George AH KIN (aka Jo Ah Kin) [c.1836-1905] | Gwulo: Old Hong Kong

George AH KIN (aka Jo Ah Kin) [c.1836-1905]

Ah Kin
Alias / nickname: 
Jo Ah Kin
c.1836-01-01 (Year, Month, Day are approximate)
Birthplace (country): 
Cause of death: 
heart failure and chronic kidney disease

Ah Kin arrived in New South Wales, Australia by ship (name of vessel unknown) circa 1856-1859. Married Mary Higgins in 1872 and had 15 children: Emma, Margaret, George (Jr), Thomas, Agnes Mary, Samuel, James Joseph, John Patrick, Alexander, Walter Henry, Elizabeth, Mary, William Gabriel, Alice Maud, and Violet May.


Further details on the history of George and Mary Ah Kin here by Barbara  Moore:


And in her book: 

Eurasian roots: A story of the life and times of George Ah Kin and Mary Higgins and their descendants

This is George's signature in Chinese, from Barbara Moore's book above on page 36

George Ah Kin signature.png
George Ah Kin signature.png, by Vanessaf


George is buried in Rookwood, Cumberland Council, New South Wales, Australia - old Chinese section of Rookwood Cemetery


Ahkin family reunion in 2003:



Can anyone make out the last Chinese character of George Ah Kin's signature please?  The first 3 characters are: 佐治亞.

George = 佐治; Ah = 亞; the last character is important because that would presumably be "Kin", probably translated phonetically when he immigrated to NSW.

Greetings, here is my wild guess.  One of his children is also named George, so he identified himself as senior using the Chinese character "big".  His third stroke appears to make no space allowance for the fourth stroke.  Notice the characters got smaller from left to right, so a balancing act for the 4th character all assuming George junior has arrived.   Regards,  Peter 

Thank you Peter! My husband also thought the 4th character says "太", but I just couldn't understand why it doesn't sound like "Kin". Your extra insight about George Ah Kin senior and George Ah Kin junior does make a lot of sense!

So, basically, the signature says 佐治亞太 (kind of like George Senior)

If anyone else has any further information about what his original name "Ah Kin" was in Chinese, please do share.

Thank you again!

Best wishes, Vanessa.

Hi Vanessa, My initial comments might have caused a confusion.

In English, we address a married woman, for example, Mrs. Chan.- she is married to a man whose family name is "Chan".  The Chinese translation for "Mrs." is "太" and is placed after the family name.  But I wonder if this was the correct word in the signature.

George senior was a young man when he left China/HK, so I think his Chinese writing should be fairly good; hence my guess that he meant to sign as senior "大", still sounding awkward to me.

Here, I might cause another confusion - notice the last word has more ink, and the stroke style is apparently different from the first 3 words.  Could the wife have added the 4th character during his absence?   Regards,  Peter

Greetings again, Vanessa.  Additional thoughts on George Senior's family name....

I have no access to Barbara Moore's book but wonder if it contains any Mainland/HK official documents showing his full Chinese family name.  Kin, or Ah Kin, might not be his family name.  With few exceptions, Chinse family names have one character.  With two characters, I cannot think of one starting with "Ah".

When we talk about a friend/relative not in presence, often we add "Ah" in front of his/her given name as a smooth way of bring it into the conversation.  If the person is present, we look to him/her and also use "Ah" to get their attention.  George senior might have brought this to his new-found land and preferred to be called such.    Regards,  Peter     

Hello Peter!

Yes I agree with you - "Ah Kin" is likely a casual rendition of his first name in Chinese, something similar to "Hey Paul" or "Hey John"! We will likely never know his real Chinese surname. In Barbara's book (I managed to access a copy), there are no other documents with Chinese information on his name - she mentioned that in a few other documents, he would just sign with an "X". There is another document which he signed himself as "Jo Ah Kin" (who knows where the "Jo" came from - Barbara thinks it could have been part of his original Chinese name).

I reckon, if Cantonese was his first language, the top candidates for "Ah Kin" would be "亞堅", "亞健", or "亞乾". I even dug through the the National Archives of Australia online documents ( - they scanned a lot of digital files with people's original signatures, handprints and pictures. There are other Ah Kin's (not related) around that time, so I want to see what their Chinese names were. I only managed to find one Ah Kin (not George), who had Chinese characters on the same document saying "亞乾".

George Ah Kin's wife was Mary Higgins, born in NSW to Irish parents who were originally from Ireland, so I presume she would not know how to write Chinese characters. This signature was from a document signed in 1894, so yes, this was after George junior (b.1868; d. 1940) was born.


This might remain a mystery - but maybe his descendants from other branches might know what his real name "Ah Kin" was. I still think your hypothesis of him signing off as George Senior as most plausible at this point, because two people now think that last character is "太" (see comment from another Gwulo community member here, so I am now trying to find out whether "亞太" is something Chinese people, perhaps in old times, use to denote "senior" in names. I've heard it used for "great grand parents", otherwise identifying someone with seniority.


