Editors’ Choice: A Life Reduced to Data

Creative Commons Image by Marjan Krebelj via Flickr

In 1861, the census for the colony of New South Wales (as it was back then) recorded just one Chinese woman living in Balmain in Sydney. The historian Eric Rolls, writing in 1992, commented that this ‘lone woman is exceptional and inexplicable’. Inexplicable? My partner and collaborator Kate Bagnall is a historian of Chinese Australia and she recently investigated this case again, making use of digitised resources that were not available in the 1990s. Kate now believes Ah Happ was the first Chinese mother in NSW. But was she the woman in the 1861 census?

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