1891 Quong Tart opens his first Sydney tea room

Quong Tart. Image: National Library of Australia - nla.pic-an23488394-v

In a time when anti-Chinese sentiment was rampant, Quong Tart and his Sydney tea rooms were a notable exception.

Quong Tart was born in Canton, and arrived in Australia in 1859, accompanying an uncle who was bound for the goldfields at Braidwood. He was educated by his guardians the Simpson family and acted as an interpreter between the Chinese miners and the proprietors of a large gold claim. Mr Simpson subsequently gave him an interest in a gold claim which made him wealthy.

Quong Tart became a British citizen in 1871 and subsequently moved to Sydney, marrying an English woman, Margaret Scarlett in 1886. An account of Quong Tart’s life, written by his widow, tells of his extraordinary success and larger-than-life personality. Titled “The Life of Quong Tart: or, How A Foreigner Succeeded in A British Community” it quotes from many newspaper articles, testimonials and speeches that indicated the respect with which her husband was held in the community. Because of his upbringing, he spoke with a Scots accent and even quipped that he would answer to the name MacTart (or MacTartan, as one wag suggested). “He could sing Scotch songs with singular pathos, recite Burns’ poems with a genuine accent, play Scotch airs on the piano, and jokingly alluded to himself as being a native of Aberdeen,”  she wrote.

After making his fortune on the goldfields, Quong Tart made several trips to China and began to import tea – a trade that led to his opening of the tea rooms in Sydney. Despite prevailing prejudice against the Chinese, Quong Tart became a leading businessman and figure of society and his tea rooms set new standards for quality and grandeur. Becoming a devout Anglican, he also supported many philanthropic causes and was a patron of a variety of sports, including cricket.

The only Chinese offering in his tea rooms was the tea, served in delicate china cups. The food was solid English fare like pork sausages, lamb cutlets, plum pudding and apple pie. The tea rooms were famous for their scones – the scone recipe is reproduced for modern cooks by The Cook and the Curator (a blog from Sydney Living Museums).

The Quong Tart tea rooms also played a part in the feminist movement. Formerly, the city had no respectable gathering place for ladies (and no public toilets). The tea rooms provided a suitable meeting place (and powder rooms). Women flocked to the new establishments and Maybanke Anderson and her fellow suffragettes would regularly meet at the Loong Shan Tea Rooms in King Street.  >Ladies who lunched

In what may have been a robbery, Quong Tart was attacked in his office in 1902  and beaten over the head with an iron bar. He died the following year.

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