Royal Commission into Alleged Chinese Gambling and Immorality 1891

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Royal Commission into Alleged Chinese Gambling and Immorality 1891

The ostensible aim of the Commission was to establish the extent of bribery and extortion within the Chinese gambling community, and between gambling syndicates and the police. Given the hysteria that had surrounded the passage of legislation restricting the entry of Chinese a few years earlier in 1888, the even-handed findings of the Commission must have surprised those in the community who liked to portray the Chinese as opium-drugged gambling degenerates.

The findings were influenced by the composition of the commission, which included Chinese businessman Mei Quong Tart and was headed by the Mayor of Sydney, William Manning, whose property interests included stores rented to 'old and respected' importer Sun Hing Jang, and grocer King Hing.

While many questions were directed to the stated issues of the enquiry, the commissioners' careful consideration of workplace activities, clan organisations and community activities went far beyond the original brief.

Over 60 people were interviewed, Chinese and non-Chinese. Some gave evidence through an interpreter. Both men and women were interviewed, and the social mix was inclusive, from community leaders to humble labourers. Site visits were made to Chinese shops, houses and factories in the Rocks and in Surry Hills, and questions revealed much about family organisation. The report provides a dense and comprehensive picture of the Chinese community in Sydney at this time. Appendices provide detailed statistical information. [1]

On the question of Chinese gambling, evidence made it clear that the so-called Chinese gambling dens could not survive on the meagre clientele of the small Chinese population, and that in any case their overall contribution to the level of gambling in Sydney was 'trifling'. Ramsey McKillop, of the Trades and Labor Council, testified to the popularity of fan-tan tables among Sydney's wharfies, and argued that calls for suppression of Chinese gambling came from the same people who wished to suppress gambling in general, along with drinking, and enjoying the Sabbath. The commissioners judged gambling to be an evil, but stressed that it was a universal vice.

Claims that disreputable Chinese 'dens' were harming honest trade in Lower George Street were dismissed as irrelevant, citing the rerouting of tram lines and the relocation of certain major firms as the more likely reasons. [2]

In the report, individual members of a community not well understood by mainstream Sydneysiders came to life. Anti-Chinese sentiment and outright racism was part of the picture, but so was accommodation and acceptance. The Mayor of Alexandria told the Commission that the local market gardeners gave him jars of preserved ginger at Christmas time. The commission observed that successful and affable furniture maker Ah Toy was afflicted by having a 'bad drunken Englishwoman' as his wife. Such detailed information provides an unexpectedly intimate window into Sydney's Chinese community at the end of the nineteenth century. [3]

References

Report of the Royal Commission on Alleged Chinese Gambling and Immorality and Charges of Bribery Against Members of the Police Force, Government Printer, Sydney, 1892

Notes

[1] Royal Commission into Alleged Chinese Gambling and Immorality, NSW Legislative Assembly Votes & Proceedings 1891–92, vol 8. Appendices contain, for example a return on premises occupied by Chinese in the City of Sydney, with address, names, function and building description, for over 400 places

[2] Royal Commission into Alleged Chinese Gambling and Immorality, NSW Legislative Assembly Votes & Proceedings 1891–92, vol 8, pp 486–95

[3] Royal Commission into Alleged Chinese Gambling and Immorality, NSW Legislative Assembly Votes & Proceedings 1891–92, vol 8, pp 536, 958

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