In history, there are “hidden” women who should be recognized for the same reason we recognize “great men.” Hidden Figures introduced us to a few: African-American female mathematicians who worked on the first US space programme.
The rest of us are ordinary people who, at first glance, appear more like products of their time than they do as producers. Hop Lin Jong, a Chinese immigrant who arrived in Western Australia in 1900, was one of them. Her life would have been a solitary one if Ruby, her daughter, had not been killed in 1925.
Hop Lin Jong, according to his immigration records, was born in Guangzhou, but he arrived in Australia aboard the S.S. Australind which traveled the Singapore-Fremantle routes. Singapore was the hub of human trafficking, a multimillion-dollar business that connected villages in South China with the rest of the world. Hop Lin Jong was likely a victim.
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The year of her birth is uncertain: 1884 in the family genealogy, 1886 in her residential documents. When she disembarked in Fremantle, she was somewhere between 15 and 17 years of age. Her surname was Jong or Jung. In Australia she was known as Lin or Lucy, or more formally as Mrs Lee Wood, for on arrival, she was wed to James Lee Wood, butcher, merchant, and a prominent member of the local Chinese community. The instability of names resulting from poor English rendering is typical for this generation of Chinese migrants.
Lin arrived in Australia at the dawn of White Australia, just as restrictions aimed at stopping Chinese immigration were being implemented across the nation. It is not known how she crossed the color line, but minors were treated differently than adults. Her age may have played a role.
Early 20th century Perth: Life in the early 20th century
Lin’s wedding picture, which was published on the Chinese Australian Historical Images website, shows a young woman well-dressed in a tailored skirt and ruffled top. Ruffles were all the rage back then. In a second photo, her daughters Ruby and May, who were around two and three years old, are dressed in identical ruffled dresses with little boots. She had five kids, all born between 1902 to 1910.
There were very few Chinese women living in Perth at that time. In 1901, there were 18 Chinese women in Western Australia. The European wives and children of Chinese men boosted the local population. Lin was likely acquainted with Elizabeth Gipp, wife of Charlie Ah You and mother of Gipp Boys of Anzac Fame. George, Leslie, and Richard Gipp served in the First World War. They must have helped each other through the confinement period, as this was before hospital births.
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The Chinese community of Perth was centered in James St, Northbridge. The Chung Wah (Chinese) Society, established in 1909, had its premises in James St, and Lee Wood’s butcher shop occupied the ground floor of the same building. In 1914, Lee Woods bought a house in Tiverton St, not far away. Family social and economic life operated between the two poles of Tiverton and James Streets. There was a primary school in James St that the Gipp children attended. It is possible that the Lee Wood children, too, went there.
Lin Lee Wood, 1949. National Archives of Australia
Lin learned to sew. Ruby, who later became a dressmaker, may have known her skills from Lin. She worked in the butchery when necessary. Marriage was not a happy one. In the 1920s, she and Lee Wood lived apart. She is in Tiverton Street, and he is in the shop. As a social and economic unit, the Wood family was intact. In the local paper, there were photos of the family and notices about it. The marriages of both parents’ children were arranged: May married local merchant Timothy Chiew in 1922, and Ruby married a recent immigrant, Leong Yien, in 1924.
Death of a Daughter
The middle of 1925 was a turning point in my life. Ruby came to Lin’s shop on the morning of Monday, 13 July 1925. Lin was at work. Lin was shocked when Ruby failed to come home that night. She knew something had happened. She went to the Police on Thursday. Ruby’s corpse was found in the Fremantle harbor the following Thursday.
Sunday Times Magazine, 1941. Coverage of Ruby Yen’s murder. National Library of Australia
Leong Yen was arrested for the murder of his wife, and then a trial was presided by Chief Justice Robert McMillan. This case brought a family of Chinese Australians to a level of public attention that was unusual. Newspapers reported the issue in detail, almost verbatim. Perth was riveted by the events. The public gallery during the trial was packed with women.
The court records reveal that George Way, a Chinese pharmacist from the area, was the matchmaker who arranged Ruby’s wedding. We also learn that Leong, Ruby, and Lin lived together after their 1924 marriage and that Lin threw him out at one point. The forensic report shows that the marriage was not consummated. Leong’s testimony also confirms that they did not share a bedroom. The all-male jury may have felt sorry for Leong because of these facts and recommended leniency, even though they found him guilty. The judge complied with the request and sentenced Leong to two years of hard labor. Leong was expelled after the expiry of his sentence.