Mohan Singh – Farmer And Undesirable Character In Western Australia

Mohan Singh – Farmer and Undesirable Character in Western Australia


Mohan Singh. An Undersirable Character in Western Australia.
Courtesy National Archives Australia. NAA: A1, 1927/1901
© Len Kenna & Crystal Jordan 2017
Mohan Singh alias Rustan Singh was a Jat Sikh who was born about 1879 and he was the son of Bhagwan Singh of at Ghull Khala, Tehsil, Moga District, Ferozepore, Punjab, India.  Mohan and his friend, Veer Singh, travelled from Moga to Singapore and then from Singapore to Australia on the S.S. Sultan which arrived in Fremantle on the 7 January 1898. He lived and worked in Perth as a Hawker for two years. He soon purchased a wagon and two horses and sold Drapery and General Household Goods and in 1900 he moved to Balingup, where, as well as selling Drapery and household goods he was a skin and wool buyer for Charles Hormann, a Wool Merchant in Fremantle. Hormann made cash advances to Mohan over a period of seven years to 1909 to a total of £2,600. Mohan purchased goods for his hawking business from Goode, Durrant & Co., Ltd, Warehousemen and Manufacturers, 39-41 William Street, Perth.[3] 

In 1905 Mohan purchased suburban block of land, Lot 6 for £17, at Balbarrup, Western Australia [4] and soon after purchased another suburban block of land No. 3 for over £30, that adjoined the property of Mr. J. Young, at Manjimup. He became a farmer and orchardist while retaining his hawking and skin buying and selling business. On his six acre orchard he grew Dunn’s Seedlings and Jonathan Apples. Sometimes he left his Hawker’s Wagon at Mr. F. Giblet’s farm, about 2 miles from Bridgetown, and rode one of his horses home to his orchard at Balbarrup. In 1907 he asked the Nelson District Board to dig and straighten out a creek near his block at Manjimup Brook, and was informed it was purely a matter for the owner of the property.[5]

In 1908 he attended the wedding of Miss Lucy Gardiner to Walter Goodson at the Ferguson church and gave the couple a cheque as a wedding gift.[6]

In 1909 Mohan decided to travel to India for a holiday. Because of the White Australia Policy that was introduced in 1901, Mohan had to apply for a Certificate of Exemption to the Dictation Test (C.E.D.T), the certificates were usually for a three year period, so that when he travelled to India he could still return to and be admitted into Australia. He had photographs for the C.E.D.T. taken at Falk Studio 118 William Street, Perth W.A., and the photographs were certified by Thos O’Brian and W. Aton. Charles Hormann and Goode, Durrant and Co., Ltd, both gave him character references to assist him in obtaining a C.E.D.T. Mohan left for India in 1909 and after eighteen months, Charles Horman gave him a further character reference to assist Mohan in obtaining a C.E.D.T. for his wife Maha Kur (sic Kaur) Singh and his 15 year old Nephew, Chanhan Singh, who he wanted to bring back with him to Australia. The application to bring his wife and nephew to Australia was denied by the Immigration Minister. Mohan’s and his wife, Maha Kaur, had two children but his second child died just twelve hours after birth.  His wife, Maha, died in 1912, soon after he return to Australia, leaving his son, Surain Singh, aged 3 years in the care of his brother.[7] After his wife’s death Mohan decided to return to India but because of the bad character reports, Mohan was denied a C.E.D.T at least six times and other States in Australia were notified to beware of him trying to obtain a C.E.D.T. in another name.[8] Mohan did marry in India at a later date but his second wife died childless only eighteen months after they were married.

