Register Now!

Search Skwirk

A merchant's workforce

Unlike most European diggers who came to make a new life for themselves and their families, the Chinese miners did not intend to stay in Australia. Many had been sent by wealthy merchants, who paid for their passage to Australia. In return the miners would return to China and give the gold to the merchants.

The Chinese had travelled a long way to reach the diggings. Many had initially landed in Robe, in South Australia and then made the long trek on foot to the goldfields of Victoria or New South Wales.
Unlike the majority of immigrants who came seeking their fortune on the goldfields, the Chinese were greeted with fear and suspicion from the European miners. See image 1

Culture clash

Most Chinese were devout Buddhists or Taoists and their religious practices marked them as idol-worshippers in the eyes of the Europeans. As a result they were subject to racial profiling and stereotyping. Their different dress, manners and attitudes clashed severely with European ideas of what was `normal'.

Another reason for Europeans' dislike of the Chinese was their wastage of water. Water was in short supply and Chinese mining methods involved heavy use of water. Despite cautions on their use of water, the Chinese persisted with their original methods.

Their mining methods were also distinctly different. The Chinese would create a round mineshaft, which frequently produced greater rewards. It is thought that they built round mineshafts to combat their superstition that evil spirits lurked in corners.

The Chinese established small sub-communities within the goldfields. They would take over a claim and then work together in large teams, often family groups. A major source of anger and resentment for the European miners was the Chinese miners' success in finding gold. The Chinese frequently took over claims that had been worked by European miners.

Whereas European miners would often abandon a claim if they did not quickly find gold, the Chinese would patiently pore over abandoned claims, sifting through piles of rocks and earth. Persistence frequently paid off; they often found rich amounts of gold in the abandoned diggings.

Lambing Flat

By far one of the most notorious episodes in Australia's gold rush period, or at any time in its history for that matter, was the Lambing Flat riots. Chinese miners were frequently harassed and attacked, but this violent resentment came to a head in the Lambing Flat Riots of 1861.

Angered by the growing Chinese presence on the goldfields and by their successful prospecting, large groups of European and American miners armed with picks, whips, sticks and knives converged in a rowdy gathering called a 'Roll Up', on 30 June 1861. They marched upon the Chinese area of the diggings to drive them away from the goldfields for good.

Fuelled by alcohol and racism, the Europeans pitched into the largely defenceless Chinese miners, beating them, burning their tents and plundering their supplies. Any gold that was found was seized. Several Chinese were killed and scores were injured. Panic-stricken Chinese miners were forced to flee for their lives across the river. Some were taken in and defended by sympathetic European diggers and landowners.

The Lambing Flat riots went on for several weeks. During this period, many Chinese miners were beaten and severely injured. Their long pigtails, known as queues, were cut off. In several cases they were cruelly scalped. They were robbed of any gold they had found, and most of their mining equipment was stolen or destroyed. Those who tried to hide their gold in mineshafts were frequently buried alive.

Order was only restored after the military intervened and quelled the rebellion. Several ringleaders of the riots were arrested and tried, but out of the many arrests that were made, only one person was actually convicted and jailed. Mass protests at the arrests of ringleaders led to them being released, many without charge.

 

Pop Quiz

The more you learn - the more you earn!
What are points?Earn up to points by getting 100% in this pop quiz!

Question 1/5

1. The majority of Chinese were

Christians

Catholics

Buddhists or Taoists

Atheists

ToolBox