News of the Australian gold rush reached China and thousands of Chinese set out for the "New Gold Mountain". As as cultural group they stood out on the gold fields. Unlike the majority of the miners, who, regardless of their country of origin, adopted the uniform dress and manner of a gold digger, most Chinese retained their identity and customs and were almost universally feared and hated by European diggers.
The Chinese were present in Australia in small numbers before the gold rush. Transport of convicts to New South Wales ceased in 1840, resulting in a labour shortage. Indentured labourers from the southern provinces of China, such as Kwangtung, were recruited to fill the gap. The Chinese were employed by pastoralists as cooks, shepherds and house servants. They also cleared bushland, dug wells and worked as market gardeners. Conditions in China ensured there was a ready supply of cheap labour. The southern provinces were overpopulated and subject to invasions, rebellions, severe floods and famines between 1849 and 1887.
Chinese leaving for the diggings. Cobb's caoch, Castlemaine
Courtesy of the La Trobe Collection
State Library of Victoria
The first Chinese seeking gold arrived in 1853 and in 1854 there were 2000 Chinese in Victoria. By June 1855 that number had grown to 15,000. In 1858 the Chinese population of Australia reached a peak of 40,000, representing 3.3% of the total population. This number was not reached again until the late 1980s.
By Suzie Hoban
Andrew Markus, Fear and Hatred: Purifying Australia and California 1850 - 1901, Hale and Ironmonger, 1979
The walk from Robe, Golden Dragon Museum, 2001.
Australian Bureau of Statistics