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John Fitzgerald on the process through which Chinese immigrants entered Victorian goldfields

John Fitzgerald and Mara Moustafine.

Historian John Fitzgerald describes the process through which Chinese immigrants entered the Victorian goldfields



Date Added:

03 February 2009


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mov (Quicktime);

File size:

7.9 MB






Yes, Chinese come to Victoria in large numbers, largely as a consequence of the gold rush. Rumour has it, or the story has it that one of the Chinese settlers arrived a little earlier in the 1840s, reported back to Canton that gold had been found not far from the port of Melbourne. And that from his village a substantial number of labourers were brought out to help mine the fields and support his business presumably.


This led by the mid-1950s to very substantial numbers of Chinese workers coming across from south China, perhaps 100,000 in all came to Australia in the 19th Century. No small number. In some Victorian communities there would have been Chinese settlements of say, 10,000 at any one settlement. Many of these miners once they had exhausted an area would move on. And the story is, they moved back to China but in fact for the most part they moved on to somewhere else in Australia from one mining settlement to another. And when the gold mining wore thin in the late 1860s, tin mining started up in northern New South Wales and then in Tasmania in the 1870s and ‘80s. And one can trace individuals and their families and particular organisations making their way say, from the Victorian goldfields up to Bathurst and New South Wales, further north to Tingha and then say from Tingha down south to areas north of Launceston in Tasmania.


And where individuals themselves weren’t moving, their families were, so they’d send news back of a new tin deposit found in Tasmania and some of their family would come out and mine that tin. This wasn’t disorganised migration, it was highly organised migration and it wasn’t indentured labour, the miners who came weren’t indentured labourers in the sense that they sold their labour more or less like slaves to some organisation or headman, and were then controlled by and accountable to that headman for the term of their natural life or the term of their visit, it wasn’t like that at all.


The vast majority of miners who came to Australia and who then moved around or settled down actually borrowed money under what was called, the “credit ticket system.” And through the credit ticket system they were able to borrow either from friends in their villages or from family members or from merchants and would be obligated to pay that back over time. And so on arrival, for the first year or two of their diggings, they might need to surrender much of what they earned to their debtors. But once that debt was cleared they were free labourers like any other migrants to Australia.


End transcript