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Born in Australia but travelling on a CEDT?: The O’Hoy and Tong families

By Sophie Couchman (Chinese Australian Family Historians of Victoria)

Sometimes you will find people who did not need a CEDT to travel but who nevertheless applied for one. In 1918 several members of the O’Hoy family of Bendigo made a trip to Hong Kong to celebrate Louey O’Hoy’s (Louey Duk Hoy 雷道海) birthday in Hong Kong.

Louey Duk Hoy surrounding by his family celebrating his birthday in Hong Kong, c1918. A selection of photographs were taken to mark the celebration. He was 91 years old.
[Photograph courtesy of Dennis O’Hoy]
O’Hoy and Tong family members travel to Hong Kong in July 1918
[PROV: VPRS 948/P1, Outward Passengers to Interstate, U.K. and Foreign Ports]

Passenger lists show Mr and Mrs Louey O’Hoy (Louey Duk Hoy and Ah Kit), their daughter Melan (Meelan), their son Fee and Fee’s wife Alice O’Hoy (nee Tong) all left Melbourne on the Tango Maru for Japan via ports (including Hong Kong) on 19 July 1918. Alice’s younger sister Ethel Tong was also with them.

Meelan (born Bendigo 1904), Fee (born Bendigo 1890), Alice (born Melbourne 1900) and Ethel (born Melbourne 1906) were born in Australia and Louey Duk Hoy and Ah Kit in southern China. We would therefore expect to see CEDT applications for only the two senior O’Hoy family members.

A search of the Victoria CEDT registers, however, shows CEDT applications in 1918 for Mrs Louey O’Hoy, Fee O’Hoy, Alice O’Hoy and Meelan O’Hoy. So there are no applications for Louey Duk Hoy or Ethel Tong. We would expect Ah Kit (Mrs Louey O’Hoy) to travel on a CEDT and Australian-born Ethel Tong not to have one. But the rest?

Vic CEDT Index search results for O’Hoy

Given Louey O’Hoy was about 86 years old at the time, Duk Hoy perhaps did not intend to return to Australia and therefore did not need a CEDT to gain re-entry. As Fee, Alice, Meelan and Ethel were born in Australia they were British subjects and entitled to travel without restriction. Nevertheless this did not always occur in practice as Alice and Ethel had discovered a few years earlier.

After their father’s death in 1912, Alice and Ethel travelled with their mother, two sisters and brother, presumably to their father’s ancestral village. Tragically their mother and two sisters died leaving the remaining children orphaned. When Alice and Ethel returned to Melbourne in 1914 they were stopped by officials and had to prove their identities. They did this with the help of a family portrait and interviews with Alice and Melbourne-based friends of the Tong family. They were eventually permitted to land.

Portrait of Mrs Tong with her Melbourne-born children Alice, Ethel, Elsie, Willie and Phyllis prior to travelling to China in 1912 used to identify them when they returned to Melbourne in 1916.
[NAA: B13, 1920/13667]

The children were detained because they needed identification to prove they were Australian born. Under the Immigration Restriction Act officials could set a deliberately unpassable dictation test to any arrivals. If you failed the test you were declared in illegal immigrant. The administrative practice was to only give this test to ‘coloured’ arrivals.

Without official documents that included identification photographs or physical descriptions on them, it was not possible to know whether the person holding a birth certificate, or a naturalization certificate was actually the owner of the certificate. This is an era before the universal use of passports. You can therefore see why some Australian-born ‘coloured’ travellers may have decided that it was simply easier to apply for a CEDT than risk travelling on an identification document without photographic identification on it.

What is puzzling then, is why Ethel did not also apply for an exemption at this time. She was only 12 years old and was living with her sister in Bendigo and so was effectively part of the O’Hoy family group. We can see from the Victorian CEDT Register entries that the family’s CEDTs were only issued two days before they boarded the ship. Perhaps Ethel’s application was not processed in time or she decided to join the trip at the last minute.

In any case, rather than a CEDT, she left two lovely photographs of herself and Alice with officials to use to identify her on her return in 1920. This they duly did.

Photographs left by Ethel Tong with officials on their departure from Melbourne in July 1918
[NAA: B13, 1918/14419]

Further reading

Story of the Tong family features in the episode ‘Alien Nation’ of Claire Wright’s ABC Radio National podcast Shooting the Past, which first aired on 12 Feb 2019,

Couchman, Sophie, ‘Tong family networks revealed through the camera’s lens’ in Couchman, S. (ed), Secrets, Silences and Sources: Five Chinese-Australian family Histories, Chinese Australian Family Historians of Victoria, Melbourne, 2005.

