Tag Archives: Deaf history

A new website – Deaf in NSW

Deaf Society of New South Wales (DSNSW) have launched a website called ‘Deaf in NSW’, a historical view of the NSW Deaf Community as well as the history of DSNSW.


It is a beautifully designed website with a timeline that I really liked.

It will be modified and added on over the time as the main objective is to preserve the history and educate people about the history of deaf people living in NSW from 1788 onwards.

It is hoped that other states will follow suit soon.

Your feedback on the website?

And please ignore the ad below…

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Australian Deaf and Immigration Issues in the 18th and 19th Centuries

I came across an interesting letter in the issue of “The Silent Worker”, a Deaf magazine in USA about a deaf man from Australia wanting to work in New Zealand. Here’s the transcription of the letter:

From The Silent Worker vol. 21 no. 2, page 33 (dated November 1908): (1)

“Recently a deaf-mute, a residence in New South Wales, thought he would leave Australia and settle in New Zealand, in which country he had an offer of a situation as a slaughterman at a weekly wage of £5. But he reckoned without his host – the New Zealand Government – whose agents hold the shipping company liable for a bond of £100 if they permit anyone to land, either lunatic, idiotic, deaf, dumb, blind or infirm, and likely to become a charge upon the State.

The deaf and dumb naturally resent being classified in this manner, especially as the only difference between them and the rest of the community is that they are without the sense of hearing. “The average deaf-mute is mentally and physically sound.” A man capable of earning £5 per week could not have much amiss with him. Yet the New Zealand immigration Laws barred his further progress. No wonder a spirited stand is being made against such an anomalous proceeding, for if the fellow had lost his sense of smell, instead of his hearing, he would not have been challenged at all. The Australian Deaf and Dumb Association is sending a strongly worded memorial to the New Zealand Government. – The British Deaf Times.

Then a day later, I was sent a link to a blog – http://chloeokoli.com/deaf-history-white-australia/ – about a post titled “Why Being Deaf in White Australia Meant You Were Going Nowhere”. It was about Frederick J Rose and his protest about the Immigration Restrictions for Deaf and Dumb when travelling around Australia via ports.

So with those two examples at hand, I went on a search to see why it was so.

Immigration Policies and the Deaf in 19th Century

Apparently, the first Immigration Act was provided in 1869 to the Commonwealth countries, which included Australia, New Zealand, Canada and many other countries under England. This Act was to used as “an entry tax and for quarantine of all vessels transporting ill passengers. The entry tax went into a fund destined to the care of sick and indigent immigrants as well as the cost of their travel to their final destination. Upon arriving at a port of entry, the ship’s captain was required to provide a passenger list indicating the total number of persons, names of heads of families and unmarried and/or unaccompanied persons, their country of origin and destination. Moreover, he had to declare if there were “any mentally ill, idiots, deaf and dumb, blind, or infirm, and if they were accompanied by relatives able to care for them.” (2)

Branson & Miller (1998) explained that:(3)

“Immigration policies have in various ways prohibited the entry of deaf people into Australia. Currently, these prohibitions operate through health clauses in the immigration act, which allow health officers, using medical grounds, to declare deaf people a potential burden on the public purse…”


“The first control was directed at people who were judged unfit for work and therefore potentially dependent on the public purse. In fact, discrimination against those later to be labeled “disabled” became established well before the White Australia Policy. Deafness was judged to be a condition rendering a person unfit for work.

The Victorian passengers act, “The Passengers Act 1855,” said that the captain of any vessel must:

Report (to the immigration officer in the port of arrival) whether any of the passengers by the said ship are lunatic, idiotic, deaf, dumb, blind or infirm and if so in the opinion of the said officer are likely to become permanently a charge upon the public or any public or charitable institution.

This was reaffirmed in the Commonwealth Act of 1901 and in the 1958 immigration regulations.

There is also more than a hint of eugenics in Criterion 4006:

The applicant has been found to be free from any disease or condition that, if offspring were produced, would, in the opinion of a Commonwealth medical officer, result in the offspring being affected by a disease or condition referred to in clause 4005.

Lastly, in one of the New Zealand Official Yearbooks, the 1920 Year book had those clauses: (4)


The legislation respecting the restriction of immigration into New Zealand is contained in the Immigration Restriction Act, 1908, and its amendments, and the Undesirable Immigrants Exclusion Act, 1919.

Prohibited Immigrants.

The following persons or classes of persons are prohibited from landing in New Zealand:—

1. Persons not of British birth and parentage who are unable to write out and sign in any European language a prescribed form of application;

2. Idiots or insane persons;

3. Persons suffering from contagious diseases which are loathsome or dangerous;


When persons arrive in New Zealand who are lunatic, idiotic, deaf, dumb, blind, or infirm, and are likely to become a charge upon the public or upon any public or charitable institution, the master, owner, or charterer of the ship by which such persons come to New Zealand must enter into a bond for £100 for each such person, guaranteeing his support and maintenance for five years.”


Branson & Miller (1998) made an interesting point:

“Given these policies, it is not surprising that Australia has always had one of the lowest percentages of genetic deafness in the world.”


This would also means those deaf immigrants/settlers of 19th Century would have to travel furtively, in a pair with a hearing person, to avoid being detected as deaf and dumb, and being ‘deported’. Frederick J Rose and his brother when they came to Australia during the Gold Rush of 1850s, and would have missed the restrictions by few years. However, would have he been subjected to such restrictions then, when he did travelled back to England in 1860 to marry and bring over his English wife.

There is a need to research this topic more closely to see how other Deaf people have managed to travel around in the 18th and 19th Century. And it could also explained why there were not much of an Australian presence in the International deaf events in the 19th Century.

Your thoughts?


(1) – The Silent Worker was a popular national newspaper among the deaf population of the United States during the end of the 1890’s through the end of the first quarter of the 20th century. http://www.aladin0.wrlc.org/gsdl/collect/gasw/gasw.shtml

(2) – “Promoters, Planters, and Pioneers: The Course and Context of Belgian Settlement in Western Canada”, by Cornelius J. Jaenen. (http://dspace.ucalgary.ca/bitstream/1880/48650/10/UofCPress_PromotersPlantersPioneers_2011_Chapter02.pdf)

(3) – “Issues Unresolved: New Perspectives on Language and Deaf Education” edited by Amatzia Weisel. “Achieving Human Rights – Educating Deaf Immigrant Students from Non-English-Speaking Families in Australia” by Jan Branson and Don Miller. 1998. Pages 91-92.

(4) – http://www3.stats.govt.nz/New_Zealand_Official_Yearbooks/1920/NZOYB_1920.html

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Hands On Series 17 Programme 4

A 27 minutes long show on the Irish Deaf History – the focus is on the prisoners in the 19th Century. Very interesting and the research they’ve done is quite extensive! Hope we can do similar here in Australia one day!

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