Thank you so much again - I very much appreciate the interest and the help; if you find out anything else, pls do let me know. I will share any updates as I dig further.


Best wishes, Vanessa

Greetings, and thank you Vanessa for the opportunity to comment on an interesting man and his story.   Regards,  Peter

Hi Vanessa and Peter, I am from the other thread ( I just want to share my two cents on a few things. The surname 'Ah Kin' is likely an immigration official confusing surname and given name. It is very uncommon for a Chinese person to sign his name in Chinese with a transliteration of his English name. What is the context, i.e. what is the document about? As for the meaning of 太, it can mean 'too' (as in excessive), senior and Mrs. (discussed above). It is used in phrases like 太陽(sun) and 太平(peace).

Greetings, and nice to meet you here C.  Your two cents could be exactly what happened at the immigration office.

I am not sure if the signature was made by one person.  The first three characters show George senior was a capable writer, especially the 3rd character where he sped through the middle section with ease, and inked the last (horizontal) stroke as a good writer would - fairly straight with a tiny up slope (apology for sounding too technical) and ending with a "stop" at the tip.

People tend to take pride in their signature in its entirety.  When I looked at the last (4th) character, I wondered if it fits with the rest in style and meaning.  "太" is a simple word and George senior would have had no problem writing it.   If it was meant to say "太", it looks way out of shape.

For proper sequance (I think there are rules for this) the first stroke is the horizontal line, and the left full curve and right (shorter) curve are next, and the tiny dot-press last .  Notice how the top line's thickness diminishes from left to right, contrary to the last stroke in the preceeding character.  Above this line, there is a short vertical stroke which suggests that this might have been the signee's first stroke.  Was it George senior's preference, or the way he learned in school? And the new ink I mentioned earlier, hence my hunch about two signees.   Regards,  Peter 

Hello C and Peter - thank you for this continued help with deciphering this mysterious signature. I agree that the way he wrote the Chinese characters and executed the strokes reflects that he was a learned person with some degree of education back in China before he immigrated to NSW - there are features showing that he knew at least some Chinese calligraphy, and not someone who only managed to know/learn a few words to get by.


From Barbara's book above, p.36 is this document that was titled "Debts due to the Estate". George had gone into bankruptcy, and was apparently a very generous man but not a very good businessman, having given credits to many people with lots of moneys owed to him:


Eurasian roots (by Barbara Moore p36).png
Eurasian roots (by Barbara Moore p36).png, by Vanessaf


If "亞太" meant "Mrs" here, so that "佐治亞太" actually meant "Mrs George", would that be odd to sign a debt document in one's wife's name? I highly doubt that Mary Higgins knew how to write Chinese, being of Irish extract, although I of course, don't know much about her.


In Barbara's book, it said that (p.37):" 1895, George's business was obviously declining. George stated in his bankruptcy papers in 1897 that "I did not sell my business. It died out 2 years ago". Maybe it was about this time that George decided to go to Sydney to live.It must have been a struggle for Mary to keep her children clothed and fed during this time. Mary had purchased a house and some land in Nimmitabel in 1897, which she left to her daughter, Elizabeth, in her will....By now...George, Sam and Tom would have been operating their coach run..." I think the last line refers to George junior here.

Thus, it would appear to me that Mary Higgins was savvy and was able to make large purchases herself (like estate), and probably wouldn't allow debts to be signed to her name without her knowing. Barbara's book did not mention that Mary was in debt or had to repay these debts.

It could very well be that George senior didn't want his name to be confused with George junior in these official documents, as I'm sure he probably didn't want all these debts to be attributed to his son, who was operating his own business (coach run) at the time?


Best wishes, Vanessa

Greetings.  It is amazing how a signature from way back can generate so much interest and I am pleased to be able to join in the discussion.  Thank you Vanessa for posting the entire page of the business account.  The English entries were, I think, made by the wife.  The signature block supports the notion that one person made it, though I still wonder about the last character.  I agree with your explanation.

Not to contradict, here is another imagination after a good night sleep.  The first two Chinese characters for George were likely not commonly used in daily life at that time.  When he adopted "George", he looked them up in the Chinese dictionary for translation.  Their pen-strokes appear a bit rough and fast, like I would "wink it through" too.  The third character was written with confidence which supports the notion that "亞" was his family name.  If there are no official documents showing it, "Ah" would be a later invention not made by George senior himself.   Regards,  Peter

Yes thanks Peter - I am quite impressed by the Gwulo community here for their level of interest in these details that could only be explained by our collective love for old HK and its history.

