Monday, January 10, 2011

Reluctantly sharing the gold

While the first known Chinese immigrant here appeared in Nelson in 1842,  and Auckland's first (so far) Chinese was in late 1862, the main immigration of Chinese didn't take place until early 1866, in Otago, nearly five years after the Gabriel's Gully goldrush began. But, my word, the citizens were still concerned back in 1861 that once the "Celestials" heard, they'd be over here from Australia in a flash.

Chinese Immigration.
In reply to Mr. McLashan, Dr. Featherston said the government was not prepared to introduce a bill with the view of preventing Chinese Immigration to the gold fields. The subject would receive due consideration.

Southern Cross 2 August 1861

In connection with this part of the subject, there is one point which demands the serious attention of the Government. Wherever valuable gold fields have been discovered large numbers of Chinese have found their way, and wherever these Celestials have appeared, serious riots and loss of life have been the inevitable consequence. The probability is that many will be attracted to our shores — and the fact is that an eruption of the kind is apprehended, and a determination has been universally expressed by the diggers that not a single Chinaman shall set his foot on the Tuapeka gold fields. We are not going to argue upon the abstract right or wrong involved in such a determination; we have to do with a most serious practical fact. An apparently unextinguishable hatred springs up wherever the two races come into contact, and it is indispensable for the security of life and property that the Government should be prepared for the very probable contingency to which we have alluded, by the adoption of necessary measures for the protection of the Chinese should they make their appearance on the gold field, or, which would be far better, for preventing their introduction into the Province at all.

Hawke’s Bay Herald 31 August 1861

WEDNESDAY, SEPTEMBER 4, 1861. The Speaker took the chair at 5 o'clock. The minutes of the previous sederunt having been read and confirmed, Mr. Dillon Bell called the attention of the government to the fact that Chinese, in large bodies, were preparing to leave Australia for Otago, and enquiring what steps would be taken to prevent this. Mr. Fox replied, that the government could not now give a definite answer. The subject had been referred to the consideration of the Attorney General, whose opinion was that the people of any other nation, coming to this country on terms of amity, could not be prevented A capitation tax had been thought of.

Southern Cross 6 September 1861

Even worse -- if the Chinese came here as miners, they had the chance of voting! Unconscionable.


Few things are more pleasant, and few, certainly, less inconvenient than to glide along with the tide. We do not worry ourselves with the future, for the present is so rich with enjoyment that we care not to go beyond it. Our cup is full to overflowing, and we do not wish to think of a time when it may require replenishing.

As it is with individuals, so is it with States. The Otago of the past — feeble, struggling, and scarce known beyond its boundary — is vastly different from the Otago of the present, the centre of attraction to neighbouring provinces, and even to the gold-spangled Colony of Victoria; producing from its surface diggings in a week as much as was annually realised from all sources but a few years since. We might fearlessly compare the comfort and happiness we then enjoyed with what is now our portion, and, with still more confidence, with what may be in store for us if we are content to spread the canvas to the breeze and go whither the winds may convey us.

We do not intend to examine the question whether it was wise by the Miners' Electoral Ordinance to admit into the electoral body every one who, three months before the time of the annual registry, should pay the State £1 for the privilege of extracting the precious metals; we acknowledge at once the law as it stands, by which a transfer is made of the electoral franchise from a class having a permanent interest in the Province, to another class which pays a mere retaining fee, and which, composed of strangers from all lands, will have the power of electing the chief civil authority, and perhaps of materially influencing the Legislative Council. Our present object is different; it is to inquire whether it is wise to admit, without any check, the hordes of Chinese which inundated Victoria, and will leave an abiding mark upon its golden age. There are those whom the very idea of restriction would throw into paroxysms of generous indignation, who advocating Free-trade in all its length and breadth, would scout at the most remote allusion to the expediency of allowing any class to enjoy a monopoly. The world is a commonage, say they, where every human being has an inherent right of participation. We may admire the exalted benevolence which characterises the sentiment, but we doubt its justice and expediency.

Let us take a practical view of our case; for these high-flown theories are too luscious to be freely indulged in. What is our position? Cramped by the dense population of the mother country, and thwarted in every attempt to ameliorate our condition, we left the abode of our fathers to hew for ourselves, amid dangers and discomforts in a strange and distant land, the home we had long pictured in imagination. There was one thing we would not leave behind — for without it a Briton could not breathe— our liberties were as household gods, without which Paradise would be a desert. The home we have obtained is in the neighbourhood of a nation greedy of gold, which numbers millions to our hundreds, and whose inhabitants, as in Victoria, are ready to inundate us.

By the Gold Fields Act of 1858, each miner of the age of 21, duly registered, and holding a miner's light, for which the sum of £1 is paid, is entitled to vote. By the Electoral Ordinance, unless he were naturalised, he would not, we believe, though holding such a right, be entitled to vote; but naturalisation is merely a matter of money, and we do not see how the advocates for equal rights to all men could deny the Chinese this privilege, eyen if it were not a duty, on their own principles, rather to facilitate its possession. We thus arrive at the conclusion that it may be a measure of prudential policy to guard our liberties, and that a band of aliens in religion, character, and habits should not assume a position in the constituency, which, judiciously used, might seriously jeopardise our prospects as a thorough British Colony. Let us not blink the question, nor obscure it by sophistry. Are we prepared to admit as fellow-citizens, possessing equal rights, and enjoying equal privileges, the subjects of the Celestial Empire, or, were they near enough, the Bosch men of Southern Africa ? There are other considerations of great importance which we cannot now more than glance at. When gold, unless in the shape of sovereigns, and those few in number, was unknown to us, the disparity between the sexes was a subject of serious moment, but the difficulties since then have vastly increased by an accession of some 4000 males. Are we prepared still further to increase that fearful disparity by an unrestricted admission of a race which systematically leaves their females behind ?

