RE: [St.H.Fam.Hist.]Origin of YON surname & Chinese workers on St. Helena
- The following is taken from the book by Glennis Snell, entitled "The Knipes
of St. Helena," which I cited in an earlier post today.
pp 178, 179
In a chapter entitled "Historical Background." Although a general
bibiography is given, I did not find specific footnote for this information.
"A law had been passed in 1792 prohibiting the importation of slaves and
Governor PATTON hit on the idea of bringing Chinese laborers to St. Helena
to satisfy this shortage. This scheme was approved by the EIC directors and
in 1810 the first group arrived on the Island. They were engaged on a three
year contract, later extended to five years. Some of these Chinese labourers
returned to their homeland after completion of their contracts but their
numbers were swelled by the recruitment of Chinese sailors whose ships
called at St. Helena and who volunteered to remain on the Island as
labourers (or simply deserted and were hidden by their countrymen until the
departure of the ship). At its height the Chinese labour force on St. Helena
numbered more than six hundred, but their numbers were reduced over the
years until in 1835 only 27, who held the status of settles, were allowed to
remain. These indentured workers were not known by their names but were
given numbers e.g. Chinese No. 1 (holding the most important position) and
so down. They were issued with copper disks on which their number was
engraved and in the government records they are referred to by their number
until the middle to late 1800's when some names appear. The well-known
Island name of YON looks and sounds Chinese but apparently stems from French
not Chinese and early members of the YON family were slaves, something the
Chinese never were on St. Helena.
Given the large number of single Chinese men on the Island it is not
surprising that many Saints have Chinese blood, but the lack of Chinese
surnames is very evident. This is perhpas because the established Church
would not marry a couple were one party was Chinese (and therefore not
Christian) so the offspring of any union with local women were given their
If I had strong interest in this period of the Island's history, and I had
access to a Family History Center, I would order films #1259076 - forward
for as long as I wanted to continue tracing the Chinese habitation. There
are actually about 17 films of EIC Consulatations between 1792 and 1835. I
can testify that they are not easy reading, but they tend to contain
fascinating insights among the endless minutiae. Actually, for any period of
Island history until Apr 1835, the consultations are excellent resources. If
your ancestor is mentioned (and almost every Christian person and many
slaves were), you have access to details about their day to day existence
that go 'way beyond vital statistics.
RE: "One name which was in the census and is still very present on the
island, and which is also to be found in numbers in the Cape, is Yon.
The references to the Yons in the 1814 census, however, don't get
the same treatment as the others. Why was this? I have read
somewhere on the internet that the origin of this name on the island
is Chinese, not implausible, I suppose, but it does not convince me.
Similarly, the statistic that Saints' have 25% of Chinese blood in
their veins, which you can read on the web, must be wrong, surely:
en masse, the Chinese labourers only stayed a few decades. I look
forward to comments and explanations from historians out there."
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