When looking through the documents, ship passenger lists through the Australian government archives online, there were many Chinese individuals with names of the form "Ah X". It just seems to be that most of them never bothered to provide a proper surname and their original Chinese first names (or perhaps the recording officials just want to make this quick and easy, and go by their everyday appellations).

So, if someone's name was 黃小明 (WONG, Siu Ming; WONG being the surname, and "Siu Ming" being the first name), he would just be called  "Ah Ming" by his friends and colleagues on a daily basis. When he would board the ship, the official would ask him "What's your name", and maybe it was just simpler to say "Ah Ming", and then that became the permanent, official surname of this person when they arrived on the other side (New South Wales). They then add an English first name when they settle in their new land, so in this example, this person might have become "William Ah Ming". For that reason, I don't think it would be easy to find out the original surname for George Ah Kin, unless we have the document of when he first boarded the ship to NSW and only IF there was a full Chinese name attached to it (either by a Chinese official or by him signing his own signature in Chinese).


I saw this in the case of a Jimmy Ah Kin in the National Archives of Australia (; series number J2481; control symbol 1899/391) - you can see his Chinese name is "亞乾" (Ah Kin), 42 years-old, and he was from a village called "香山上村", the Chinese slip seems to be requesting booking for 1 passenger seat on the ship to Brisbane. I can't read all of it, but doesn't seem to reveal anything about his Chinese surname! But maybe people at the time only operate by first name for convenience, or perhaps people from villages are not as formal to include the use of surnames in most things?

Jimmy Ah Kin.png
Jimmy Ah Kin.png, by Vanessaf


Best wishes, Vanessa



Hi Vanessa.  I left HK 54 years ago, and there has been not a single day I did not think about the place I grew up.  A person may forget many things, but not his/her family name.  We may never know whether or not George senior kept it as part of his signature.

Not to make accusation, it makes sense to protect George junior from the effects of business failure, and for this reason, either George senior himself or another person added the last character in the signature.  Its penmanship makes me believe it was the latter - something I would do if I, or the wife, were in that situation.  Regards,  Peter   

Yes, all possibilities, and wouldn't rule any of it out. Maybe there will bemore insights. Maybe C will chime in later. I'm making more enquiries as we go along. That's amazing that you still keep in touch with the HK news. I do also have very fond memories of growing up in HK, and try to visit more now. BW, Vanessa.

Hi Vanessa and Peter, Thanks Vanessa for providing the full document and the background. Peter, thank you for sharing interesting ideas. Given that George senior signed his names differently on different occasions, including signing an X, is there any information about his command of the written languages of Chinese and English? Another puzzling thing is that why did he not sign his proper Chinese name? Could it have been signed by another person who knew some Chinese but did not know George senior's Chinese name? I am not able to suggest any explanation. We may need a fresh pair of eyes to enrich the discussion.

Greetings, thank you C for your comments.  The interest continues and so are the questions.

Given George left China when he was in his early 20s, he would have retained much of what he learned in school. that is if he had/could attend school. 

He moved to an English-speaking environment at the young-adult age, met his English-speaking wife - quite early - and operated a business 14 years of which he must deal with customers and suppliers.  This enabled him to use the new language at least at the elementary level, and I think this helped his writing part too.

By the time of bankruptcy, it puzzles me why he did not sign the document in English.  Agreed.  The signature could have been made by another person.  The book talks about the family moving about places so another Chinese could have given such assistance during George's absence to expedite legal process.

The last character remains a puzzle.  Sorry for the "long air" habit (長氣).  Regards,  Peter  

Hi Peter - you're not 長氣 at all! True spirit of a scholar / investigator.

I've dug some more - I've shown the signature to a colleague from China. He thinks that the person signing could write well, knew Chinese calligraphy (used to write Chinese characters using brushes due to the way he executed the strokes). He also thinks that the last character looks more like "大" than "太", and the extra "dot" is there because, when one is signing a signature, at the end, a lot fpeople just add a final "dot" to finish off the signature. If the character were a "太", the propotion doesn't look right for the word. This is similar to what Peter, you said in your first post. He says that in Chinese, there isn't a really surname of "太" or "" or "太". He also think one person wrote the entire thing - all 4 characters.


I also found this here "Traditional Chinese Generation Names". On p.112, it talks about these 2 words and their use in Chinese names


dà 大 ‛eldest; great’ (HYC; MCED; XXH);

tài 太 ‛more or most senior; highest; greatest’ (HYC; MCED; XXH)


So, I still think that the possibility he was signing off as "George Senior" is the most plausible at this point, to distinguish himself (and all these debts) from his son George Junior




Greetings, and Vanessa I am pleased to note your research has led to a logical conclusion.  You've got two scholars, one in China and the other in Europe.  I think George also qualifies for remembering and using what he learned years ago back home.

