Racism and taxes: life for the Chinese on the Goldfields

Chinese migrants played a very significant role on the Ballarat Goldfields, and elsewhere around Victoria, making up approximately 20% of all males in Ballarat.  They were known for being hard-working and peaceful people, however their experience of the gold rush was marred by racism and discriminatory politics.

Chinese migrants were forced to live under a protectorate system and required to pay taxes that no other migrants had to pay.  It may have been likely that the Government would have considered prohibiting Chinese migration completely if it wasn’t for the 1842 Treaty of Nanking (or Nanjing).  The Treaty heavily favoured the British, but it did stipulate that the subjects of both kingdoms:

“…shall enjoy full security and protection for their persons and property within the dominions of the other.”

The Chinese had to pay a poll tax on arrival of £10 – a big ask.  By modern standards it would be like asking migrants to pay around $10,000* when they arrived!  Because of this, many Chinese landed outside Victoria, in places such as Robe in South Australia, and then walked all the way to the Goldfields.  Under the protectorate system they were required to pay an additional £1 per year for the privilege.  They were also forced to live in designated camps and their business dealings and behaviours were carefully monitored

*It can be hard for us to calculate the relative cost between then and now.  But it is important to look at both the historical conversion rate and the cost of living.  We found this websiteto be a good tool.

The Chinese Camp at Golden Point (from the Ballarat Historical Society Collection at the Gold Museum)

The Chinese attempted to peacefully change the laws imposed on them, but by the time the protectorate system was abolished in 1861, many of them had already returned home.

The restrictive laws and expensive taxes were a harsh reality of life for Chinese on the Victorian Goldfields and it is a topic well worth discussing with students.  Through our Education Sessions, with both primary and secondary groups we have found that pursuing this topic with students leads to some deep thinking and great questions.

Students inside the Chinese Temple at Sovereign Hill

Students learning to write “New Gold Mountain” using Chinese calligraphy.

Interpretive Theatre about the Anti-Chinese League

We have developed an Education Resource, New Gold Mountain, particularly for Primary Students, for the study of the Chinese experience on the Goldfields.   You can download it and accompanying VELS and AusVELS links here.  You might also like to read about two of the more well-known Chinamen in Ballarat: Ah Koon and John Alloo in our information in Characters of the Goldfields.

For more resources for teaching about early Chinese Migration to Victoria we recommend the following sites:

Bendigo’s Golden Dragon Museum

Chinese Museum in Melbourne

Ararat’s Gum San Chinese Heritage Centre

eGold – Chinese in Central Victoria

PROV – Chinese in Australia and Differences

This post was originally written to support Chinese New Year events at Sovereign Hill in 2012. 

9 responses to “Racism and taxes: life for the Chinese on the Goldfields

  1. When Sovereign Hill was developing the new Chinese Camp, we made the decision to focus on a particular timeframe for the interpertation rather than a generalised view of one of the camps in Ballarat. We chose one near to the site of present-day Sovereign Hill–the Golden Pt camp–and tell the story of the Chinese miners’ protests against the taxes being imposed on them alone of the goldfields population. The Chinese residents sought relief from them and time to pay. It is often not recognised that one of the outcomes of Eureka and the inquiry that followed it was the introduction of these discriminatory taxes and policies on Chinese migration and on the activity of Chinese miners on the goldfields. It may be that the claims that Eureka was the birthplace of Australia’s democracy may be extended to better understand the beginnings of White Australia as a political and social movement.

  2. Pingback: Racism and taxes: life for the Chinese on the Goldfields | Australian Open History | Scoop.it

  3. Pingback: Holiday Learning: Dirty Business | Sovereign Hill Education

  4. this is an awesome website but please add more information as I am doing a project

  5. Sad for them ps

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