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Tracking the dragon

Research into Chinese history in the central west


ong Gee’s grave, Sofala. 1

Isle of Dreams Sofala. 2

Ah Foo of Maitland Bar



Wong Gee’s grave, Sofala



This Grave and headstone of Wong Gee is an important item of cultural heritage as the only tangible reminder of a once large Chinese presence in this now small village .

Wong Gee was believed to have been a market gardener, and remained after the gold mining period. He was born in 1832 and may well have come to Sofala as a young man in the mining era of the 1850s and 60s. After the gold mining period Wong Gee stayed on,.

Although there were other Chinese burials at this cemetery, Wong Gee’s  grave stone is the only surviving memorial to a Chinese person at this cemetery. 

Sofala was an important site for Chinese gold miners. The whole village is significant by virtue of its historical importance and its topographical position.  The features of the buildings and the informal layout which is reminiscent of an English village, all combine to give Sofala picturesque charm.

Sofala was the centre of a major New South Wales goldfield and during the 1850s and early 1860s the field often led the colony in gold production and population.  Additionally, the local goldfields had a very high Chinese population and witnessed important political and technological developments.  .   

Sofala is an integral part of the state's gold mining history and heritage and is especially distinctive in being Australia's oldest surviving gold town.   


The grave marker of  Wong Gee , who died in 1907, and is believed to have been a market gardener. The gravestone is a shaped sandstone marker with the words :  in memory of Wong Gee who departed this life June 5th 1907, aged 75 years.

(Note the death records have the age as 73). The grave has a more recent wrought iron fence around it, provided by a later resident of Sofala.

There are three formal cemeteries in the village. This is the General Cemetery. Others are the Catholic and Anglican cemetery. Not withstanding this it is possible that other localities within Sofala were also used for burial.



Sofala, in the Turon River valley north of Bathurst, is Australia's oldest surviving gold town.  Although the Ophir goldrush preceded the Turon rush no township survives at Ophir today.  The goldrush to the Turon River began in June 1851 and the greatest conglomeration of tents and huts on the field shortly after was named Sofala.  Before the end of 1851 the field had a population in excess of 10,000 (the Turon was the largest field in New South Wales at the time) and during the first decade of gold the Turon was often the colony's leading goldfield in terms of production and population.  In 1853 the Turon witnessed the climax of a struggle against the miners' licence that almost resulted in armed insurrection; the event was in some ways a precursor of the Eureka Stockade rebellion at Ballarat. Large numbers of Chinese diggers were on the field and in 1861 Sofala had the highest Chinese population of any gold town in New South Wales. 

The field witnessed many changes in goldmining technology; the first attempt at hydraulic sluicing in the colony, for example, occurred on the Turon.  From the mid 1860s the field declined.  However with the opening of the 1870s the reef mining boom began at nearby Hill End and the Turon field experienced considerable reefing activity, although the reefs were not as remunerative as those at Hill End. 

In 1899 dredging began at Sofala and dredges operated on the field until 1914.  The area saw some revival during the Depression, though gold returns now were very low. 

Sofala has for some years been

known tourist destination.  In addition to its historical significance, Sofala also has considerable aesthetic appeal.

James Rutherford Cobb & Co diary 1863                                             

April 23rd

‘I intended to have gone to Sofala today, but could not get away, as it is the day of the race club meeting and Mr. Chapman, who is to go with me could not get away.

The coach took eleven Chinamen this morning. I am determined to get all of them at some price, rather than allow the opposition to carry them.

My business to Sofala is to arrange for booking them through, so that Gaynor will have no chance of getting any of them, as two or three loads would make him stand high in his stirrups’




Isle of Dreams Sofala

The Isle of Dreams

Significance: This location of the Chinese Opium den known as the Isle of Dreams, was once an important recreational place for many of the Chinese miners of Sofala

The whole village is significant  by virtue of its historical importance and its topographical position.  The features of the buildings and the informal layout which is reminiscent of an English village, and Sofala was an important site for Chinese gold miners..

It was the centre of a major New South Wales goldfield and during the 1850s and early 1860s the field often led the colony in gold production and population.  Additionally, the goldfield had a very high Chinese population and witnessed important political and technological developments. 


The location of the Island which contained the Opium Den is approximately 1.67 kilometres from the main road at Sofala. The island in the Turon River and was known as the Isle of Dreams. The  Island’ is now connected to the main river bank by an earth bridge and is occupied by a small miners cottage. It is believed that nothing remains of the Chinese presence there.

(Note: An opium tin, which is part of a local private collection of Chinese items found at Sofala is photographically recorded in Golden Threads by Janis Wilton p69)

In 1861 the census revealed that 42% of the population of the Turon goldfield were Chinese.

Most of what remains today does not however testify to the Chinese presence, but to the Europeans.

The village nestles on the river bank in the floor of the steep sided Turon valley.  Its buildings, predominantly weatherboard (though there are also some brick), with their iron gabled and hipped roofs, stand close to one another along the narrow  winding streets, themselves having no formal kerbing to distinguish them from the property frontages.


According to The Sojourners  by Eric Rolls (P 154)

At Sofala, a Chinese built a big hotel that catered mostly for Europeans. A Chinese doctor set up there and several store keepers. Sofala welcomed them.

And P 398 

of those who worked here for more than a couple of years, up to 90 % smoked opium.

 By 1861[1]  39% of the population on the Turon were of Chinese origin. Most of their activities involved sluicing and many each kept gardens of vegetables next to their houses.