In the early 1950s primary schools, we used old fashion ink-dip pen.   My first English lesson was likely the "Copy Book".  Inside, it contains all the English alphbets in upper and lower cases.  Below them are also alphbets but printed with tiny dots.  Our task was to connect the dots as smooth and accurate as possible.  We could vary the pressure on the nib to match of thickness of the strokes in the examples - typically heavy/thick on the down stroke.  A fountain pen cannot do this due to its design, although it was becoming popular about this time.  I recall this because I believe George signed his name using an early period of ink-dip pen.  Regards,  Peter 


By the way, Peter, I meant to update you on my 3rd great grandfather's Chinese name above. Other relatives sent me 10 more of his signatures, and we figured that last word actually says "canine" (dog):

Signature 1.jpg
Signature 1.jpg, by Vanessaf
Signature 8.jpg
Signature 8.jpg, by Vanessaf
Signature 9.jpg
Signature 9.jpg, by Vanessaf


I tried searching in Google why people would name their children after animals in ancient Chinese culture but found nothing. I had to search typing in Chinese characters, and this came up.

This Chinese article is most interesting:


This is in simplified Chinese, but essentially, people back then would include in their children's names words like "dog", "pig", "chicken", and even "poo", "poo egg", "steel bar", "hammer",etc, is because they believed that evil spirits could hurt your child if you reveal their "real name". If you let a witch know your "real name", they can cast spells on you, so parents often named their children these weird "low-level" names as a form of protection to ward off evil. These words like dog, chicken, pig, poo, metal alloys, etc, are believed to have power to ward off evil spirits. Thus, it is a way to protect your children, and hope that they will grow up to adulthood without event.

The character "canine" was likely pronounced as "kin" in his own dialect. There are a few dialetcts in Zhongshan. Shiqi dialect is one. Min-nan dialect is another (which apparently would pronounce this canine character as "khian")

I think what happened was, he was probably from rural China, possibly from a small village where the practice of naming children as animals to ward off evil was common. I am told that this is still common in some villages. So he was named "little canine", with canine being pronounced as "kin" in his native tongue. People then just called him "Ah kin" in every day usage. When he boarded the ship to Australia, the English-speaking crew or officers would ask everyone what their name is and start scribbling on bits of paper. He would have replied "Ah Kin". When these Chinese migrants landed in Australia, that became their surnames. There are many other Chinese migrants to Australia during that time with the surname "Ah X". The "Ah" is not a Chinese surname, but just an informal appellation.

Then, Ah Kin adopted an English name "George". So he became George Ah Kin, and signed his name as such - a literal straight translation using those 4 Chinese characters.

So, taken all together, I do believe George Ah Kin's name was "George the canine". The fourth character is most likely "canine/dog"




Thank you Vanessa for your update on the origin of Ah Kin's name with emphasis on the last (4th) character.  New thing I learned today.  Signature #9 could be the one he signed later in life, no offence intended, by then his writing ability was not as accurate and firm as when he was young, and it  appears there is a mispel on the third character. Regards,  Peter

Hi Vanessa,

I am surprised & delighted to see such a conversation about George Ah Kin's signature! George Ah Kin was my great grandfather, and George junior my grandfather, although I never knew him. I was just doing a search for my niece who has to do some family timelines for her school work & landed up here. It is fascinating to read the discussion & to see what can be learnt about my great grandfather from his signature.

An acquaintance of mine who is Chinese said, as some others here have done, that Ah Kin is not a family name, and that Ah is a kind of diminuitive so Ah Kin is like saying 'little Johnny'.

Anyhow, to add to the signature story: I have heard it said that George signed his bankruptcy papers using Chinese characters to say  "you'll never catch me alive, you dogs"

True or not, it makes me grin for a fiesty spirit & maybe a certain disregard for authority : ) 

Another story is that George claimed to be the owner of the old Anthony Hordens shopping site on George St (now the World Square site) in Sydney CBD & that Mary went there looking for him after he left the family in Nimmitabel.

It's been most interesting to read these comments, so thanks to all the contributors.


Dear Janene,

How wonderful to hear from another Ah Kin descendent here  on the Gwulo website! I was laughing too about your story "you'll never catch me alive, you dogs"! That must have been a myth that was passed around. I think his name was "dog" (Kin). There were all sorts of speculations we had heard before, but given that he consistently signed it that way and over time, that must have been his name that he usedin Australia.

Your grandfather George Jr - his eldest sister Emma Ah Kin is my 2nd great grandmother. If I haven't gotten it wrong, I believe you are 2nd cousins with my grandmother Lucy Ablong (you share the same great grandparents - George Ah Kin and Mary Higgins). This makes you a grand aunt of mine!

Would love to connect with you - I'll send a message to David to pass on my contact. If you are not already in touch with all the other Ah Kin descendents, there is a big group of us, and someone is collating a family contacts list!

Best wishes