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Cheong Cheok Hong (1853–1928)

by Ching Fatt Yong

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

Cheong Cheok Hong (1853?-1928), missionary and social reformer, was born in the See Yap district, near Canton, China, son of Huh Cheong (Cheok Peng Nam), a Presbyterian missionary who went to Ballarat in the 1850s. Cheong arrived in Melbourne about 1863. He attended Scotch College and qualified for matriculation at the University of Melbourne. In 1873 he joined the Presbyterian congregation at Napier Street, Fitzroy; the minister, Dr Robert Hamilton, was convener of a mission committee for work among the Chinese and ran a training seminary for catechists. Cheong was his assistant for some time, probably as an interpreter, and with a friend made missionary tours on Sundays 'among their heathen countrymen'. The seminary closed in 1877 and Cheong appears to have begun study at the Presbyterian Theological Hall. In 1883 at the mission committee's request he was made an elder so that he could assume duty as superintendent at once. However, relations soon became strained; he returned to business life for a short time, probably for financial reasons.

In 1885 at the annual meeting of the Anglican Board of Missions Cheong gave such a remarkable address that his transfer from the Presbyterians was sought and approved; with the sanction of Bishop James Moorhouse he was appointed missionary superintendent for twelve months. In addition to organizing the work of Chinese catechists throughout Victoria, he collected sufficient funds for building in Little Bourke Street a mission hall and training centre for Chinese evangelists. In 1897 control of this property was given to the Church Missionary Association of Victoria. Cheong continued as superintendent but, after some friction with the association, resigned voluntarily in August 1898. With help from dissatisfied supporters he started an unofficial Anglican mission at the Temperance Hall in Russell Street; more than eight hundred people attended its first annual meeting. Again Cheong raised funds successfully for another mission hall in Little Bourke Street, controlled by the Church Missionary Association Reformed. In 1904 it was fully recognized by the Church of England, and Cheong's son, James, was appointed its ordained chaplain. Cheong remained superintendent of the mission until 1928. He was always known as Mr Cheong. Under a later archbishop the establishment was renamed the Church of England Chinese Mission of the Epiphany.

Cheong was outspoken against certain human weaknesses such as opium smoking. As early as August 1889 with William Anderson, W. J. S. Gordon, M.L.A., W. H. Calder, W. Thi Geen, and a few other friends he initiated the anti-opium movement in Victoria. In 1891 he went to England where he delivered addresses on the opium traffic to influential audiences at Exeter Hall and in the parliamentary banqueting room at Westminster. Meanwhile in Melbourne a bill restricting and regulating the sale, use and importation of opium was passed in the Legislative Assembly, but rejected with strong opposition by the Legislative Council. In 1905 Cheong was active in launching a second anti-opium campaign which prompted parliament to pass an Act banning the sale and smoking of opium in Victoria.

Since 1879 Cheong had been a spokesman for the Chinese community in Victoria. He criticized the Victorian immigration Acts and became a champion for their relaxation. With two other merchants, Lowe Kong Meng and Louis Ah Mouy, he wrote a pamphlet, published as The Chinese Question in Australia, 1878-79 (Melbourne, 1879), arguing that the Australian governments should respect the Peking treaty of 1860 which allowed Chinese immigrants to enter British colonial territories without restrictions. At the height of the anti-Chinese movement in New South Wales and Victoria, Cheong as chairman of a Chinese committee published a second pamphlet, Chinese Remonstrance to the Parliament and People of Victoria, which challenged the colonial governments' disregard of Chinese treaty rights, refuted the myth of any Chinese invasion and appealed for better treatment of Chinese citizens in Victoria. In 1901 when the immigration restriction bill was before the federal parliament Cheong wrote to the prime minister, Edmund Barton, pleading that the Chinese in Australia should be spared from 'a double yoke of national ignominy and dishonour'. In 1918 he was elected president of the Commonwealth Chinese Community's Representative Committee founded by Chinese merchants in various Australian States for the relaxation of the Immigration Restriction Act, but success was slight.

By his education and command of English, his pleasant personality and varied connexions with church, business and political circles in Victoria, Cheong helped to bridge the gaps between the Chinese and the Australian communities. Whatever remained to be done, he achieved much through his fearless spirit in voicing the grievances of the Chinese residents, through his unceasing efforts to establish cordial relations by talking to Australian audiences on affairs in China and problems of the Chinese in Victoria and through his missionary zeal to christianize the Victorian Chinese.

Cheong married Wong Toy Yen in 1869 at Ballarat; they had five sons and two daughters, all well educated and well assimilated in Australia. Aged 75 he died at Pine Lodge, Croydon, Victoria, on 20 June 1928 and was buried privately.

Select Bibliography

  • A. J. Campbell, Fifty Years of Presbyterianism in Victoria (Melb, 1889)
  • E. W. Cole, Better Side of the Chinese Character (Melb, 1918)
  • M. McGivern, A History of Croydon (Melb, 1961)
  • Select Committee on the Immigration Restriction Bill, Evidence, Votes and Proceedings (Legislative Council, Victoria), 1898 (D1)
  • Australasian Missionary News, 1 (1888)
  • Chinese Australian Herald, 1894-1922
  • Tung Wah Times (Sydney), 1902-22
  • Chinese Times (Sydney), 1919-22
  • Cheong letters (privately held)
  • private information.

Citation details

Ching Fatt Yong, 'Cheong Cheok Hong (1853–1928)', Australian Dictionary of Biography, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University, http://adb.anu.edu.au/biography/cheong-cheok-hong-3198/text4803, published first in hardcopy 1969, accessed online 13 December 2018.

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

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