Johnny Din (b. 1830) arrived in Australia in 1848 aged about 18, making him one of the first Chinese indentured labourers (‘coolies’) to arrive in Queensland. On 4 October 1875 he was convicted at the Rockhampton Assizes of ‘unlawfully wounding’ and sentenced to three years’ penal servitude. Brisbane Gaol admission records include a photograph of Dinn [sic] and describe him as 5 feet 2 inches tall with black hair and brown eyes. His occupation was given in the gaol register as labourer but newspaper reports referred to Din as a cook and gardener. He was also described as a Pagan [sic].
Din was indicted on 27 July 1875 for wounding William Tighe at Corella Downs on the Thomson River, south-west of Longreach. At the hearing at the Rockhampton Assizes in October, Din was described as ‘exceptionally dark in appearance’ and ‘full-featured’. Evidence was given that Tighe was suffering from dysentery and had declined to eat any meals containing meat. However, Din refused to believe this explanation and stated that Tighe was refusing to eat the meat because he knew it had been poisoned. Din was concerned that if anyone ate the meat and died, he would be executed. An argument ensued and Din stabbed Tighe twice in the arm with a butcher’s knife.
Tighe testified in court that Din took large quantities of opium each night and walked around talking about “shooting, poisoning, and sticking”. He also said that Din believed that people were constantly talking about him and “conspiring to kill him”.
Thomas Ang Wong served as interpreter, though the Daily Northern Argus reported that:
Dispensing with the interpreter’s aid, the prisoner [Din] cross-questioned Tighe in good broken English, and afterwards addressed the jury in a fluent speech, embellished with oratorical flourishes. He manifested great good humor [sic], and seemed to enjoy the situation.
Johnny Din also told the court that God had told him he was a Chinese king and that he wanted to return to China. In summing up for the jury, the judge stated that he had the impression that Din was “mad” and referred to Din’s habit of “eating quantities of opium” which caused him to talk of poisoning and so on.
After a fifteen-minute deliberation, the jury found Din guilty of unlawful wounding and sentenced him to three years’ imprisonment. When Din was admitted to the Brisbane Gaol, it was recorded that he was born in China in 1830 and that he ‘Arrived in the Colony’ in 1848. Din was a labourer with ‘Nil’ education and he was described as a ‘Pagan’. His hair was black, his eyes brown, and he was 5 feet 2 inches tall. The accompanying photograph shows a Chinese man man wearing a white shirt, white or pale trousers and a leather belt. No date or discharge or other information was recorded.
Note: Several newspapers reported that ‘Johnny Din’ jumped into the river at Rockhampton on Tuesday 5 October 1875 from the schooner Douglas and drowned. However, other newspapers articles name Ah Sing as the man who committed suicide by jumping into the river. In addition, the Johnny Din (Dinn) sentenced to three years’ imprisonment at Rockhampton on 5 October 1875 was subsequently admitted to the Brisbane Gaol, as evidenced by his admission record and photograph.
No trace of Din’s life in Queensland past October 1875 has yet been found.
Jan Richardson, ‘Johnny Din (1830 – )’, Harry Gentle Resource Centre, Griffith University, 2022, https://harrygentle.griffith.edu.au/life-stories/johnny-dinn/.
Photographic record, description and criminal history of Johnny Dinn [sic], c. 1875, No. 243.
Rockhampton Assizes, Daily Northern Argus [Rockhampton], 5 Oct 1875.
Supreme Court sittings, Rockhampton Bulletin, 5 Oct 1875.
(From the Courier.) Rockhampton, Maryborough Chronicle, Wide Bay and Burnett Advertiser, 7 Oct 1875.
Rockhampton, Brisbane Courier, 8 Oct 1875.