Couchman, Sophie, ‘Oh I would like to see Maggie Moore again: Selected women of Melbourne’s Chinatown’ in S. Couchman, J. Fitzgerald, P. Macgregor (eds), After the Rush: Regulation, Participation and Chinese Communities in Australia 1860-1940, Special edition of Otherland, vol.9, Dec 2004.

McKinnon, Leigh and Jack, Anita, A Biographical Dictionary of Historic figures in Bendigo’s Chinese Community, Golden Dragon Museum: Bendigo, 2015.

Rasmussen, Amanda, ‘The Chinese in Nation and Community, Bendigo, 1870s-1920s’, PhD thesis, La Trobe University, 2009.

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Issued under Circular 07/5519 and Naturalization: Chin Nooey

By Sophie Couchman (Chinese Australian Family Historians of Victoria)

Searching through the Victorian CEDT Index you might find a few entries that do not contain information about the person with a lot of ‘n/a’ written in the fields. When you view the register page you will see ‘Issued under Circular 07/5519’ or words to that effect written across all the fields in the register.

I tried searching for these circulars in the National Archives of Australia without success. The NAA holds a lot of circulars! Chatting with Kate Bagnall about my problem she directed me to one of her blogposts and two registers related to the administration of the Immigration Restriction Act. Browsing through Kate’s images of the the register held in Adelaide in series AP214/9 I struck it lucky. Below is a copy of Circular 07/5519 which relates to the annotations in the Victorian CEDT registers.

Department of External Affairs Circular 07/5519
[NAA: AP214/9, Photograph courtesy Kate Bagnall]

The body of the circular reads:

With reference to the re-admission to the Commonwealth of colored persons presenting Naturalization Papers, I have the honor to inform you that in cases where the Officer is satisfied that those person are the bona fide holders of such documents, they may be permitted to land on payment of the usual fee of £2 for a Certificate exempting them from the Dictation Test, which should be issued and cancelled immediately after their arrival.

2. The requirement of a fee in such cases will place the holders of Naturalization Papers on the same footing as other colored persons who have complied with the law and obtained certificates under the Immigration Restriction Acts prior to their departure from the Commonwealth.

3. I shall be glad if the necessary instructions can be issued, and advice sent to this Department from time to time of the admission of such persons and the payment of the fees in question.

From the date of this Circular, 12 June 1907, ‘colored persons’ travelling on their naturalization certificates had to pay a £2 fee in order to re-enter Australia. The same fee paid by those applying for a Certificate Exempting from the Dictation Test (CEDT). In other words the Australian government of the time was asking British subjects who were legally entitled to return to and live in Australia to pay a fee to exercise their legal right of return.

Unfortunately most of the entries for people who entered under the Circular only provide the name of the person making it difficult to match them with other records and confirm whether this person is your ancestor. However this information does mean that you should be possible to find naturalization records for these individuals.

If you want to find individuals who might have travelled under a Circular search the ‘Age’, ‘Occupation’ or ‘Residence’ fields of the Victorian CEDT Index for ‘n/a’ and then examine the digital photograph of the register page to see whether they travelled on a Circular.

Here is the entry for Chin Nooey in the Victorian CEDT Index. It states that he entered Victoria on his naturalization certificate.

Entry for Chin Nooey, 1912
[Index entry for Chin Nooey, 1912, Register 1, p. 167, Victorian CEDT Index, (original data taken from ‘Register of Certificates Exempting from the Dictation Test, 1904–1914’, NAA: B6003, 1]

This particular entry in the register also provides the Victorian Naturalization Certificate number, 3177, and the date it was issued 31 August 1885. It also lists the C&E number 1912/11195 (which has unfortunately not survived culling). The Certificate number and date of issue are useful for searching for naturalization material and confirming that you have the correct person.

Searching NAA’s RecordSearch we find a file for ‘Chin Nooey’ in the A712 series. A712 files contain correspondence related to Naturalization applications and generally includes:

  • A signed petition to the State Governor requesting naturalization under the Aliens Act, which might be approved or rejected
  • An signed oath stating name, age, birth place, residence, occupation, years residence in Victoria
  • A certificate signed by a warden, police magistrate or Justice of the Peace identifying the applicant and affirming that they are of ‘good repute’
  • A file sheet with notes on the progression of the application with useful dates and numbers

From Chin Nooey’s naturalization certificate we learn that his name is 陳女 (for some reason he writes the characters the English naming order with his family name second and not first). He was a 27 year old gardener who had arrived in Australia only four years earlier in 1881. Several ships in this year did not list individual Chinese who arrived so we cannot confirm that this was the year he arrived. Chin Chung, who the Justice of the Peace appears to have known certified to knowing Chin Nooey.

