Who was Quong Tart?

Topic: The Australian colonies
Learning Activity
Schools & Teachers
Stage 3
Students examine original primary source material to discover who Quong Tart was and why he is still significant today.

Learning intention

Students are learning to:

  • Use primary sources to research information about an individual
  • Understand the contribution of individuals in history

Success criteria

Students will be successful when they can:

  • Identify information about Quong Tart from primary sources
  • Explain how Quong Tart contributed to Australian society

Student Activities

The life of Quong Tart

Explore photographs, paintings, letters and more to discover how Quong Tart contributed to Australia.

Number of set tasks:

NSW Syllabus for the Australian Curriculum History K - 10

HT3-1 describes and explains the significance of people, groups, places and events to the development of Australia 

HT3-2 describes and explains different experiences of people living in Australia over time 

HT3-5 applies a variety of skills of historical inquiry and communication 

The role that a significant individual or group played in shaping a colony; for example, explorers, farmers, entrepreneurs, artists, writers, humanitarians, religious and political leaders, and Aboriginal and/or Torres Strait Islander peoples (ACHHK097)


  • use a range of sources to investigate the role of a particular man, woman or group and the contributions each made to the shaping of the colony

Comprehension: chronology, terms and concepts

  • respond, read and write to show understanding of historical matters
  • sequence historical people and events
  • use historical terms and concepts

Analysis and use of sources

  • locate information relevant to inquiry questions in a range of sources (ACHHS102, ACHHS121)
  • compare information from a range of sources


  • identify and pose questions to inform an historical inquiry
  •  identify and locate a range of relevant sources to support an historical inquiry

Explanation and communication

  • use a range of communication forms (oral, written, graphic) and digital technologies.

Continuity and change: some things change over time and others remain the same, eg aspects of both continuity and change in Australian society throughout the twentieth century.

Cause and effect: events, decisions or developments in the past that produce later actions, results or effects, eg events and other reasons that led to migration to Australia; reasons for the struggle for rights and freedoms for various groups in Australia.

Empathetic understanding: an understanding of another's point of view, way of life and decisions made in a different time, eg differing attitudes and experiences of living in an Australian colony; understanding the experiences of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islanders, women and migrants throughout the twentieth century.

Significance: the importance of an event, development or individual/group, eg determining the importance (significance) of various peoples' contributions to the development of a colony.

Learning across the curriculum

  • Literacy
  • Critical and creative thinking
  • Information and communication technology capability
  • Cross-curriculum priority –Asia and Australia’s engagement with Asia

What contribution have significant individuals and groups made to the development of Australian society? 

Additional information

General information

Mei Quong Tart, or Quong Tart as he was known, was a famous and popular figure in Sydney in the late nineteenth century. Quong Tart was an Australian of Asian heritage who had a significant influence on his local community in many ways.

He was a remarkably successful, innovative and fair businessman. His employees (mostly waitresses) were treated well, working reasonable hours (for that era), provided with meals in the restaurant, and allowed free time for reading and needlework. Part of his success can also be attributed to the care he took with the decor of his tea rooms, which had fountains, ferneries and fishponds inside, the provision of special rooms for reading and non-smoking rooms for ladies. Another part of his success was that he provided good food at affordable prices.

Quong Tart was a true philanthropist. He organised many charitable dinners, at one time inviting all the city’s newsboys, and another time local Sydney Aboriginal people to free banquets. He helped clothe and feed the children of Waterloo Ragged School and undertook many other efforts to alleviate the plight of Sydney’s poor. As a cultural benefactor he also promoted concerts and exhibited the work of local painters at his shops.

In 1888, a time of significant anti-Chinese feeling, a passenger ship, the Afghan, sailed into Sydney carrying a large number of Chinese immigrants. The ship was placed under quarantine and Quong Tart helped in conciliating between the passengers and the government. This was one of the many times that he was integral in creating bridges between the Chinese and European interests in Australia at this period.

After seeing the devastating consequences of opium addiction in Sydney’s Chinatown he waged a long campaign against the importation of opium. Opium at this time was sold and consumed in Australia for its ‘medicinal’ purposes. Despite lobbying politicians for many years, and having the clergy on his side, he never lived to see the importation of opium stopped. Many politicians, businessmen and journalists argued (incorrectly) that opium was non-addictive and the colony needed the import revenue.

Quong Tart was also a true celebrity of his time. He would attend social functions dressed either in Mandarin robes or in a kilt and sporran (his affection for things Scottish stemming from his association with the Simpson family at Braidwood). He could tell jokes and anecdotes, recite Robert Burns’ poetry or sing Scottish ballads. Everyone in Sydney at that time either knew or knew of Quong Tart. When he died in 1903, he was farewelled with a huge public funeral and thousands of mourners turned out to pay their respects.

Task 4: Research

Below are some suggested resources for your students to research Quong Tart:

Task 5: Timeline

Quong Tart was born in China in 1850 and came to the goldfields near Braidwood at age nine. He was taken in by a local family, the Simpsons, from whom he learned English and became an Anglican. Quong Tart made his initial wealth by speculating in gold claims, but his popularity was due to his active involvement in the sporting life of the area. He was captain of the local cricket team, founded a football team and promoted horse-racing.

In 1881 he visited China to see his family and on returning to Australia started business as a tea merchant in Sydney. At his small tea house, he served samples of his imported tea; it became so popular he opened a chain of them. 

In 1886 Quong Tart married an Englishwoman, Margaret Scarlett, and they eventually had six children. 

In 1889 Quong Tart opened his Loong Shan Tea shop in King Street. It soon became famous and was frequented by Governors and Premiers. Louisa Lawson, mother of the poet Henry Lawson, sipped tea in the Loong Shan while she organised the campaign for female suffrage in Australia. 

In 1898 Quong Tart opened the Elite Hall in the Queen Victoria Building. It was a very luxurious tea house and restaurant which could hold 500 people. The popularity of these shops was due to the quality of the tea, the excellent food, the rich and exotic furnishings and the nature of Quong Tart himself. He treated workmen and politicians in the same manner, he was a great philanthropist who held many benefits for charity, and he was a generous employer. He was also active on behalf of other Chinese people in Australia, and the Chinese Emperor appointed him a Mandarin for these efforts.

Sadly, Quong Tart’s successful career and life came to a tragic end in 1902 when he was savagely beaten during a botched robbery at his Queen Victoria Markets (now QVB) shop. The wounds he sustained left him bedridden. He made a partial recovery but died from pleurisy at his home in Ashfield almost a year after the attack.

In 1903 Quong Tart passed away from his injuries. He was farewelled with a huge public funeral and thousands of mourners turned out to pay their respects.