miners were amongst the pioneers of Tasmania North East.
They weren't numerous in numbers (approx.lly 1,000 in 1891), but they
were very important to the history of that region. Their
ability to work poor ground and persevere when tin prices were low
provided the region with a continuity of population which would
otherwise have been lacking in the rapidly shifting fortunes of the
North East mining communities.
Between 1886 and 1896
Chinese tin miners outnumbered their European counterparts throughout
the region and in some areas by much as 10 to 1. The Chinese
also constituted the largest group of non-European immigrants to early
came to Tasmania largely as an off-shoot of immigration to the famed
gold fields of Victoria and New South Wales. However, it was
conditions in China at the time which determined the type of Chinese
immigrant, their attitudes to their new 'home', and the patterns of
settlement which occurred.
emigration from China was prohibited during the Ching dynasty.
The policy was severe but it was difficult to enforce and during the
17th century large numbers of Chinese had privately migrated to South
East Asia. Most of the early Chinese immigrants to Australia
were Cantonese, from the Canton delta region of the southern province of
Kwangtung. This is a coastal province close to the Pacific
Ocean and exposed to Western impact during the 19th century.
Kwangtung province is a fertile valley isolated from central China by
mountain ranges. Life in the province in the 1880's was
characterised by food shortages and social and political unrest.
1871, according to census figures, there were only an estimated 13 Chinese in
the whole of Tasmania but, by 1881, there were 844, of whom 770 were
recorded as living on the tinfields of the North East.
like Maa Mon Chin, James
Chung-Gon, James Ah
Catt, Him Shim, Ah Moy
Chin Tock came to Tasmania via the goldfields of Victoria. At
a time when the other Colonies were closing their mining fields to the
Chinese, and alluvial gold resources were declining, the lack of
restrictions on the tinfields would have attracted many Chinese.
came directly from China to avoid the entry tax which all the other
Colonies had imposed by 1881, many being imported by entrepreneurial
clansmen, such as Chin Kaw, others were brought in, especially during the
early years, as a cheap reliable workforce by European mine-owners, who
were concerned by their economic viability of tin mining in the rugged
North East, where transport problems and high costs sent many early
companies into liquidation.
The lack of
adequate transportation systems was an important factor in the
developmental struggles of the region. Tin ore had to be
carted by pack horse to Boobyalla and shipped to Launceston for
treatment. Machinery for the mines was dragged in by bullock
and horse teams over bush roads which were little more than deep bog
holes in many places. Agitation for roads and railway
began in the early 1860's and continued for many decades.
The first railway line was finally opened on 9th August,1889, connecting
Scottsdale to Launceston. This was extended to
Branxholm on 12 July, 1911 and Herrick in 1919.
majority of Chinese immigrants arriving in the 1870's and 1880's, the
first Chinese were mainly skilled labourers and small businessmen.
were sojourners and stayed only long enough to make their fortunes (5-20
years) never intending to make this country home. The main
influx of Chinese began in the late1870's to work the tin fields of the
North East. The early history of the Tasmanian Chinese is
closely tied to the fluctuating fortunes of this industry.
Gold was also an important lure, particularly in the early days, but
never employed large numbers of Chinese for very long.
and the only general season leisure and rejoicing in China was the New
Year, and under the old empire, it was strictly observed.
It began on the 12th day of the new moon nearest to the point when the
sun was within fifteen degrees of Aquarius. On the January or February
eve, expectant Chinese awaited mid-night when the fire-works would begin.
From then till dawn people were engaged in performing sacred rites and
in honouring the solemnities of the New Year. All debts were
settled and presents were exchanged. The holiday-making normally continued for three
The year 1883 saw
preparations for the most brilliant of New Year festivities to be held
at Weldborough. The Chinese
buyers went around the farms down to Pyengana to get their fat
pigs for roasting. To bring them home they used to
carry grain and drop it on the road for the pigs to follow them back to
Weldborough. They were killed and roasted whole in ovens,
built with stone in the ground along with all kinds of food and a great
feast was held and hundreds gathered for the celebrations.
Reports of the Chinese Festival are found in the Launceston's
Launceston Advertiser,19th February 1891, page 3, Carnival
Tasmanian Mail, 21stFebruary 1891, page 32 )
House (temple of worship) wall was lit with lamps and in the surrounding
area large boxes were strung on poles. As these were set
afire, out fell brightly coloured fire-works, then down swung Chinese
lanterns and beautiful spinning
dolls. Food and
feasting abounded, and on the following day gifts and food were put on
the altar in the Weldborough cemetery and jossed for all the Chinese
departed relatives. The Joss House became a rare artifact of
the Chinese in Tasmania. (now in the Queen Victoria Museum,
From 1887 the
population gradually declined with departures to China now well in
excess of arrivals. Old age was also having a marked affect,
as many of the last Chinese in the North East were ageing miners, too
old or infirm to turn their labour to sufficient profit to enable their
return to China. It was also at this time that interest
began in Australian Federation. Tasmania's embrace of
Federation worked to break down the strong isolationist tendencies
within the colony. This became a most important reason for
Tasmania's eventual introduction of legislation restricting Chinese
immigration in 1887.
The Chinese community in
Launceston, although small - 39 in 1890 -,
produced some of the city's great early entrepreneurs and developers (Henry
Thom Sing, James Ah Catt, Chin Kit and James Chung-Gon).
Not only the Chinese enjoyed the Chinese New Year but also many
Europeans living in the area of Launceston. In 1891 a reporter from the 'Daily Telgraph',
accompanied by a bank manager, a doctor and 200 Europeans, "witnessed
the Chinese populations celebrate their New Year in Canton Town".
Carnival was truely multicultural affair, with Scottish pipes and
dancers, Irish and Welsh concert and a variety of side shows, including
"Big Ben" a Queensland's alligator!
who stayed in Tasmania established themselves as market gardners or
merchants. The population moved from the tin fields to the
outskirsts of townships and the rich agricultural areas. By
1921, Hobart had become the largest centre of the Chinese who set up
market gardens in the rich Derwnt River Flats in Glenorchy and Moonah.
above was taken from "The Tamanian's Chinese Heritage" by
Helen Vivian ,"Chinese in the North East" by Sue Walden and
the "Chinese in the North East" by Suzanne Miller.)
which had been friends from the time of the early settlers are still in
someway known to each other and their whereabouts, more or less,
even right up to this day...like the
Moys, Kaws, Lee Fooks and
Chung-Gons and the new discovery of Chin Kit!....2004!