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Ah Mouy, Louis (1826–1918)

by Ching Fatt Yong

This article was published in Australian Dictionary of Biography, Volume 3, (MUP), 1969

Louis Ah Mouy (1826-1918), merchant and Chinese community leader, was born into a family of twelve in the district of Toi Shan, near Canton, China. He migrated to Singapore when young and learnt the trade of a carpenter. In 1851 he was brought to Melbourne under contract to Captain Glendinning, for whom he built six houses with Singapore oak in South Melbourne and Williamstown. His arrival coincided with the discovery of gold in Victoria. He broke the news to his brother at Canton and his letter was said to have prompted the migration of many thousands of Cantonese to the Victorian goldfields in the 1850s.

After Glendinning's contract ended Ah Mouy joined the gold rushes and made a fortune by discovering and digging rich finds in the Yea area. Later he became a speculator in mining not only in Victoria but also in Malaya. With the assistance of Chinese labourers he opened up gold mines at Yea, Ballarat, Elaine, Mount Buffalo, Bright and Walhalla. He also had various commercial ventures. He was credited with the establishment of a rice mill in Flinders Street, the first of its kind in Victoria. At Swanston Street in 1852 he was one of the first residents in Victoria to engage in the tea business; he later became an original director of the Commercial Bank of Australia in Melbourne. In addition Ah Mouy was a land speculator, acquiring sites in Armstrong Street, Middle Park. Through his trade, land and mining operations he amassed great wealth, but lost heavily in the economic depression of the 1890s.

Louis Ah Mouy was an undisputed leader of the Chinese community in Victoria. He was a founder of the See Yap (Four Districts) Society of Melbourne in 1854 and generously contributed land at South Melbourne for the building of the See Yap Joss House in 1866. As a leading member of the Yee Hing Society, which practised mutual help, protection and brotherhood, Ah Mouy often mediated and settled disputes among the Chinese in Victoria. He gave evidence to the royal commission on public education in 1867. He was a leading spokesman for the Chinese community against immigration restrictions and with the merchants, Lowe Kong Meng and Cheong Cheok Hong, wrote a pamphlet, published in Melbourne as The Chinese Question in Australia, 1878-79, which advanced the case for allowing Chinese immigrants to enter British colonial territories including Australia. In 1887 he helped to organize a petition to the visiting commissioners, General Wong Yung Ho and U Tsing, for the protection of Chinese interests in Victoria. Aged 92 Louis Ah Mouy died on 28 April 1918. By his wife Ung Chuck he had eleven children. He was survived by seven sons and three daughters, all well educated and well assimilated in the Australian society. Of his sons, Kum How became a Melbourne representative of several large timber firms, and the youngest, Mee How, a prominent architect.

As a successful migrant in Victoria, Ah Mouy presented some admirable qualities and images of a Chinese migrant: vitality, assimilability, charity, purpose and resourcefulness.

Select Bibliography

  • I. Selby, History of Melbourne (Melb, 1924)
  • Herald (Melbourne), 30 Apr 1918
  • Sun (Sydney), 12 May 1918
  • G. A. Oddie, The Chinese in Victoria, 1870-1890 (M.A. thesis, University of Melbourne, 1959)
  • C. F. Yong, The Chinese in New South Wales and Victoria, 1901-1921 (Ph.D. thesis, Australian National University, 1966)
  • private information.

Citation details

Ching Fatt Yong, 'Ah Mouy, Louis (1826–1918)', Australian Dictionary of Biography, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University, http://adb.anu.edu.au/biography/ah-mouy-louis-2872/text4099, published first in hardcopy 1969, accessed online 15 November 2018.

This article was first published in hardcopy in Australian Dictionary of Biography, Volume 3, (MUP), 1969

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