Born: Ester Grace KEE CHONG, 22 April 1895 in Moree NSW
Married: Frederick Charles JACK (Fred) in 1916 in Moree, NSW Australia
Died: 14 August 1983, Coonabarabran NSW Australia, age 88.
Father: LEE Kee Chong
Mother: Agnes YAUPAUNG
Grace’s father Lee Kee Chong was born in 1864 in the village Hang Mei in Leung To, Zhongshan (Heung Shan or Chun Shan – just south of the Pearl River Delta in Guangdong).
At the time of Grace’s birth, Kee Chong was aged was 31, and Grace’s mother is Agnes (YAUPAUNG), was 21.
Birth Certificate – Esther Grace Kee ChongGrace’s siblings include:
- Sister Norah was born in 1896 in Moree NSW.
- Brother George was born in 1898 in Moree NSW.
- Brother Athol was born 1 December 1900 and passed away less than 12 months later on 31 October 1901.
- Brother Edward was born in 1903 in Moree,NSW.
- Sister Bessie was born on 20 February 1908 in Moree, NSW.
- Sister Madge was born in 1910 in Moree, NSW.
- Twins – Brother Maurice and sister Mercia Holland Kee Chong were born on 26 July 1913 in Moree, NSW – Esther Grace was 18 years old.
With the approach of Chinese New Year and following the birth of Edward, the family embarked on a journey to Chung Shan, China on 29th December 1903 to show off Lee’s business success and his new family. Accompanying Lee on the journey, his wife Agnes, and children Grace (aged 8), Norah (aged 7), George ( aged 5), Edward (new born).
Lee Kee Chong returned to Australia 31 July 1905 disembarking in Brisbane, while his wife Agnes and the 4 children remained in China till 19th May 1906, returning aboard the “Empire” out of a port of Japan. Accompanying them on the return trip were Mr. and Mrs. Sam Kee (Agnes’ sister Emily and her husband) and their three children
Trevor Jack recounted an anecdote that he remembers being told by his mother Grace –
… and the eldest son was kidnapped over there, by bandits. Came to the village thinking, or knowing possibly that any of the Chinese that came back home form Australia must be reasonably wealthy and of course he had to pay ransom. They kept him caged up in a little cage for a few days and of course when his father paid the ransom they got him back allright.
While Lee was in China he took a second wife, this caused quite a bit of friction with Agnes and Grace.
While in China the children would have become quite fluent in the local Chinese dialect – Cantonese and most likely stayed in the village Hang Mei in Leung To, Zhongshan (Heung Shan or Chun Shan – just south of the Pearl River Delta in Guangdong.
When they returned to Australia, life continued in the town of Moree where Lee owned a general store Sam Lee & Co, and the family continued to grow with the addition of Bessie, Madge, Maurice, and Mercia.
Grace along with her siblings attended the local Moree public school until aged 17 or 18. All of the sisters received piano lessons and were very talented.
With Lee’s network connections to other Chinese family-run general stores in the region it’s likely that he organised a position for Grace at Kwong Sing’s in Glen Innes, she joined the staff sometime around 1914 at the age of 19. While at Kwong Sing’s store she met a fellow employee Fred Jack who was working as a store assistant. The couple married in 1916 in Moree, NSW Australia.
This interesting article appeared in the Moree Gwydir Examiner and General Advertiser (NSW : 1901 – 1940) Fri 3 Nov 1916
A War Bride.
There is no record of Frederick Jack enlisting to fight in WWI, at the time of their wedding Grace was 5 months pregnant perhaps this may explain why he never signed up. In 1917 their first son Trevor Cedric (my Grandfather) is born. Brother Geoffrey Russell Earl (Russell) is born in 1919.
After a brief move to Sydney the family they relocated to Inverell by1923 Inverell. Fred was employed as manager of the hardware and ironmongery section Hong Yuen’s and Company in Inverell.
Fred Jack died in a drowning accident in 1931. Trever (ages 13) and Russell (aged 11) witnessed the event. This sudden loss of the primary breadwinner forced Grace into the workforce, placing an enormous burden on the small family, Trevor, at the time was in his second year of high school had to leave to find work at Hong Yuen’s. Grace’s musical education allowed her to earn a living teaching piano and she also started an orchestra and played at local dances and balls. This was all during the 19020-30s depression life was a struggle to exist.
“They had to buy everything on the never-never got our first set of drums and wrote down to Suttons for … sent them £5 deposit and a pund a month for the first set of drums, which were about forthy ounds in thoes days. Course we had to buy saxyphones, too. All on the never-never. But we used to get fifteen bob a night to play. We were one of the first bands to broadcast. We palyed over 2NZ every thursday night”
Grace continued on with the band throughout the second world war, eventually stopping when it became to difficult to find musicians.
When Russell moved to Mullumbimby, Grace went to live with him and his new wife Edith Kwan whom he married in 1942 in Inverell. Russell had started a general store and invited Trevor and his wife Mary to join them in the business, this didn’t work out as the business wasn’t large enough to support them all.
Around the 1950s Trevors’ uncle, Sam Woo, told them of milkbar for sale in Coonabarabran. Mary and Trevor soon moved to Coonabarabran and started their own business. This was the birth of Jack’s Catering Service … but that’s another story.
Grace lived in Coonabarabran with Trevor and Mary for many years. She died on 14th August 1983.
2 Replies to “Esther Grace Kee Chong”
Hello, I’m a director of China Television. I read your story. Do you have any intention to come to China to find loved ones
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Thanks for getting in touch, yes I do hope to visit China again.
I have found my great-great-grandfather’s ancestral village of Hengmei in Heung Shan (Zhongshan) and his name Lee Kee Chong. I will need more research to find a home and other family descendants.