Mohan was one of 25 Sikhs that were living in Western Australia and several of them had been charged for disorderly and violent behaviour that was evident from soon after his arrival in Western Australia. On the 23 March 1900 Mohan was on the Cranbrook Station and was agitated after he had been drinking alcohol and had a revolver in his hand with which he threatened Nahal (sic. Nehal) Singh. He was restrained by George Dunn, the proprietor of the local hotel who with the help of other people on the platform tied up his hand and feet and confined him in a room until he was subdued. He had been charged and fined for cruelty to his horses. He frequently consumed alcohol and became violent. Due to his alcoholism he was placed on a prohibition list and had to report to the Greenbush Police Station regularly. He was convicted and fined for disorderly conduct several times over a period of about six years and after his return to Australia from India in 1911 he was reported for insulting behavior to two young women. His conduct towards white women in general had been complained about and he was charged for interfering with a minor, Alfred Singh nee Moring who had been adopted by Bolah Singh, also a violent person who had been charged for grievous bodily harm of Oitum (Ottam or Uttam) Singh, and his wife Mildred, an Australian woman who was frequently drunk and adulterous. Mohan was considered by the Police at Bridgetown, Greenbushes, Balingup and Bunbury, as an undesirable character. 

In 1914 Mohan had been refused a C.E.D.T. six times and even though he had a bad reputation he was given further character references by Sir John Forrest and forty-eight respectable settlers including sixteen Justice’s of the Peace, of the Nelson & Wellington Districts. He had the sympathy of the settlers because they needed his business and he was indebted to Charles Horman, so it was in their personal interests to give him good character references. Unfortunately one of the character references was from Mr. Francoch the Licensee of the Balingup Hotel and another was from a person who had paid Mohan’s fines several times.

During this time a letter from Mr. Curtis a Solicitor in Perth and another reference from Charles Hormann were written to the Collector of Customs in Melbourne, Victoria, to assist Mohan in obtaining a C.E.D.T. Another letter of support was written by Kenneth M. Eastman Barristers & Solicitors at Bunbury, WA to the Under Secretary of External Affairs in Melbourne, but they used the name Natha Singh and were informed that nobody with the name Natha Singh had been refused a C.E.D.T. but Mohan Singh had been refused one.

Finally in 1914 Sir John Forrest, Treasurer of the Commonwealth P. C., G.C.M.G. to Minister of External Affairs, wrote a letter in support of giving Mohan Singh a C.E.D.T for three years, Owing to Sir John Forrest’s support Mohan’s application was granted and a C.E.D.T. issued to him on 1 June 1915 for a three-year period and he went to India. In May 1918, due to the First World War, Mohan applied for, and was granted, an extension of three years to his C.E.D.T. When this extension of his C.E.D.T. was due to expire in 1921, he again wrote for an extension to his C.E.D.T., stating that he was engaged in cleaning out the Kingwal Canal and was granted another three years extension to 1924.[9]

In 1919, during Mohan’s absence from Australia, Mr. E. Read asked for assistance to purchase Mohan Singh’s property that was lying idle and locals and others were helping themselves to fruit from his orchard.[10]

In 1924, Mohan again requested an extension to his C.E.D.T., stating that he was spending his holiday in jail. He had changed his name to Rustam Singh and his address was now “Zianndaras Kingwal Canal, India, Ghall Kalan, yours faithfully Rustan Singh alias Mohan Singh secretary.” He had been arrested because of his involvement in the Akali Movement and was in the Ludhiana Jail for 12 months rigorous imprisonment. Mohan Singh was manager of the Darbar Sahib Mukhsar and was arrested on 31 October 1923 and charged under Section 17 (2) of the Criminal Law Amendment Act for Managing and Assisting in the Management of Unlawful Associations. Mohan admitted that he was the Manager when arrested but pleaded not guilty. The evidence showed that he was the Manager and in that capacity managed the Akali Jathas, that came to Muktsar under orders of the Shiromani Gurdwara Parbandhak Committee (S.G.P.C.) of Amritsar and left for Jaitoo. Mohan’s correspondence with the S.G.P.C. showed that, he was appointed by that body and the affairs of the Darbar Sahib and of the Akali Jathas were controlled and directed by that body. It is this body that sent the Jathas to Muktsar where they were looked after and directed by men appointed and sent by it.[11] (See Appendices 1 & 2 )

Due to Mohan Singh’s arrest on 31 October 1923, and rigorous imprisonment in the Ludhiana Jail for one year, for Managing or Assisting in the Management of Unlawful Associations, a decision as to whether authority was to be granted for Mohan Singh’s readmission had to be made as he had been absent from Australia for over 12 years. An extension to his C.E.D.T. was refused and it was recommended that no further extensions were to be granted.

