Why the Chinese were seen as such a threat to the Australian colonies in the 1850s

Essay, 2010

11 Pages, Grade: 1.3


HIST1010 Research Essay

Question 5: Analyse the reasons why the Chinese were seen as such a threat to the colonies in the 1850s

Since the early 1850s, when the first gold was found in Australia, several tens of thousands of migrants settled there and tried to solve their economic difficulties back home. A great number of them were Chinese, but they were not as welcomed as Europeans or Americans. Soon after their settlement, demonstrations and riots took place against them. Chinese diggers became casualties of violent acts and were hunted by the white colonists. But which perils and fears caused their presence? Why were they seen as such a threat to Australian colonies? This paper will look at four main reasons for this resistance against the Chinese. One of these were the experiences and forewarned stories of the Californian gold fields. Secondly, I am going to discuss the political fears concerning to a weakening by this mass of migrants. Another main reason for the Chinese to be seen as a threat, were economical factors and everyone’s desire to seize the gold as their own, which caused many potential conflicts. Lastly, there were many differences between the colonists’ cultures. Their language, way of work, religion and the uncertainty about each other significantly divided both parties.

As the Australian colonies diversified and expanded beyond their convict origins, the British Government became increasingly interested in free migration to the continent and other parts of the British Empire. In 1831 assisted passages to these colonies were established and many non-British migrants settled in Australia.[1] Furthermore, the gold rushes were a powerful force attracting migrants to the colonies in far greater numbers than before. From 1851 to 1861, for example, some 622,000 migrants arrived, one-third of them on assisted passages.[2] In the early 1850s, news of gold was spreading to all villages around Canton and deeper into China. Chinese businessmen in Hong Kong were organising to move as many men as they could find ships for, under a system of credit-tickets, with fares repayable when fortunes were made.[3] This systematic approach was a first cornerstone in the following large influx of Chinese and was subsequently a concern for the Australians. On the Victorian gold fields, for example, their numbers increased by 32,000 people between 1853 and 1858.[4] As a consequence, the Chinese migrants were increasingly seen as a threat and were hunted by others. They became casualties of brutal attacks and commonly murdered by ‘white people’.

One reason for the racist acts were the experiences and narrations of the Californian gold fields. During the early 1850s the Chinese population increased at an alarming rate and there were fears that they would inundate California, completely overrunning the mines.[5] The large numbers of arrivals were not ignored by the local miners. As a result they named many reasons for their opposition to the Chinese and asked for legislative backing. A general belief that the mineral lands belonged exclusively to the American people, the fact that America was never intended as an asylum for ‘people such as Chinese’ or the perception that they conferred no benefits on the Californian community underline the racial backgrounds.[6] The Chinese adopted gradually the improved mining methods and became self-sufficient. Increasing their own earning capacity, the Europeans’ was decreasing.[7] Encouraged by this humiliation, the violence on the gold fields spread and reports told of miners chasing Chinese about the hills ‘like wild bears’. This first contact between Europeans and Asians, based on jealous intolerance and selfishness was very important for the following time period in Australia. Whether they wanted to be or not, the Australian ‘white men’ were influenced and prejudiced by these collected stories before the actual influx started.

This influence or forewarning was formidably mirrored in the political fears. Although many various migrants settled through the 1850s, the ‘yellow people’ were the major focus of concern about the possible impacts on non-Europeans on the development of Australian society.[8] The government saw the main problem facing China as the difficulty of holding the own country together.[9] The domination of one group by another had occurred often in the past and they feared would do so again. The migration was pictured as a ‘military invasion of whole battalions’[10] and the folk’s concern rose. The colonists heard stories about incoming Chinese in vast numbers that would be “wholly beyond the control of the Government, prejudicially affecting the welfare and future destinies of this community in an alarming and dangerous degree”.[11] Even the newspapers and radical journalists believed in a political collapse by the influx. The labour paper ‘Boomerang’ wrote in 1858 about the ending dominance of the European[12] and the ‘Sydney Empire’, it stated that the existence of a ‘degraded class’ in any community is fatal to its peace and destructive of its liberties.[13] This popular belief increased consistently and caused more and more opponents to the Chinese settlers. As a result of this political pressure the Victorian governor provided for a poll tax and restrictions.

