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George Hawkins Ethnic Affairs

AH CHAN, JOE 1882 - 1959
Greengrocer, horticulturalist, wine-maker

Chan Hock Joe was born, according to family information, in
1882, at Ha Kei, Tsengshing (Zengcheng) county, in China's Guangdong province.
He was the son of Chan Yook Ngan, the principal of the local school, and his
wife, Ng Chu Hwa. By the time he emigrated to New Zealand around 1905 he had
married Yip Kue Sum; she remained in China.

Known in New Zealand as Joe Ah Chan, he worked in Wellington as a fruit and
vegetable hawker and later may have had a greengrocer's shop in Hawera. About
1916 he sold the business and returned to China to help his wife learn English
so that she could join him in New Zealand. At the time Chinese immigrants had to
pay £100 poll tax and pass an English test of 100 words. In 1917 Ah Chan
returned to New Zealand and opened a general store in Matamata. He was joined by
Kue Sum three years later; because their marriage was not recognised by New
Zealand authorities, they were married again in Auckland on 28 July 1920.

In 1923 Joe Ah Chan, his wife and their two children, George and Daisy, moved
to Thames, where their third child, Anne, was born. There, Joe established a
market garden, grew glasshouse tomatoes, and later began growing tomatoes
outdoors. At the time most outdoor tomatoes were imported from the Pacific
islands, and Ah Chan was one of the first to grow them commercially in New
Zealand. He dispatched produce to many North Island fruiterers and soon opened a
fruit and vegetable shop in Pollen Street, Thames.

In 1925 Joe Ah Chan began growing grapes at Totara and established Gold Leaf
Vineyards. To finance this venture he continued to grow and sell tomatoes and
vegetables, and purchased a further 22 acres in the Kauaeranga Valley to expand
his market gardens. In 1929, with assistance from Andrew Sinkovich, a wine-maker
from Henderson, Ah Chan produced his first batch of 1,000 gallons of wine. He
was reputedly the first Chinese wine-maker in the southern hemisphere. In 1950
Ah Chan sold the vineyard to a distant kinsman.

Joe Ah Chan had been a founding member of the Chinese nationalist party, the
Kuomintang, in New Zealand and served as chairman of its Waikato branch. He
helped to raise funds for the Chinese revolutionary leader Sun Yat-sen and was
one of three New Zealanders awarded a medal by Sun. Later, he was a strong
supporter of Chiang Kai-shek and made large donations to assist China's war
effort against Japan. During the 1930s, disturbed by the poverty of the
depression, Ah Chan became a member of the New Zealand Labour Party.

A short, stocky man, Joe Ah Chan spent much of his spare time reading Chinese
classical works and Chinese newspapers. He also loved to listen to his favourite
Cantonese opera records on his old gramophone. He died in Auckland on 14
December 1959, survived by Kue Sum and their three children; he was buried at
Waikumete cemetery.

Source:

  • Ah Chan, Wesley. 'Ah Chan, Joe 1882 - 1959'. Dictionary of New Zealand
    Biography, December 2001 URL: http://www.dnzb.govt.nz/
  • The original version of this biography was published in the Dictionary of
    New Zealand Biography Volume Four (1921-1940), 1998 © Crown Copyright 1998-2001,
    Published by the Ministry for Culture and Heritage, Wellington, New Zealand. All
    rights reserved.