This photo is of Robert William Coon (1881-1914) from Cavendish, Victoria, and he was my father’s great uncle. My father was adopted and never knew of his Chinese heritage.
Robert is wearing an Australian Light Horse Reserve uniform, Commonwealth pattern. The photo was probably taken around 1904, possibly in Hamilton, Victoria, photographer unknown.
It was very exciting for me when this photo surfaced recently after only knowing rumours of its existence. There are no other known photos of Robert, his parents or his siblings, who all died relatively young or disappeared. This photo has made the family more “real” to me, and I wonder how similar my great grandfather George, a year older, looked. George named my grandfather Arthur Robert William.
Robert was the son of Esther Ann Bown (1848-1902) from Somerset, England and Barney Hong Coon (c1831-1905) from Singapore. Esther already had three children. Rosanna born 1875, father unknown, who appeared to be later fostered to Edward and Elizabeth Hong, dying at the age 16 in care. Thomas born 1877, son of Esther’s first husband Dan Sam from Amoy who drowned aged 9. By 1879 Esther was living with Hong Coon and had my great grandfather George in 1880. After Robert came Henry born in 1884 but he is not to be found again and did not appear in school records. Was he fostered? Jessie born 1885 married John Evatt Webb in 1906, had a child and vanishes. Esther born in 1888 also is not to be found.
Hong Coon probably met Esther in Ararat. He was a miner, cook, sheep farmer and market gardener. He selected land in Bulart near Cavendish in 1873, then in Beear near the Grampians and finally in Cavendish (this was a market garden). He married Esther in 1891 and a bigamy case ensued.
Robert was born in Beear and moved to Stawell in 1906, marrying Susan Jane Smith in 1907. He worked as a labourer and moved to Ballarat around 1913. Robert and Susan had three children, Hester, Leslie and Allan. Sadly he died early in 1914 aged only 33 and brother George died 6 years later.
Photo courtesy of Robert’s great granddaughter Dianne Klimpsch. Information re date and uniform from the Australian War Memorial.
Image source: Dianne Klimpsch family collection
Date of creation: c1904
Place: Hamilton, Victoria
People: Robert William Coon