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Dabee Singh A Pioneer One of the Earliest Sikh Arrivals in Australia

Len Kenna and Crystal Jordan 2014 ©

Benares, Varanasi, India. Photograph taken in 1922. Courtesy of Repository, Library of Congress Prints and Photographs Division Washington, D.C USA.


Dabee Singh was born about 1802 in Benares, Varanasi, India, and arrived in Australia on the 28th October 1844, on the brigantine “Minerva” out of Calcutta on 17th August 1844. In about 1828 he married his first wife Nunkey Kaur.

Both Dabee and Nunkey were brought to Australia and employed by Mr. Phillip Friell and Gordon Sandeman under a five year contract at 4 Rupees (8 shillings or 50 cents) per month paid in silver with accommodation and rations. Friell and Sandeman imported 23 other Indians at the same time as Dabee and Nunkey. When they signed their indentured contracts they were employed as domestic servants as the law in India at that time demanded.

However, after landing in Australia, Dabee and the other servants were transported up the river by boat to Ipswich, where they were employed as shepherds and hut keepers on Friell’s Tenthill Sheep Station on the Stuart River, Queensland. Later they were transferred to Friell’s Burrandowan Sheep Station, South Burnett, Queensland in 1847.

Before Dabee and his fellow workers left Brisbane on their way to the Sheep Station, complaints were made about the quality and quantity of their food and supplies. They were under the control of a man named Thomas Ayerst. Later events suggested that Ayerst was unfit for that responsibility. Further complaints were lodged when they reached the Tenthill Station resulting in Dabee Singh and other Indians leaving the property in a group. They complained of being whipped and being supplied with insufficient rations.

Dabee Singh and another servant named Ranlell (also recorded as Ramball) absconded and were apprehended and brought before the court on the 1st January 1847. They were asked by the court if they were now willing to proceed to Tenthill Station, the alternative if they were not was to be transported to Sydney and gaoled. The men agreed to return to the station.

Dabee and his wife Nunkey remained in Queensland and had three sons named Betchew, Pooran, Gooram. It is unknown what happened to Nunkey, but when Dabee Singh was aged 54 years he took another wife, Samos, and they had another son George Henry Singh, born in 1853. Dabee had one daughter but it is unknown which of Dabee’s wives was her mother.

After Dabee had served his indenture with Phillip Friell, he, along with another friend, who had also been employed by Friell, worked as labourers for Mr. Chapman who had a contract for work on Queen Street, Brisbane in 1861 with the Municipal Council.

Burrandowan Sheep Station 1860’s by William Dargan, NLA.

By 1865 Dabee had moved to Spring Hill, Fortitude Valley, Brisbane, with his family and purchased a property at Bowen Street, Wickham Terrace, were he built up a horse cab and coach business.

When Dabee Singh and his sons decided to return to India in 1878 to take over the family property to which Dabee was heir, he instructed James R. Dickson to liquidate the properties before the family left for India. Listed below are some of the properties that Dabee and his sons owned.

The first was the family home in Bowen Street, Spring Hill, Brisbane. In addition to this were freehold properties:

Lot No. 1 Portion 800, Parish of Enoggera, comprising an area of 3 acres 1 Rood and 20 Perches (1.4 hectares), more or less, cleared and fenced, with a House, and about 3000 Shingles, Hardwood Studding, Boards, etc. on ground. It was described as being in a choice position about two miles from town.

Lot No. 2 Portion 822, Parish of Enoggera, was described as a choice cleared and fenced site of 4 acres (1.6 hectares) situated on the Ithaca Creek, with improvements which consisted of Two Houses and Stables, with a garden, Crop of Potatoes.

Lot No. 3. Portion 254, Parish of Kedron; an area of 10 acres (4 hectares), fenced and close to the Main Sandgate road, at Red hill.

Lot No. 4. Subdivision 12 of Portion 212, South Brisbane; an unimproved area of 9½ half perches (.02 hectares).

Lot No. 5. Re-subdivision 2 of Subdivision 6 of Sub-allotments 152 and 153, Parish of North Brisbane, having 53 links (10.5 metres) frontage to Bowen Street, and 182 links (36.5 metres) in depth; area of about 20 Perches (.05 hectares). There were three two roomed weatherboard cottages with verandahs. The well-built houses were in good condition. Other improvement included excellent stables which provided accommodation for six horses including a hayloft, harness room, coach house, cab shed, etc.

Dabee Singh’s 27 acre (11 hectare) property at Ithaca was named “BENARES.” It was two miles (3.2 kilometres) from the nearest railway station. “BENARES” was a lofty and commanding building site, with a fine position and rich soil suitable for an orchard. The orchard was well stocked with healthy apples, pears, oranges, etc. bounded by the meanderings of the sparkling Ithaca Creek. There were several buildings and other improvements on the property and 7 acres (3 hectares) were let at £52 ($104) per annum.

While the family was in India Dabee’s second son, Pooran, got homesick for Australia and the family returned to Brisbane to live in Bowen Street, Spring Hill, which Dabee apparently had not sold.

Dabee Singh died in 1882 aged 80 years at the Bowen Street property and his body was buried on the 6th October 1882 in the Brisbane General Cemetery now known as the Toowong Cemetery.

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