On the 26th of September 1928 The Immigration Minister approved readmission for Rustam alias Mohan Singh, under an exemption for 12 months, to afford Mohan opportunity to dispose of his property that had been lying idle for 12 years. The continuance of exemption was to be subject to good behavior. Unfortunately Rustan alias Mohan became sick with fever while he was still in Moga, India and died intestate on the 2nd August 1929 at the age of 50.  His only surviving son, Surain Singh appointed Veer Singh, also a Jat Sikh from Moga and a friend of Mohan’s in Western Australia, as his attorney to sell his father’s Australian Estate. The two lots of land at Balbarrup and Manjimup that comprised of an area of 15 acres 3 roods 13 perches were sold for £144. 

A Jatha of Akali volunteers marching to Guyru-Ka-Bagh on 25 October 1922. Courtesy of the Panjab Digital Library.

Appendix 1

On the 4th of January 1924 a Report was sent to from the Court of A. Isar Esq., Magistrate 1st Class at Ferozepore, Dist. Ferozepore Re Criminal Case No. 52/3 of 1923, Instituted on the 12 November 1923, Crown verses Mohan Singh alias Rustan Singh, son of Bhagwan Singh, Akali Sikh of Ghull Kalan, Tahsil Moga, Dist., Ferozepore.

Charge: Under Section 17 Criminal Law Amendment Act Sentence: Accused to one years rigorous imprisonment and Rs 200/- fine or in default to 6 months further rigorous imprisonment. Judgement: Mohan Singh was manager of the Darbar Sahib Mukhsar and was arrested on 31 October 1923 and now stands charged under Section 17 (2) of the Criminal Law Amendment Act for managing and assisting in the management of unlawful associations. He has admitted that he was the manager when arrested but has pleaded not guilty. The evidence shows that accused was the manager and in that capacity managed the akali Jathas that came to Muktsar under orders of the S.G.P.C. of Amritsar and left for Jaitoo. In view of accused’s own admission this point need not be pressed further. Accused’s correspondence with the S.G.P.C. shows that he was appointed by that body and the affairs of the Darbar Sahib and of the Akali Jathas were controlled and directed by that body. Vide letters Exh.P/1 and P/2 in accused’s hand. It is this body that sent the Jathas to Muktsar where they were looked after and directed by men appointed and sent by it.
By Government notification Nos. 23772 and 23773 dated 12 October 1923, the S.G.P.C, the S.A.D. and all Jathas organized by these bodies were declared unlawful. This fact was duly proclaimed in Muktsar and a copy of this notice sent to the manager of the Darbar Sahib.
The accused produced no defence and the evidence against him is unrebutted. I hold that he is guilty of the offence charged and sentence him to one year’s rigorous imprisonment and Rs 200/- fine or in default 6 months further rigorous imprisonment. Dated 4 January 1924. Signed: Sd. A. Isar, Magistrate 1st Class Ferozepore. Stamped Certified to be a True Copy.”

Appendix 2

10th August 1927 – Letter to the Home and Territiories Department, Melbourne from
Rustam alias Mohan Singh, Member of Gurdawara Diva Labhger, P.O. Ghal Kalan, Moga Tahsil, Dist. Ferezopore, Punjab,India.

“Sir, In reply of letter No 27/1907 I am sending the copy of my case, also answer from central Jail Multan about my conduct.
I served in the Jail as a Akali prisoner in Akali Movement to protecting our right of Sikhs Gurdawara.
The Bill about the Sikh gurdawars have been passed in 1925 and the Govt withdraw the law from the Sikhs and declare that Sromoney Gurdwara perbundue Committee and S. Akali Dull are not the unlawfull body.
The copy of the case shows that I did not served in the Jail for stealing and robbery, Lala lajpur Rai is the member of Assembley and Sikh G. central Board, who served in the Jail for six months.
I was candidate in the elections of Sikh gudawara center Board, and was defeated by 121 votes.
I am asking your favor to consider my case and allow me to return to WA and will greatly obliged. Yours Obediently Rustam Singh alias Mohan Singh…”

