Burial register ID: 12885
Surname: LO KEONG
First name: MATILDA
Middle names:
Gender: Female
Age: 60 Years
Cause of death: Unknown
Burial type:
Date of death: 18-Dec-1915
Date of burial: 20-Dec-1915

Block: 196
Plot: 101

At rest


Christian elder

Died 13th Aug. 1905,

Aged 72 Years.

Until the day break,

And the shadows flee away.


Relict of Joseph Lo Keong

Died 18th Dec 1915

Also their second daughter


Died 20th July 1915

Bio contributor: Amanda Kennedy

Matilda Lo Keong (1854?-1915)

Matilda Kum was the first female Chinese immigrant to New Zealand. In the Victorian era Chinese men often tried to seek their fortunes overseas, but Chinese women rarely migrated. Wives stayed at home to look after their husbands’ parents. In 1881 there were only nine Chinese women to 4,995 Chinese men in New Zealand.

Matilda was born in Baoan County near Hong Kong around 1854. Her father was a basketmaker. Matilda became a nursemaid to a Christian Chinese family. She accompanied them to Melbourne. She learnt to speak English, and maybe to write it, in Australia. In 1873, when she was seventeen, she married Joseph Lo Keong, who was a fancy-goods storekeeper and twenty-two years older than her. The marriage was probably arranged. They were from feuding Cantonese groups; she from the Hakka group, he from the Poonti. But they were both Christians, so perhaps their shared Christian beliefs overrode this.

Matilda worked in their George Street store and brought up six children. It must have been strange to have no other Chinese women for company. They were both involved in St Paul’s Anglican Church, and from 1896 they also attended services at the Chinese Presbyterian mission church. Matilda had a Chinese maid and so was able to devote herself to community work. She taught Sunday School, catered for the Chinese Church socials, and taught English in the Methodist Chinese class. She was known for her kind acts. When Chinese men from the old men’s rest home attended afternoon service she would ‘quietly slip’ the preacher some money for each of them.

Matilda was described as ‘pure gold’, and Joseph was also respected by the general public. The Lo Keong business prospered: Dunedin people wanted to buy the exotic goods from China they sold, like porcelain figurines, embroidered pictures or glazed tea caddies. When Joseph died, in 1905, Matilda continued to run the business until she died in 1915.

Because Matilda was of Hakka clan origin, the Lo Keongs were further isolated from the few other Chinese people in Dunedin, who were mainly of Poonti origin. This could be why only two of her children married. But Matilda probably helped her children assimilate with Dunedin’s European community because she spoke English. Matilda’s oldest daughter Tilly was the first Chinese music teacher in New Zealand, and her son William was the first western-trained Chinese dentist in New Zealand. Her son Norman was the first Chinese graduate in New Zealand. He served with the New Zealand Engineers during World War One. Her daughter Estelle was one of the first six women office workers hired by the Union Steamship Company. William married an Australian European woman late in life, and Victor married a Hakka woman in Hong Kong, but there were no children from either marriage.

— See: Ng, James. ‘Lo Keong, Matilda 1854-1856? – 1915’. Dictionary of New Zealand Biography

— Other burials recorded at this site:
Joseph LO KEONG d. 1905 (husband of Matilda),
Olive LO KEONG d. 1915,
and Estelle LOW (sic) d. 1967.

Matilda Lo Keong
Source: Dictionary of New Zealand Biography website; Private collection;

There are 4 Interments in this grave:

Surname First names Age Date of death Date of burial
LO KEONG JOSEPH 72 Years 13-Aug-1905 15-Aug-1905
LO KEONG MATILDA 60 Years 18-Dec-1915 20-Dec-1915
LO KEONG OLIVE 29 Years 21-Jul-1915 29-Jul-1915
LOW ESTELLE 77 Years 23-Jun-1967 27-Jun-1967