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RE: [St.H.Fam.Hist.]Origin of YON surname & Chinese workers on St. Helena

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  • Christine Adams
    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
    Message 1 of 2 , Nov 5, 2006
      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
      mother's surname."

      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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