Australian Dictionary of Biography

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Yuen, Gum (1875–1943)

by Anne Atkinson

This article was published in Australian Dictionary of Biography, Volume 16, (MUP), 2002

Gum Yuen (1875-1943), furniture manufacturer, was born in October 1875 at Chung Gwok village, Heungshan (Zhongshan), Kwangtung (Guangdong), China, second son of Gang Poy, a watchman (policeman), and his wife Young Fong. After leaving school Gum worked as a baker. He migrated to Australia in 1897 and was first employed in the Quong Hing furniture factory in Melbourne. In 1903 he moved to West Perth and worked as a cabinet-maker for Yen (Yuen) Hoy Poy, also from Chung Gwok, in the See Wah & Co. Ltd furniture factory. On 15 June 1910 at the Methodist Church, West Perth, he married Australian-born May Sam. Following a family visit in 1911-12 his wife and their child remained in China. A second son was born there after Yuen stayed with them in 1914-15.

By 1916, in partnership with two compatriots from his home village, Yen Hay Hoy and Mew Toy, Yuen owned and managed the J. W. Wing & Co. furniture factory in Newcastle Street, Perth. He returned to China in June 1923 and a year later brought his wife and sons to Australia; they arrived shortly before the birth of his third son. The family lived near the factory, which at first employed seven Chinese cabinet-makers and a polisher. In l933 his partners retired and Yuen became the sole owner of the business. At that time he employed fourteen Chinese and four European workers. They manufactured bedroom, dining and kitchen suites and occasional furniture, using a variety of timbers, including jarrah, Tasmanian oak and pine. Dealing mainly with wholesale orders, the firm supplied a number of local stores, among them the Bairds Co. Ltd and W. Zimpel Ltd.

Yuen developed an interest in the restaurant business and in 1930, in partnership with Yuen Bow, a herbalist from Chung Gwok, he established the Nanking Café in Barrack Street, Perth. It catered for both Chinese and European customers, and provided work for Chinese. Acquiring a reputation for his fair and honest business dealings and his willingness to help anyone in need, Yuen became a highly respected businessman. He was a founding member (1910) of Perth's Chung Wah Association, serving as its secretary and treasurer for many years, and helping to arrange for the purchase of land and the construction of a hall in James Street. In 1921 he was an organizer of the local branch of the Kuomintang (Chinese Nationalist Party).

During World War II Yuen was treasurer of the Chinese Patriotic Society, which raised funds for the anti-Japanese forces in China. He also supported the Australian war effort. With his wife he assisted members of the Chinese community and helped billet refugees, especially from Malaya, Singapore and other parts of Asia. Survived by his wife, their two daughters and two of their three sons, he died of chronic emphysema on 15 May 1943 at his Newcastle Street home and was buried in the Chinese section of Karrakatta cemetery. J. W. Wing Ltd's factory closed in l951.

Select Bibliography

  • P. Goh (ed), 75th Anniversary—Chung Wah Association (Perth, 1985)
  • A. Atkinson (compiler), Asian Immigrants to Western Australia, 1829-1901 (Perth, 1988)
  • A. Atkinson, Chinese Labour and Capital in Western Australia, 1847-1947 (Ph.D. thesis, Murdoch University, 1991)
  • Chung Wah Assn (Perth), minutes of meetings, 1909-25
  • Dept Immigration file, PP6/1, item 1947/H/1563 and Customs files, K1145, items 1911/80, 1914/82 and 1923/59 (National Archives of Australia)
  • Dept of Labour, Factory register, 1912, 400/4 (State Records Office of Western Australia)
  • private information.

Citation details

Anne Atkinson, 'Yuen, Gum (1875–1943)', Australian Dictionary of Biography, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University, http://adb.anu.edu.au/biography/yuen-gum-12091/text21695, published in hardcopy 2002, accessed online 1 October 2014.

This article was first published in hardcopy in Australian Dictionary of Biography, Volume 16, (MUP), 2002

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