The One Pound Note, as displayed in the Chinese Museum, is a mark of the early influence of the Chinese in Australia. In the early days of Melbourne, banks could print their own paper currency. However, this note was never used as legal tender. It was only used as a marketing tool when meeting with new customers.

The Commercial Bank had a number of prominent Chinese Australians on their board such as Louis Ah Mouy and Lowe Kong Meng (See The Chinese Question). They understood the potential of the Chinese market to their business and including Chinese characters on the bank note, even at the height of the anti-Chinese sentiment.

The first section of the inscription reads  新金山 ‘xin jin shan’ which translates to New Gold Mountain. This is how the Chinese depicted Victoria, Australia. The original Gold Mountain was used to describe the Californian Goldfields. The next section of the Chinese inscription reads ‘媽士 银行臺磅’. The meaning of the first few characters is unknown but it could potentially be phonetically sounding out ‘commercial’ (Mā shì) since the next two characters, ‘yin hang’, mean ‘bank’. The last two characters ‘tái bàng’ translate to ‘one pound’.

The existence of this note with Chinese characters and the supportive actions of the Commercial Bank within the Chinese community made it a point of difference for Chinese customers who made up a growing section of the community.

The Commercial Bank initially only had a base in Victoria, but later opened up offices in London and other colonies. By the end of 1887 it had over 75 offices in various locations around the world.

Following the acquisition of the Commercial Bank of Australia by the much larger Bank of New South Wales, the entities jointly agreed to change the name to the well-known Westpac Bank. Interestingly, Westpac currently also focuses on ties in the Asia region through initiatives like the Westpac Scholars program which includes a focus on developing strong relationships between China and Australia.

The one pound note serves as an important relic of the past and highlights the long history that China and Australia have shared.


Commercial Bank of Australia £1 specimen bank note. Chinese Museum Collection 2018.8.1