Who Were They?
Unknown photographer, Ellen and William Lee Kim with son Richard (b.1885), circa 1885.Contributors
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Part of a family lineage: whether they were sojourners or settlers, miners or merchants, the ancestral family name of Chinese goldseekers was important.
Chinese culture emphasised allegiance to lineage and to family. Elders were respected and ancestors worshipped. Your Chinese family name connected you to your ancestral lineage and to your village or region. In some villages all the residents shared the same family name. Chinese sons were under pressure to honour their immediate family and ancestors by returning home as wealthy men.
This cultural pressure to return to honour the family lineage meant most voyagers thought of themselves as sojourners in Victoria, temporary visitors staying only for a while. Most of the Chinese men who came to Victoria to seek gold did return back to China. However, once in Victoria not all chose, or were able, to return home. Some died on the goldfields before they could go back. Others chose to settle in Australia. And some decided to follow the next mining boom in another city or country.
Chinese did not always share their family name with Europeans on arrival, but family connections were well known between diaspora members and family linkages formed part of the mutual network of support Chinese migrants drew on to survive.
Pictured is the Lee Kim family, William and Ellen with their son Richard, Bendigo, circa 1885.
William Lee Kim came to Australia seeking gold and then became a market gardener. He married Ellen Plowright in the 1870s and settled in Victoria, raising a family.
Lee was the ancestral name of this family. The Australian descendents at first adopted the surname Lee-Kim but eventually abandoned the ancestral name 'Lee', and adopted the surname 'Kim'.