Two exhumations in Third Cemetery, North Head

Two exhumations were conducted, presumably on different days, in the Third Cemetery of the North Head Quarantine Station. Both deceased suffered from pneumonic influenza (Spanish influenza) and were passengers from RMS Makura, which was quarantined at North Head in early December 1918: the 28-year-old Alice Ethel Sime, who was buried on 20 December 1918 (grave no. 216) and the 32-year-old Mon Yick, who was buried on 22 January 1919 (grave no. 218). In Yick’s case, the cause of his death was tuberculosis supervening on the influenza. The Sydney Morning Herald of 23 January 1919 reports that Yick had been sick since November 1918, i.e., during the voyage of Makura and before its arrival in Sydney, although this is not specified in the article. Earlier, on 19 December 1918, the Argus reports that Yick was one of the “dangerously ill” patients at the North Head Quarantine Station, implying death was possibly near. “Dangerously ill” patients referred to “seriously ill” patients who got worse.

The entry on Sime in the “Record of Deaths at Quarantine Station” states that her “body” was “exhumed” and “taken to Melbourne” – yet the date on which this occurred was not specified.

The entry on Yick in the same record states that his “remains” were “exhumed” for “transportation to China” on 10 September 1929.

The two entries on the exhumations of Sime and Yick were written by different hands and in red ink.

My examination of the preserved correspondence on the Third Cemetery graves in National Archives file SP399/1 80/8 unfortunately did not result in the location of any documents on the two exhumations. The author read the file, which is not at all substantial, at the National Archives at Chester Hill on 17 September 2014. Presumably the records are incomplete.

The interesting question would be who asked Mon Yick’s remains to be exhumed and then repatriated to China, and what motivated that person. The other question to be asked was the reason for Yick’s arrival in Australia. With the White Australia Policy firmly in place in 1918, was he a returning resident with an exemption certificate? Or was Yick visiting the country for the first time? If that was the case, would he not have to be a crew member of RMS Makura, given that no person of Asian background was welcome to settle in Australia at that time? If Yick was a crew member, then he would have died as a foreigner at the North Head Quarantine Station, and more than a decade after his death, some Chinese person or persons saw it fit to have his bones returned to his place of origin in China, wherever that might be.

Yick is most probably the Cantonese pronunciation of Yi in Mandarin. It is a Chinese family name – not one of the most common ones – and is written as 易 in Chinese script. However, if Mon Yick was an early Chinese settler in Australia, there was also a chance that both words were his given name, and Yick was entered as his surname in the Quarantine Station records simply because it occupied the second place in the name, following Western convention.

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