This story is part of the Bendigo Advertiser's special feature to mark this weekend's 150th anniversary of Bendigo being declared a city and discover more about the people who called it home in 1871.
MYSTERY surrounds the identity of the only Chinese woman in Bendigo for the 1871 census, even as the city celebrates 150 years since its Joss House was built.
Sandhurst's 1871 population included the second largest number of Chinese nationals in the state, at 734.
That population boomed and waned over the decades as Chinese diggers searched for gold inside and out of Australia, making mining towns like Castlemaine and Ballarat hotspots for these migrants.
Some left a permanent mark on Bendigo, including at the Joss House Temple which much like Bendigo is celebrating a 150th anniversary this year.
But historic records only go so far in shedding light on some of the Chinese people who helped build Bendigo.
That includes the identity of the single Chinese woman recorded on the goldfields in early April 1871, Golden Dragon Museum researcher Leigh McKinnon said.
"We know very little about early Chinese women on the goldfields. We have a few records for them before the 1880s and then only names for a few," he said.
Mr McKinnon could only speculate based on a few leads, saying the woman could have been a servant of a Chinese interpreter Wat Ah Chee's wife, who the Bendigo Regional Archives Centre believes was called Tong Chay Choo.
The servant could potentially have stayed behind when her master left in the 1860s and married someone still in town, but that was only speculation, Mr McKinnon said.
BRAC researchers found references to several Chinese women who came through the goldfields in the 1860s and '70s, including a Bendigo Advertiser story from 1865 about a marriage, which could potentially be linked to to two children born in 1874 and '76, perhaps in Wangaratta.
The woman could also have been in town as part of a travelling entertainment group, BRAC researchers said.
Kin Foo came to Bendigo in March 1871 for six days and nights with Chang Woo Goo the 'Chinese giant', who were in Bendigo in 1871.
It was part of a wider tour of Victoria several months before the census took place.
Standing eight feet tall (or 2.4 metres), Chang towered above the "diminutive" Kin Foo, according to a correspondent writing for the Bendigo Advertiser.
Chang and Kin Foo - the "lovely Chinese lady", as her agents advertised her - became the toast of Bendigo during their appearances at hotels and other entertainment venues in March.
The pair appeared with other notable entertainers of the day at some shows and were always the headline act. They delivered short sketches on Chang's life and travels.
It is possible that Kin Foo was in Bendigo on the night of the census, thanks to a court case a Bendigo Advertiser's competitor the Bendigo Independent brought against Chang after a dispute about printing and costs, but reports in both papers suggest the defendants did not appear in court.
Newspaper accounts from the time do not appear to show how the matter was resolved.
This story is part of a special feature coinciding with the 150th anniversary of Bendigo being declared a city, which takes place on Sunday. As a subscriber you are getting access to this story first. The feature appears in print on Saturday.
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