- c. 1843
Guangdong Province, China
- c. 1916
Longreach, Queensland, Australia
- Alternative Names
- Affoo, Jimmy (also used)
- Ah Foo, Jimmy (also used)
Jimmy Ah Foo (or Affoo) was born in the Guangzhou district of China around 1843. It is unknown when or why he came to Queensland, but by the 1860s he was the proprietor of a boarding house and market garden in the central Queensland town of Springsure. In 1866, at the age of 23, he made a trip to Rockhampton and married Evelina Vessey, a 16 year old girl from Lincolnshire, England. The couple settled back in Springsure, continuing the boarding house and starting a family. In the 1873 they were lured to the goldfields of Charters Towers and the Palmer River, where they ran hotels, including the Canton Hotel in Cooktown. In 1877, as the Palmer entered a decline, they returned to their home in Springsure, running the Post Office Hotel, followed by the Carriers' Arms, and finally the Springsure Hotel. With the wealth gained from the goldfields, they were also able to acquire a farm.
When Springsure entered a period of stagnation in the late 1880s, the family moved further inland, following business opportunities along the route of the Central Railway Line as it was progressively extended from Rockhampton. They resided first at Barcaldine, building another Springsure Hotel, and then Longreach, where they erected the large two storey Federal Hotel. By the 1890s Jimmy and Evelina had a family of thirteen children, who were all highly musical and formed the Affoo Family Bands, which toured the district providing musical entertainment as well as playing in the dancehall attached to the hotel.
Jimmy himself had emerged as a popular local identity. He was among the minority of Chinese who was a naturalized British subject, and therefore could, and did, take out farming selections and bought freehold land. Although he was a patron and supporter of the local Chinese community, his ambitions were firmly fixed on forging a life for himself and his family in Queensland. When old age approached Jimmy did not return to China. After a brief and disastrous hotel venture in Rockhampton in 1899, Jimmy and Evelina retired back to Barcaldine to run a small store and garden. In 1916, Jimmy, now in poor health, expressed a desire to end his days in Longreach. One final time the family shifted, travelling by rail with all their furniture and belongings. Jimmy died in Longreach soon afterwards. Both he and Evelina, who died in 1918, are buried in the local cemetery.
The children they left behind embarked on varied careers of their own. Although their Chinese ancestry meant they felt the effects of racism and discrimination, they all became well respected members of the local community. Some of the children married into wealthy grazier or business families and became leading members of the social elite. Two daughters and a son played prominent roles as pioneers of picture cinemas in rural Queensland, while others settled into lives centred on the shearing and pastoral industries, restaurant keeping, domestic service, dress making or music teaching.
Prepared by: Dr Kevin Rains
Chinese Museum (Museum of Chinese Australian History)
- Ah Foo family descendants, 2012.04; Chinese Museum (Museum of Chinese Australian History). Details
- Rains, Kevin, Cedars of the west : the Ah Foo family story, Chinese Heritage in Northern Australia Inc, North Melbourne, Victoria, 2011. Details
Created: 30 March 2012