Another key factor for the established restrictions and the public view of the Chinese as a threat were economical backgrounds. The new settlers were seen to be a waste of money. The colonists feared that their migration and integration would waste more money than being any advantage to the colonies.[14] Another claim to the government’s money took place, as the first riots and expulsions took place. They tried to avoid further assaults and payed therefore a lot of money for the Chinese security on the colonies. The second point of economical issue was, of course, the gold. Although the Council consistently saw the Chinese as economically valuable, fairly civilised, and harmless, to the European miners they were competitors for an increasingly scarce resource.[15] In their eyes, the Chinese were ‘stripping the gold fields’ of their wealth, to the injury of the Colonists[16]. The Chinese had some of the richest claims and were earning fantastic returns[17] and therefore the disturbance on the fields increased. The colonists became jealous and their objection was again a racial one: they regarded Chinese as outsiders and interlopers who had no right to share in the wealth of the colonies. A correspondent of the Portland Guardian intensified this opinion and wrote “they have become proportionately self-confident, and now for the first time they exclude our people from the richest diggings.” The Chinese success was widely resented, the colonists felt discriminated by the government and hatred aroused.[18]


[1] Derrick I. Stone. Gold Diggers & Diggings: a photographic study of gold in Australia 1854-1920. (Melbourne: Lansdowne, 1974), pp 18-22

[2] Graeme Davison, The Oxford Companion to Australian History (South Melbourne: Oxford University Press, 2001), p. 337

[3] Ellen Mary Cawthorne. The long journey: the story of the Chinese landings at Robe during the gold rush era, 1852-63 (Hansen Printing House, 1974), pp 2-8

[4] Smeaton, Thomas Drury. ‘Our Invasion by the Chinese’-manuscript notes on the landing of the Chinese at Robe in South Australia 1857-63 with notes on ships wrecked in and near Guichen Bay 1849-65, in Nancy Keesing. History of the Australian gold rushes, by those who were there (Hawthorne: Lloyd O’Neill, 1971), p. 118

[5] David Walker. Anxious nation: Australia and the rise of Asia (St Lucia: University of Queensland Press, 1999), pp 1-3

[6] Andrew Markus. Fear and Hatred: Purifying Australia and California, 1850-1901 (Sydney: Hale and Ironmonger, 1979), pp 1-4

[7] Markus. Fear and Hatred, p. 6

[8] Shasta Courier, 2 December 1854, San Joaquin Republican 21 June 1852, Union 19 April 1855, in Markus. Fear and Hatred, p. 6

[9] Walker. Anxious nation, pp 36-38

[10] Martin Crotty and Erik Eklund. Australia 1901: Selected readings in the making of a nation (Croydon: Tertiary Press, 2004), p. 256

[11] Petition Miners Jim Crow field, P.P. (Vic., L.A.), 1856-7, vol. 3; Bendigo Advertiser, 17 June 1857; Constitution, 15 November 1856, 22 June 1857; Bendigo Advertiser, 30 July 1857, 19 March 1858, cited in Crotty. Australia 1901: Selected readings in the making of a nation, p. 256

[12] Francis Adams, ‘Daylight and Dark. White or Yellow: Which Is To Go? What the Chinese Can Teach Us’, Boomerang, 1 February 1858, cited in Walker. Anxious nation, p. 40

[13] Sydney Empire, 26 June 1858, cited in Markus. Fear and Hatred, p. 24

[14] Joseph Anderson Panton, Resident Commissioner at Sandhurst, on 3 January 1855, pp. 237-8, in Ian Francis McLaren. The Chinese in Victoria: official reports and documents (Ascot Vale: Red Rooster Press, 1985), p. 11

[15] Ann Curthoys. “Men of all nations, except Chinaman: European and Chinese on the goldfields of New South Wales”, in Ian McCalman. Gold: forgotten histories and lost objects of Australia (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2001), pp 107­109

[16] Petition from the Meroo, Votes ad Proceedings of the NSW Legislative Assembly, 1858, vol. 2, p. 947, cited in McCalman. Gold: forgotten histories, p. 108

[17] Kathryn Cronin. Colonial Casualties: Chinese in Early Victoria (Melbourne: Melbourne University Press, 1982), pp 256­258

[18] Porland Guardian quoted by Bathurst Free Press 26 June 1857, cited in Markus. Fear and Hatred, p. 28

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Why the Chinese were seen as such a threat to the Australian colonies in the 1850s
University of Newcastle
Foundations of Australian History
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ISBN (Book)
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Englisches Essay mit 2335 Worten + Footnotes + Bibliography
chinese, gold rush in australia, australien, Englisch
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Erik Rohleder (Author), 2010, Why the Chinese were seen as such a threat to the Australian colonies in the 1850s, Munich, GRIN Verlag, https://www.grin.com/document/152484


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