Jong Ah Siug
The diary of Jong Ah Siug provides us with a unique, but puzzling account of life on the goldfields. The diary is difficult to comprehend, being a mix of strangely structured English and Cantonese.
In 2000, historians John Tully and Ruth Moore, published their efforts to translate and decode the work. This has shed some light on Jong's case and has given an insight into the sharp boundaries between two cultures on the Victorian goldfields.
Jong Ah Siug was born in Zhongshan, in southern China. Arriving in 1855, he moved around the diggings of Western Victoria for a time before settling in Bealiba (north of Maryborough).
Jong first made himself known to the authorities after attempting to sell ‘spurious gold’ in 1863. Making spurious gold involved mixing another metal - usually copper - with gold to produce an alloy that resembled pure gold. In response, shopkeepers had begun to use a flame test before they purchased gold. If the flame burned green, it showed there was copper mixed into the gold.
He was held in Maryborough Gaol for two months but the charge was dismissed and Jong spent the next few years at various diggings before he and some friends moved to Bealiba. Jong would later describe his own tent:
...a 3 piece calico tent 6 yards long and 3 yards wide, with walls 2 yards high […] I lived there with a good hole with lots of gold. I liked living there and made a garden. I made the garden in August 1866 and by October 1866 I had melons and vegetables growing […] At the gate of my yard which led to the side garden there was a piss pot on one side and the fowl house on the other side.
- Jong Ah Siug
Jong, Ah Siug & Tully, John & Moore, R C 2000, A difficult case: an autobiography of a Chinese miner on the central Victorian goldfields, Jim Crow Press, Daylesford, Vic.
Chinese miners were famous for their gardens and it was common practice to use urine as fertiliser. The practice is common in many countries around the world and supported by agricultural scientists.
At around this time, Jong and another Chinese man argued over an Irish woman they were both attracted to and Jong was badly injured in the ensuing knife fight. Jong was blamed for the assault and sent to gaol to await his trial.
Mental illness or the effects of opium withdrawal might explain some of his distress and these factors may have been behind the original altercation. On the charge of malicious wounding, Jong was acquitted, but his rage and self-inflicted injuries convinced the judge that he was of ‘unsound mind’. He was not released and the years of seclusion in Victorian asylums did not improve his mental health.
Jong began his diary in English in an attempt to clear his name. It is thought that he wished to present it to the Duke of Edinburgh who was on a royal tour of the colony in 1867.
In 1900, after 23 years of incarceration, Jong Ah Siug died in Sunbury Asylum. His notebook and written account may have been passed on to hospital staff but they did not help his case. Eventually the documents were given to the State Library of Victoria as a curious historical document. They would not be deciphered for more than 100 years.