ernest and Jennie Wark papers, Mitchell Library, State Library of New South Wales, Box ML Mss 312

Region: Date From: 1902 To: 1903
New South Wales    

This document is available in two possible forms:

1. Scanned original version

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2. Searchable text version (below)

[handwritten note: Copy. Letter Sent to the Prime Minister]

Queen Victoria Markets,

January 8th, 1903.

To the Right Honorable
Sir Edmund Barton, P.C., K.C.,
Prime Minister of the Commonwealth of Australia,
Macquarie Street.

At your request, I have the honor, on behalf of the Deputation which waited upon you on the 29th Ultimo in reference to certain provisions of the Immigration Restriction Act affecting the Chinese, to place before you this following facts for your kind consideration.

1. As regards the question of Domicile certificates, there are in the Commonwealth a great number of Chinese fulfilling all the requirements of citizenship. Many are engaged in Market Gardening, others employed as clerks and storemen in city and country stores, also merchants and storekeepers who have established Businesses and lived here for many years. Then again a small proportion are to be found filling appointments in European families, where, in many cases they remain for years, and enjoy the confidence of their employers, who are always ready to vouch for their trustworthiness and general good character.

All of these at some time or another, in keeping with the Chinese custom, while still intending to make Australia their permanent home, wish to visit their native land for the purpose of seeing their aged parents (the Chinese lave of parents being very strong) or other relatives. Occasions also arise when commercial interests necessitate their visiting China.

As citizens they are law abiding and are as a rule highly esteemed for their integrity, perseverence [sic] and philanthropy, and in many cases reference as to character is volunteered by the leading public men to whom they are known. Notwithstanding this, there is an impression that the provisions of the Immigration Restriction Act debars them from re-entering the Commonwealth should they leave it for the purposes before stated. Only those with some interest at stake, either large or small, in the Commonwealth would apply for these certificates. Numerous instances exist where the refusal to grant them would mean financial ruin, for after toiling many years to create a lucrative business, a Chinese about to visit China and failing to obtain a certificate has only one alternative, and that is to sacrifice the business that took so long, and so much of his labor to build up.

- Apart from this there is also the danger of commercial relations between the two countries becoming affected - .

We do not ask that certificates be granted to others who may have lived here equally long, but through whose habits during their term of residence may have become undesirable. As before stated all reputable Chinese, in any station of life, have no difficulty in procuring letters of recommendation form well known public men, and leading tradespeople, and in these cases where there can be no doubt as to their bona fides, we hope that there may be no difficulty in the way of Domicile certificates being granted.

Numbers of aged Chinese, having no interests here, and returning to China would not apply for certificates, and a per centage [sic] of others visiting China in possession of certificates, would, owing to deaths and other causes never use them, so the fact of their being granted would not be any means tend to increase the Chinese population here, on the contrary, it will go on steadily decreasing.

In cases of deaths in China where certificates are held, these papers would be of no use to other Chinese owing to the stringent precautions taken by the Authorities here to avoid transfers. The Customs Officers throughout Australia by reason of their long experience with the Chinese would readily detect any impersonation, so no fear need to entertained of fraud being perpetrated in this direction.

2. The Education test" [sic] This practically prohibits Chinese Immigration, as no one however learned he may be in Chinese or English Literature, would write out a sentence offifty [sic] words in a European language, as for instance, if he wrote and spoke English perfectly the test might be applied in French or German and vice versa. A man would, therefore, need to live for three generations before entertaining a hope of overcoming this. The admittance, then, of Chinese under this Act being out of the question, we are only concerned in the matter of exemption certificates. In this connection the commonwealth Act declares that when a Chinese fails to pass the Education Test he may, upon depositing £100 with the Commonwealth land therein and remain for Thirty days, and upon his departure at the expiration of that time, or at the expiration of the term for which an exemption certificate may have been granted, this money is refunded him.

This provision is of great importance to those Chinese who have large interests in Business carried on in the Commonwealth, as at times it is imperative that they should visit them for personal inspection and inquiry into their working.

In such cases, however, where permission is thus granted to enter the Commonwealth, this State demands from a Chinese a further deposit of £100 before allowing him to land. This is indeed hard on a person after complying with the provisions of the Commonwealth Act, as in addition to the expense incurred in making the trip he is compelled to take £200 [note: corrected from £100] from his business which amount must necessarily remain idle during his stay.

Before undertaking a trip like this there must be something very important at stake, as no one would go to the expense thus incurred unless business urgently demanded it.

We regard the Commonwealth Act as supreme and as entitling us to free intercourse throughout the whole Commonwealth, and consequently consider the State deposit of £100, an unjust demand that should not be enforced, and contend that the Immigration Restriction Act which permits a Chinese to land in any of the States upon the conditions mentioned makes the State Act obsolete.

3. We wish to point out that Chinese who have been naturalized and hold their naturalization papers, together with proof of their identity, wishing to visit China, are subjected to the same procedure upon applying for a certificate of Domicile as the person who is not naturalized.

We request that in the case of a Chinese possessing his naturalization certificate, he should be allowed to go and come at will, and enjoy - as he is certainly entitled to, under his oath of allegiance to the Soverign [sic] - all the rights and privileges of a British Subject.

I have the honor to be,


Your obedient Servant,
[signed Q. Tart]