You need to check carefully to make sure each of these processes have been completed to be sure that the person was successfully naturalized. To ensure that the application was successful it is useful to search the ‘Index to Naturalization Certificates (1851-1922)’ held by the Public Records Office of Victoria (PROV 4396) (searchable on and the ‘Volumes of enrolled letters of naturalization’ (NAA: A727).

Chin Nooey’s entry in the Index to Naturalization Certificates,
Certificate number 3877, issued 31 August 1885
[PROV: VPRS 4396, Index to Naturalization Certificates (1851–1922),
accessed via]
Copy of Chin Nooey’s Naturalization certificate, 31 August 1885
[NAA: A727, ROLL 5]

A few additional things to note about the naturalization of ‘colored’, and particularly Chinese, people is that from 1885 the Victorian government made the decision to refuse all Chinese naturalization applications. This was not written into law but was made by administrative decision. Any applications after this date are unlikely to have been approved.

One of the reasons Chinese applied for naturalization between 1881 and 1885 was in order to travel freely under the Victorian Chinese Act 1881. It is therefore worth checking to see whether there is any outgoing travel shortly after a naturalization application as one of the reasons they may have been choosing to naturalize was to travel.

Both the Victorian and Federal governments were concerned about the fraudulent use of naturalization certificates by Chinese in order to travel. This resulted in a large number of naturalization certificates being cancelled. Series A801 contains these cancelled, confiscated and unclaimed certificates. Some of these certificates have photographs attached and written annotations on them detailing why they were cancelled. Chin Nooey’s was one of these cancelled naturalizations.

Looking closely at the annotations on the certificate we can learn more about Chin Nooey and his travels. Official annotations in well-written Cantonese along the side of his certificate give his name as 陳梅 (which romanised using Yale Cantonese is Chan Muih). The character ‘陳’ is pronounced ‘Chin’ in Taishanese and Hakka. The character for the second part of Chin Nooey’s name sounds similar to 女 (Neuih), the name he writes himself. It has presumably been incorrectly written. The writing also indicates that he was a gardener (種菜园).

We can also see that Chin Nooey returned to Australia at the following times:

  • 15 December 1887 on the Changsha
  • 28 August 1896 on the Changsha
  • 10 February 1906 on the Chingtu
  • 1 July 1912 on the Nikko Maru

We can find Chin Nooey (often under different spellings) on incoming passenger lists in Victoria and New South Wales using this information but it has been more difficult to find when he left Australia which might be any time within three years of when he returned. He is likely to have departed from Victoria but also perhaps New South Wales or another Australian port.

One final piece of information that we know is that Chin Nooey’s naturalization certificate was confiscated or at the very least taken away from him. A search of Trove Newspapers shows that there were a four or five Chinese men (accounts vary) were arrested as prohibited immigrants when the Nikko Maru and the Aldenham arrived in Melbourne in July 1912. Three of these men took their cases to court – Ah You who arrived on the Aldenham claimed to be a a 53 year old gardener who had worked in Echuca and Bendigo, Ah Chong (or Ah Choong) claimed to be a tea hawker who had worked at Emerald Hill amongst other places and Laung Ah Choon (or Loon Ah Choon), claimed to be a 58 year old tea hawker but had worked in Carlton, Fitzroy and Richmond. All appeals were unsuccessful and they were charged with 6 months imprisonment, two with hard labour. Newspapers do not report the names of the other two (or one) person. Perhaps they chose not to go to court. Chin Nooey arrived on the same ship as Laung Ah Choon.

One of a number of newspaper articles outlining this case in July 1912
[‘”Returned Chinese”, Daily Telegraph, 26 July 1912, p.7 via Trove Newspapers,]

It is possible Chin Nooey was one of the men who did not go to court and remained unnamed in newspaper reports. If we got back to the Victorian CEDT Registers it is worth noting that they do specifically say that Chin Nooey was ‘admitted’ to Victoria. Laung Ah Choon’s name is not in the Registers and if we look at the names of the other men listed around Chin Nooey and compare them with the passenger lists for the Nikko Maru the two names following Chin Nooey’s name in the passenger list: Ah Chun and Wah Hee. These match the two following names in the Registers: Ah Chu and Wah Hee. I think perhaps these men’s naturalization certificates were most likely taken from them as part of checking their credentials, never returned or collected.

[Thanks to Dr Kate Bagnall for her feedback on this post]

Further reading

Aliens Statute 1865 (28 Vic No 256)

Chinese Act 1881 (45 Vic No 723)

Bagnall, Kate, ‘Chinese Australian families and the legacies of colonial naturalisation’, Tiger’s Mouth,

Dutton, David, Citizenship in Australia: A Guide of Commonwealth Government Records, National Archives of Australia, 2000

This post was last updated on 1 July 2021.