William Gee


NameWilliam Gee (he/him)
Also known asAh Gee, Sam Wah
Country of BirthChina
Place of ResidencePōneke Wellington, Waiharakeke Blenheim, Māwhera Greymouth
EthnicitiesChinese (Cantonese)
ArtformVisual arts, Craft/Object
Decades Active1880s, 1890s, 1900s, 1910s


William Gee (also known as Ah Gee and Sam Wah) was a wood and stone carver. Born in Canton, China, he arrived in New Zealand in the late 1860s and was one of the first Chinese men to settle in Wellington.

Before immigrating to Aotearoa, Gee lived in Naarm Melbourne, working for a wood carving business called Kem Wah. Ornamental carvings produced by the workshop — some of them made from kauri and tōtara — were awarded a medal at the Melbourne exhibition of 1867. This exhibition was one of many staged in the colonial era, intended to showcase the best that the British Empire had to offer. The workshop produced intricate carved and gilded items, representing skilled Chinese craftsmanship, as well as simpler Western-style household furniture and cabinetry.

Gee arrived in Pōneke Wellington around 1868, setting up a workshop on Manners Street. He carved ornamental items as well as fittings for homes and churches. Gee’s arrival in Aotearoa was heralded by the Christchurch Star, which described a carving he’d made of a bird inside a wire cage produced from a single block of tōtara. The Star said the piece, which was surrounded by ornamental fruit, flowers and birds, was “without exception, the best piece of workmanship of the kind we have seen done in New Zealand.”

Later, Gee moved to Blenheim with his wife, Jane Melbourne (whom he married in 1871), and their children. During his time in Blenheim, he exhibited carved landscape scenes around the upper South Island and lower North Island (sometime around 1881-1882). An example of his landscape scenes is part of the History collections held by the Museum of New Zealand Te Papa Tongarewa.

In the 1890s, the family moved to Greymouth, but Gee returned to Wellington to work on a decorative archway for Manners Street for the visit of the Duke and Duchess of Cornwall and York in 1901. The temporary installation was presented by the Chinese community and featured gold lettering and Chinese characters, banners, artificial flowers, electric lights, Japanese lanterns, and other ornamentation in Chinese and Japanese styles.

William Gee spent the last few years of his life living in Wellington. Gee’s son, Billy Gee, also became a cabinet maker who worked in Wellington. Billy Gee was an early influence for artist Guy Ngan, to whom he taught woodcarving and cabinet making during Ngan’s teenage years.


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Last updated: 4 March 2024 Suggest an Edit


Black and white photograph of a temporary decorative arch spanning a street

Chinese citizens' decorative triumphal arch on Manners Street, Wellington, erected for the 1901 visit of the Duke and Duchess of Cornwall and York, 1901. Alexander Turnbull Library (Ref: 1/1-007953-G)

Photo by James McAllister

Engraving of Chinese men engaged in carving decorative panels while a European man looks on

Frederick Grosse (engraver), Chinese carvers at work in Melbourne, engraved around the time that William Gee was working as a carver in Melbourne, 1867. State Library Victoria (1688902)

Newspaper column.

'Carving Extraordinary', a notice about William Gee (bottom), The Malborough Express, 3 August, 1881