Queensland Places – Thursday Island – Japanese and Chinese businesses in the 1880s

During the last quarter of the 19th century and onward, many people of Chinese and Japanese background or descent played an important role in the development of Thursday Island. In addition to being active members of the general community, they operated a range of shops and businesses, as well as being prominent within specific sectors such as the maritime and pearling industries.

The pages of the Torres Strait Pilot and New Guinea Gazette during this early period show that these Japanese and Chinese people were well regarded members of the business and general community, advertising a wide range of businesses and services. By way of example, we have Ono Showgers advertising himself as a laundryman, with his specific services including washing, ironing, mangling and every description of laundry. In Victoria Parade, Tommy Japan was advertising “temperance liquors to calm the nerves”, as well as cigars, cigarettes, pipes and a range of tobaccos.

In Normanby Street, Sun Ti Ee, a baker and confectioner, was offering large stocks of Chinese goods, as well as general tailoring services, with his advertisement pointing out that “a Chinese tailor was always engaged on the premises, guaranteeing a perfect fit”. Wong Fat was advertising his boarding house in Victoria Parade, as well as detailing various grocery items for sale. Also, we have Lee Foo operating a Chinese store with his services described as tobacconist, draper and general storekeeper, as well as stocking every description of Chinese, Japanese and fancy goods. On Lee, a market gardener on nearby Prince of Wales Island, was also supplying a wide range of fruit and vegetables.

This diverse group of business people, of Chinese or Japanese background, competed with a range of European and other businesses, often supplying similar goods and services. As such, the residents of Thursday Island at this time, would have had access to a wider range of products and services than was available in many similarly sized mainland settlements.

Victoria Parade, Thursday Island, ca. 1895. John Oxley Library, State Library of Queensland Neg 121658

Victoria Parade, Thursday Island, ca. 1895. John Oxley Library, State Library of Queensland Neg 121658

This image shows Victoria Parade, Thursday Island in around 1895.

Brian Randall – Queensland Places Coordinator, State Library of Queensland.