Asian Australian History

Meet “Sam Poo” – Australia’s First And Only Singaporean Chinese Bushranger

We thought it was time to start highlighting some awesome and not awesome Asian Australian history. This one is a great start. Now, for those who are non Aussies, a bushranger is basically a bandit/thief/criminals of the Australian bush or outback. It is seldom that you hear of an “Asian” bushranger, and I guess there really is only one known “Asian” bushranger in “SAM POO” – who is known as the first Asian/Chinese bushranger in Australia.

WHO IS SAM POO?

Poo was a bushranger in New South Wales in 1865. He originally came to Australia as a Chinese gold miner, trying to strike it rich during the Gold Rush period of the mid 1800s. However, he failed as a gold miner, so he instead decided on a life of crime and robbed travelers at Gulgong- Mudgee area for awhile. There is not a lot of information on his early life, but he was born around 1835 and is Chinese from Singapore.

The name “Sam Poo” is not his original name, and what his name is exactly is not known. It has been said by historians that the name “Sam Poo” is a derogatory and racist name given to him by the police and the public at the time. There are records that point to his name possibly being “Li Hang Chiak”, but his nickname is “Cranky Sam”.

WHY DID HE TURN TO A LIFE OF CRIME?

The time when Poo decided to become a bushranger in New South Wales was the time where racism, linch mobs and rioting against the Chinese Gold Miners were happening. Anyone who was Chinese at that time was seen as the enemy, and it is said that Poo held resentments which lead him to this life of crime. He did not fight with the other Chinese against the institutional racism, but he resented both parties, and it is said he became antagonistic and socially isolated.

WHAT CRIMES DID HE COMMIT?

Before he started to rob travelers on the Gulgong-Mudgee area, he would rob Chinese miners of the gold they mined. As weapons, he had a sawn- off rifle and a big old revolver. Due to the anti-Chinese sentiments at the time and the fact that the Chinese were seen as parasites, just the presence of Poo robbing white/Anglo travelers would scare the hell out of them.

“Billabong Station” (January 30, 1865)

Elizabeth and Robert Golding lived at the “Plunkett’s Billabong Station” near Dubbo. Elizabeth saw Poo talk to her daughter and it was said to be some sort of argument. When confronted, Poo said:

“If I cannot have my will of the girl, I will of you” – you can determine what that may or may not mean.

When Robert was called to come help, Poo was gone. It was later said, Poo was hiding in the property for some time and lived on the flour in one of the sheds.

“Murder of Senior Constable John Ward” (February 3, 1865)

Poo robbed a shepherd who worked on a farm owned by James Plunkett. He used his rifle and threatened to shoot some stockman working at the farm if they didn’t give him information about geography of the area. This was reported to the police and a manhunt happened to search for Poo and to arrest him.

On February 3, as Senior Constable John Ward was on his way home after escorting a prisoner to Mudgee, he was stopped by 2 men who told him that a “Chinese man with a rifle” was robbing travelers at an area called “Barney’s Reef”. Ward ended up finding where Poo was camping , and walked up to him and asked him what he was doing and to put down his gun. Poo ran off after he shot Ward in the groin and stomach. Ward tried to shoot back but missed Poo. Ward ended up dying from his injuries.

MANHUNT, TRIAL AND EXECUTION

On 18 February, 1865, Indigenous tracker Henry Hughes tracked down where Poo was hiding after murdering Ward. He was hiding in a gully and was firstly apprehended by 2 constables. He escaped, shots were exchanged and he was again found by Hughes, where more shots were exchanged, with Poo intending to shoot Hughes. One of the constables shots clipped Poo on the head and neck, and before he could get up, the constable fractured his skull with the end of the gun.

On 10 April, Poo was indicted on shooting Hughes with intent to kill, however, Poo remained silent and didn’t acknowledge being guilty or not guilty. After a jury trial, the verdict was delivered as “dumbness by malice” which basically meant Poo was found not guilty. Another jury was assembled and and this time Poo was found guilty of wounding with intent to kill.

On 10 October, Poo was tried for the murder of Ward. His court appointed barrister pleaded him not guilty. Poo didn’t participate in any of the proceedings against him as it was said he didn’t really understand what was happening. Court interpreter Sing Shigh tried to translate for him, but Sing was unable to understand Poo’s Southern dialect. At the end, Poo was found guilty and sentenced to death.

Poo was executed by hanging on December 19, 1865 at Bathurst gaol/jail. The media at the time reported that Poo was not aware of his fate and execution – though a lot of the news reporting at the time would also have been racially motivated. 3 other Chinese prisoners were taken to watch the execution as well as members of the public.

FINAL THOUGHTS?

History states that Poo didn’t have fluent English and did not understand what was happening after he was arrested. This may be true, but there also is a lot of racial bias in many historical records against anyone looking Chinese, so we can’t be 100% sure. Despite the fact he was a bush criminal, it is still quite major that he is who he is and did what he did. This is probably why he was the FIRST and ONLY known Chinese bushranger in Australia history. There have been a number of popular culture portrayals of Poo in films, books and on stage theater and there is more coming up!

Anyways, we thought this would be some interesting history for you to add to your knowledge bank!

Images via Remembering the Past Australia Facebook page. Other images via A Guide to Australian Bushranging.

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