Between 1861 and 1868, mining companies were formed, as more capital was required to efficiently work the reef mines. As the shafts became deeper, more problems arose with the influx of water, so stronger machines had to be purchased to keep this under control. Many of the companies early on were centred in Sofala. It was this period that was the general Chinese mining period.

Later some attempt was made to revive mining in the area by dredging the Turon.

In 1899 the Turon River Dredging Company commenced operations with a floating pontoon on which was a boiler and a 16 hp engine, with steam winches and a small donkey engine.

A second dredge was constructed 5 km down the river. A further dredge commenced operations in 1900, but closed in 1901. These dredges were on the Turon in the Sofala area.

On 26-10-1900 Sofala Gold Dredging Co. began dredging the Turon in the Gulf area, 9 men were employed and for the year treated 18000 cubic yards for 84 ozs of gold and  shutdown in 1901 due to poor returns. It shutdown about the junction of the Palmers Oakey Creek and Turon. (reference Colin L Ferguson)


[1] Kerrin Cook and Daniel Garvey  The Glint of Gold. 1999 pp 292, 293

Ah Foo of Maitland Bar

RECORD 33 Ah Foo, of Upper Meroo

Ah Foo Chronlogy as a follow-up to e-mail #1]

Newspaper articles:

The Western post and Mudgee Newspaper 1861

 8th May 1861 ‘Windeyer: from our correspondent’

 1. Discussion on the number of Chinese at Windeyer, particularly the Meroo Gold field.

About the Chinese trading n the field including ;’sly grog dealing; One Chinaman had up from Sydney a short time ago 30 or 40 cases of pale brandy.. ‘ a quantity that was illegal at the time except for licensed dealers in spirits..

‘So it is with opium, beef etc if they cannot produce a business license they have bought them for their own consumption’.. and the complaint against them being ‘as soon as they raise a few pounds they get into Business, as soon as they master a few hundred they go to China and spend it’.

 Consequently the proposal to raise the cost of a Business License to five pounds  year (The Gold Fields Amendment Bill) was seen as oppressive of the Europeans, … but they asked for a clause to be inserted that would ‘prohibit a Chinamen from carrying on business ‘.


2. May 4th 1861

A few articles

  • Windeyer:  about the same as above re business and Chinese
  • The movement of Chinese from place to place:

       ‘On Tuesday morning about 200 Chinamen from Lambing Flat passed through Mudgee on their way to the Hanging Rock diggings. On the afternoon of the same another 50 more arrived, who camped on the government reserve. We expect from a conversation that we had with one of them that they will either set up work at Pipeclay Creek or else Cooyal’. On Wednesday another 89 passed through town.


3. 14th April 1861

  •                 The movement of Chinese from place to place:

                                ‘A number of Chinamen are returning from Lambing Flat to the Meroo..’

  •                 Rumoured gold find on the Fish River: 600 or 700 men are on the ground



Ah Foo [a.k.a. Ah Fooke, John Fooke, John Foo]

1971    arrives Sydney ex. Canton [?] on Elleanora [according to Naturalisation documents] sign of Elleanora in 1871                 

[there¹s an AFFOOK listed as crew [OS]  on Ellora arriving from  Port of Melbourne Jan 1874 !!!]

16 May
1884    applies for naturalisation

27 July
1884     takes Oath of Allegiance

? 1893    granted Land Portion Nos 36 & 37 [i acre total] at Upper Meroo

22 february
1923     bashed and robbed at Upper Meroo [c/f Police Gazette]

30 September
1925    Death from senile decay and heart failure at Mudgee District Hospital

30 September
1925    probate renounced

4 january

1926    land transferred to Edward Doherty


here are a few chinese websites I have found which may be helpful,


re/ Chinese identity who lived outside Mudgee at Upper Meroo. His name was Ah Foo [also known as John Fooke, John Foo, Ah Fooke ] and he died in Mudgee Hospital in July 1925.

His death certificate indicates that his funeral was conducted by J Swords and Co. Ah Foo¹s funeral is listed as the oldest entry in Estaugh and Carroll¹s record books.

As Ah Foo had some connection with my Grandmother¹s family at Upper Meroo,

The queries centre on a Chinese shopkeeper who lived at Upper Meroo named Ah Foo [aka John Fooke]. He died in Mudgee Hospital in 1925 and was buried in the C of E Cemetery.

According to a Police Gazette of 1923, Ah Foo was bashed and robbed by unknown assailants on 1923. Local legend has always referred to him as being Œmurdered¹ however his Death Certificate indicates that he died in July 1925 of Œheart failure¹  and Œsenile decay¹.


Ah Foo: Part 47

> Some developments on Ah Foo research

> 1. I've found out where he is buried

> 2.  1885 he owned a pig , a horse and 10 sheep.
> 3. he arrived in NSW in 1871 from Canton but I can't work out what
> ship it might have been.

His naturalisation papers say it was the Elleanora but I can't find it in
shipping records. There is an Ellora so maybe with his heavy accent
someone  wrote his as Elleanora.

Can anyone help:
A. with a possible ship
B. with ideas for tracking him prior to departure from Canton....are there
> any Cantonese genealogists out there?????
 Many thanks


Notes: BJH

John Bateman knows where the grave is

High Bateman has a coin from AH FOOS shop




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[1] Eileen Maxwell The Story of Gulgong p12

[2] Gulgong Evening Argus   July 9 1874

James Rutherford Cobb & Co diary 1863  

1] Kerrin Cook and Daniel Garvey  The Glint of Gold. 1999 pp 292, 293