Taam Sze Pui

Taam Szi PuiBorn: Ny Chuen, Nam Hoi District, Kwongtung, China, c 1856
Departure: Hong Kong, 22 January 1877
Arrival: Cooktown, Australia, 10 February 1877

I was born in a poor family. As I reached the age of seven, my mother died leaving my elder sister who is one year older than I and my younger brother just learning to walk. I went to school at eight and had to abandon my studies at 11. It was not because I disliked to study but we were poor…

 

Discovery of gold

There was a rumor then that gold had been discovered in a place called Cooktown [in Queensland] and the source of which was inexhaustible and free to all. Without verifying the truth, my father planned to go with his two sons. We started from our village on January the 18th 1877. On January 22nd we sailed from Hong Kong and reached our destination on February 10th of the same year.

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Oh, what a disappointment when we learnt that the rumour was unfounded and we were misled! Not only was gold difficult to find the climate was not suitable and was the cause of frequent attacks of illness. As we went about, there met our gaze the impoverished condition and the starved looks of our fellow countrymen who were either penniless or ill, and there reached our ears endless sighs of sorrow…

But since we had come, we might make an attempt. Therefore we bought hoes, shovels, provisions, utensils, etc. Carrying or balancing on the shoulders the supplies, we started a foot in a company in the direction of the mountain region on February the 16th 1877…

The Great Mountain

Proceeding to the 72nd mile, we reached a place called ‘The Foot of the Great Mountain’. Behold, before us was a great mountain with the peak projecting high up into the clouds and whose height was beyond my calculation. We made our climb at a slow pace and zigzagged down on the other side. Completely worn out and weary, some discarded part of their supplies to lighten the burden, and some were in tears. Our limbs were numb; our shoulders were bruised and bleeding. When attempts were made to change our clothes, it was necessary to forcibly pull the clothes from the coagulated blood, the pain was unendurable…

It took us fully three months to cover one hundred miles in our journey. We then began to sift sand but to our utter disappointment, there was no gold…

Five years had passed, I now realised that to search for gold was like trying to catch the moon at the bottom of the sea. Forsaking it for something else, I worked in a restaurant at the wages of £2 a month…

Sugar, savings and sales

In March 1882, some Englishmen advertised for labourers to go to Johnson River Valley to develop the barren land into a sugar plantation…

By that time, my savings had increased. A peddler named Yuen Kiu was offering to dispose of his whole stock-in-trade because of reverses in gambling. I knew there was profit in it and went into partnership with Mr Luk Fui to purchase the whole business. We sold the goods later at favourable prices, and each shared some profits. Henceforth my mind was set to become a merchant…

This story is extracted from My life and work by Taam Sze Pui, 1925. The full work is available online