Emerald Hill in the 1850’s was a very ‘Christian’ city. There were no less than six major churches in a relatively small area. It was within this environment that SeeYup temple was established. There is no surprise that there were oppositions and disquiet amongst the residence and some religious leaders on the presence of a Chinese Joss house, with strange or exotic gods. Their objections tended to be driven by religious intolerance, racial discrimination, ignorance or bigotry.
Churches in Emerald Hill in 1860s : Wesley Church, St Peter Paul Church and new Independent Church
Source : The Australasian sketcher, 1881 http://trove.nla.gov.au/work/167575778?q=emerald+hill+church&c=picture&versionId=182640688
Here are a few articles that illustrates the debates on Chinese Joss house at the time.
In the Argus, Letter to the editor Sep 24, 1856, One-Of-The-People wrote
“May I draw your attention to the fact that the Chinese are about to erect a Joss House at Emerald Hill for worship of their idols. Ought this be allowed? … Would it not be the best check we could put on the Chinese immigration to require at all who come shall forego their idolatrous practices and conform to Christian worship ? ..that we shall not allow the worship of any but the true and living God. “
However there are some who would offer a counter argument.
J.M.W. wrote to the Argus Sep-24, 1856,.
“ That the Chinamen should have a Joss house is in their circumstances rather commendable than otherwise. Man is a religious animal; worship he must. That the Chinese in a strange land should worship the gods of their fathers is natural, we may deplore their ignorance, but to disturb their devotion were an infraction of the common rights of humanity. .. One-half of our population is absolutely indifferent about any religion. … Before we attack these men in the house of their gods, let us purify ourselves; did we that peradvanture instead of dealing out wrathful denunciations, we might feel disposed to speak kindly and act fairly towards them. “
At the time, these sentiments fed into a wider debate on immigration control and restriction for the Chinese immigrants.
The debate over the temple subsided over the years, and Kwan Ti temple continues to flourish into the 20thcentury .
The thread to its existence came not from external environment, but from the dwindling patronage over the following 50 years, as the Chinese population reduced, largely brought about by the white Australia policy.