Background to Lebanese migration
Lebanese migration and settlement in Australia commenced around 1880. While the early Lebanese immigrants were known as Syrians, they were ‘classified’ as Turks by the colonial government because Lebanon was under Ottoman (Turkish) control until the end of World War I.
Shopkeeping and hawking
In the report on the 1891 census Coghlan comments that ‘the Arabians enumerated were probably all hawkers’. Trevor Batrouney notes that while there is no official data on the occupations of Lebanese settlers prior to 1901, naturalisation and marriage records in the late nineteenth century indicate that most were engaged in ‘commercial callings’ such as shopkeeping and hawking.
There is a breakdown of the occupations of the ‘Syrian’ males in NSW at the time of the 1901 Census. These included: drapers (10); merchants (10); storekeeper, shopkeeper and relative assisting (16); hawker and relative assisting (20) scholars (16) and Maronite Priests (3). The Lebanese who worked as hawkers in Sydney or country New South Wales had to be licensed.
The local court or police station issued the license and the license information was usually recorded in Registers of applications for auctioneers', hawkers' and other licenses. These can be searchedin the catalogue.
Internment and ‘alien’ registration
The ‘classification’ of Lebanese-born immigrants as Turks meant that during the First World War — when Australia was at war with Turkey — some members of the Lebanese community were subject to the requirements of the War Precautions Act 1914 and had to regularly report to their local police stations. While there is no indication that Lebanese were interned in New South Wales during the First World War, Anne Monsour (Not Quite White: Lebanese and the White Australia Policy, 1880 to 1947, 2010) describes one case in Queensland. The records of the New South Wales Attorney General, the Colonial Secretary’s Correspondence and Special Bundle listings as well as the Premier’s Department Special Bundle lists may be of interest to researchers.
The story of Salim Matta
Many early settlers from modern day Lebanon worked as hawkers. Often travelling alone in regional NSW they were vulnerable to attack. Such was the case for Salim Matta, a hawker in the Grenfell area who was murdered. The Sydney Morning Herald, the Argus and other newspapers reported on the incident.
The Argus of 5 April 1905:
‘A Syrian hawker named Salim Matter (sic) was murdered at Bumbaldry, Grenfell District, last night. He was camped near an hotel when a man came to his wagon under pretence of making a purchase, and as Matter was going into his van, the stranger struck him on the head. His cries brought assistance, and he was carried into the hotel, where he died today’.
The Sydney Morning Herald of 6 April 1905:
‘Cowra Wednesday. In connection with the murder of Salim Matter [sic], at Bumbaldry goldfield, Sub-inspector Kenny Forbes, with Senior-sergeant Butler, of Cowra, have arrested a youth on suspicion. The hawker's body has been brought to Cowra to be entrained to Cootamundra for interment. Deceased's widow and family are residing there.’
Grenfell Wednesday. An inquest was held at Bumbaldry on Salim Matter [sic], an Assyrian hawker and has been adjourned. The remains have been sent on to Cootamundra, for burial at Young.’
An open verdict was returned at the inquest held on 20 April 1905 (Source: NRS 343; Registers of Coroners' inquests and Magisterial inquiries, 1905 [Reel 2763].
Unfortunately the case papers have not survived however there is a report in the Sydney Morning Herald that ‘the young man Felstead, who is charged on suspicion of murdering the hawker, was again remanded for eight days.’ The case against William Felstead was dismissed on 27 April by the Police Magistrate who decided that there was no case against the accused. Sadly, despite the notice in the Police Gazette dated 5 May 1905 offering a reward for information about the murder no one was ever brought to trial.
1. Department of Immigration and Multicultural Affairs, Multicultural Australia: The Lebanon-born Community, Commonwealth of Australia, 2000, p.1
2.. A. Coghlan, op. cit., p.185
3.. T. Batrouney in The Australian People: An Encyclopaedia of the Nation, Its People and Their Origin (edited by James Jupp), Cambridge, 2001, p.555
4. NRS 690, p.350
5. Department of Immigration and Multicultural Affairs, op.cit., p.1