On the 15th of August 1928 Rustan alias Mohan Singh wrote a letter to the Secretary of Home & Territories Dept. Melbourne:
Sir, I received your reply No. 27/1901 dated 26 Sept last, stating that Minister regrets that he is unable to see his way to grant your request.
But in the letter of 12 April last, you wrote, that if you have not been in the Jail as a prisoner, then we let you come.
Now that shows, that the Commonwealth of Australia had nothing against me before, as they have granted me the certificate of exemption free from the dictation test in 1915 also renew it twice first renew from 1918 to 1 June 1921, and renewed to 1 June 1924, for the 3rd renew, the application have been sent from Ludhianah Jail before the time of expire according to the Commonwealth law.
I have been in the Jail as Akali prisoner for the defence of Gurdawarsh (church) right, which we have received full right after taking lot of trouble.
Same of Govt officers are reporting to the British Govt. that Akalis are against them.
They are misleading the British Govt. Akalies are against their injustice treatment to the subject, as there are very few high officers in India that take the bribe.
Sh. M. Alahi Esq, the Supdt of Grey canals admitted to me, that high officers want the share of the bribe, which we get from the farmers and the contractors, and then we can get great recommendation of ours character from them.
I have reported to His Excellency the Governor about Col. J. C. Coldstream the Deputy Commissioner, who getting share of bribe from the Grey canals authorities, for which I had the full proof of it, but I have not get any satisfaction answer.
After explaining the matter, I like to mention to you, that the British Govt have appointed …(Maybe force) there to look the British subject and get them the full rights of justice, when the Govt going on the wrong.
The Minister are mislead by the WA Govt, now he don’t like to admit that he is on the wrong.
Alas there is the law of Dominions, that any person is domosile in the country is allow to land again.
The Govt of India don’t count the Akali prisoners as a bad character like the other prisoners.
Sirdar Kirtar Singh M.L A wave for me to put the question in the Assembly.
I had the full satisfaction, that Mr Esfale??? the president of the Assembly will object the Indian Govt to remand me in the commonwealth of Australia, when I put the matter before him.
So kindley do me a favor to get me the justice, like the British Subject ought to have in Dominion, if you cant are unable to get me the British Justice, please me know let me know, what I ought to with my property of Manjimup brook lot No 3 & 6 and also the title deeds.
I am thanking you in anticipation, I am remain, Sir, Yours Obediently, Rustan Singh alias Mohan Singh etc.”

[1] John Forrest Letter 1914. SINGH Mohan/Rustam NAA.A1, 1927/1901.
[2] SINGH Mohan/Rustam NAA.A1, 1927/1901 – Re letter from Court of A. Isar Esq., Magistrate 1st Class at Ferozepore, Dist. Ferozepore. Criminal Case No. 52/3 of 1923.
[3] SINGH Mohan/Rustam NAA.A1, 1927/1901.
[4] “Bridgetown Government Sales.” The Blackwood Times Bunbury WA Wed. 9 Aug. 1905, p. 3.
[5] Southern Times Bunbury WA. Tue. 7 May 1907, p. 5.
[6] …”Family Notices.” Southern Times Bunbury WA Thu. 23 Apr. 1908, p. 4.
[7] John Forrest Letter 1914. SINGH Mohan/Rustam NAA.A1, 1927/1901.
[8] SINGH Mohan/Rustam NAA.A1, 1927/1901.
[9] SINGH Mohan/Rustam NAA.A1, 1927/1901.
[10] The Bunbury Herald and Blackwood Express WA Wed. 8 Oct. 1919, p. 4.
[11] SINGH Mohan/Rustam NAA.A1, 1927/1901 – Re letter from Court of A. Isar Esq., Magistrate 1st Class at Ferozepore, Dist. Ferozepore. Criminal Case No. 52/3 of 1923.
© Len Kenna & Crystal Jordan
Are Indians an Ethnic Minority? Vols. 1-5 – 2008-2013.