Sum Kum Lee, Chinatown, 1888

Gong Hei Fat Choy ! Ok, that doesn’t mean happy new year, more like Good Fortune in Cantonese, but that’s appropriate for this #MelbourneChinatown landmark – it was built in 1888 for Lowe Kong Meng, who I knew nothing about until a minute ago – turns out he was the de facto leader of the Chinese community, and successful merchant. He owned a bunch of ships, import-export of course, and a gold mine. Born in Penang (presumably this means George Town) as a British subject (his parents were from Canton), he spoke English and French, was on the board of a bank and was an Exhibition Commissioner, had interests in sugar mills and Hong Kong, married a Tasmanian girl and had 12 children and lived in a big house in Malvern. Sadly he died the same year this was built aged only 57, leaving his widow only £1000, which explains why in 1889 gossip rag #TableTalk bought and occupied it till 1903. Anyway, it’s great, a #chunkyVictorian essay in elaborate #Italianate elaboration, with lots of #QueenAnne bits; architect #GeorgeDeLacyEvans really went to town ! It’s called the #SumKumLee Building, though I don’t know why, perhaps that’s how it was known in 1978 when first classified by the Trust. PS the #ShanghaiVillageDumplings gets 4*, I must go, though the inside isn’t at all original, would love to know what’s upstairs !

A bit more research and found that his widow Anne went on to run the Prince of Wales Hotel in St Kilda, and 9 of his 12 children went to live on their country property Longwood, near Euroa, and only one of the four sons there married, so not many Kong Meng descendants. In 1917 when George Kong Meng was 38 he tried to enlist in WW1 but was rejected as ‘not substantially of European origin’, even though his younger brother Herbert was already at the front! The Euroa Historical Society has a photo of both of them from c1909 with other soldiers at the Longwood rifle range when they were members of the Victorian Mounted Rifles.

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