We would again ask, whether it is a matter of indifference to us that the British labouring classes, whom it is our special mission to benefit, and whom we have invited, nay, almost seduced, to rend asunder all the associations of country and kin, by the assurance that there is plenty of land to be bought at reasonable rates, and a sufficient demand for labour of a remunerative kind, wherewith to buy it, whether, we would ask, we care not that they should be swamped, their hopes blighted, and their prospects destroyed by an inundation of Chinese ? Better, far better for us to resume, if it were possible, our old jog-trot pace— safe though not very dazzling — than retain our present preeminence. We willingly allow that the rate of wages is high — that its reduction would greatly benefit the producing classes and the labourers themselves; but we desire its reduction to its natural level, where capital and labour are equally benefited, not by the extreme measure of an importation of inferior population, but by a larger immigration of congenial classes from our native land.

Dearly as we love the liberty we enjoy, and thorough as is our advocacy of oppressed nationalities, we do not feel called upon to hazard what our forefathers gained with so much toil and danger, by sharing our patrimony with those who lightly esteem what we so highly reverence, and who, if the North island instead of the Middle were the scene in question, would come into hostile collision with the Maories, whom by treaty we are bound to regard as British subjects and fellow-citizens. We may use the language of Brutus when we contrast our love of liberty generally with our love of our privileges as freedmen, and say, “Not that I love Caesar less, but that I love Rome more."
Otago Witness 21 September 1861

Don't worry, though -- it hadn't happened, just yet.

No Chinese have yet arrived, and none are known to be coming, but another ten thousand white diggers are expected to leave Melbourne.

Lyttleton Times 9 October 1861

 Meanwhile, over in New South Wales, they had introduced the Poll Tax.

Sydney, May 17th.
The first enforcement of our Chinese Act took place on Tuesday last, on which day two poor devils of coolies employed as cooks on board a vessel that arrived from Mauritius, were legally robbed (for it was a robbery in their case) of £20, or £10 each. This sum is equivalent to five months' wages, and its exaction will cause the sufferers to entertain a very queer opinion of our so-called liberal institutions.
 Otago Witness 31 May 1862

But then, white miners started drifting away from Otago in 1865, and merchants saw their profits going with them. Rumours began to circulate ...

There is a rumor to the effect that a public meeting will shortly be held in Dunedin to advocate the introduction of the Chinese to the Otago goldfields.

Bruce Herald 7 September 1865

... and the rumours were true.
At a special meeting of the Chamber of Commerce, held yesterday afternoon, two important matters were brought on for discussion … The second matter was a motion by Mr Tolmie, and seconded by Mr Robertson, " That it is desirable that the immigration of Chinese to this Province be encouraged." This was carried; as was also a contingent motion appointing a Committee to wait upon the Government and urge the Executive to give an official letter or notice, to the effect that the lives and property of all Chinese coming to this Province would be protected." The only dissentient from these motions was Mr John Bathgate.
Otago Daily Times 16 September 1865

Some applauded the notion of the Chinese miners coming.

At the Dunstan, on Friday last, a public meeting was held at the Victoria Theatre, to take into consideration the advisability of introducing Chinese labor on to the gold fields. There was a large attendance, and Mr W. Bayley was elected chairman. Resolutions were passed to the effect that the meeting considered the introduction of Chinese into the Province would be productive of most beneficial results, especially to the Dunstan district, as there, an almost unlimited field for profitable labor for the Chinese existed without any risk of interference with the European miners; and that the meeting highly approved of the action taken by the Dunedin Chamber of Commerce in taking steps for the introduction of the Chinese to Otago.
Otago Daily Times 11 October 1865

While others saw only doom and gloom.

A public meeting was held in the long room of the Australasian Hotel, at Macrae's Flat, on Monday evening, the 23rd ult., for the purpose of considering the question of the introduction of Chinese on the gold fields of the Province. Mr Douglas took the chair. Resolutions were passed — "That in the opinion of this meeting no greater injury could be inflicted upon the European population of Otago than the introduction of Chinese into the Province, and that this meeting request the Government of Otago to discourage, in as much as they legally can, Chinese immigration. And "That this meeting thoroughly sympathises with any notion taken in this matter on the gold fields." A committee was appointed to draw up a memorial on the subject to the Provincial Council; and the meeting adjourned to the 25th of October.

The adjourned meeting was held at the same place on the evening of the 25th, and was numerously attended. Mr Bremer was in the chair. A resolution was passed expressing alarm at the action of the Dunedin Chamber of Commerce in their alleged attempt to obtain from the Provincial Government special protection for Chinese immigrants, and a memorial was adopted showing that the memorialists feared serious injury from the introduction of Chinese into the Province, on account of their competing with Europeans for a livelihood on the gold fields; from the danger to life and property that would be inevitable from the two races coming in contact with each other in Otago; and because the experience of Victoria and New South Wales evinced that it is pernicious to have Mongolians competing for support with Europeans. It was resolved to forward the memorial to Mr Hughes for presentation to the Superintendent and Provincial Council. Further resolutions approving of the action of the miners on various gold fields in their attempts to prevent Chinese immigration; empowering the Secretary to communicate with the various Gold Fields Committees for the purpose of forming a Miners' League; and authorising a letter of thanks to be forwarded to Mr Bathgate for his opposition to the resolutions of the Chamber of Commerce on the subject, were then passed.

Otago Witness 4 November 1865

The introduction of a series of Chinese mining communities in the South Island came from an agreement between merchants on opposite sides of the Tasman: the Dunedin Chamber of Commerce, and Lowe Kong Meng, head of a shipping and merchant company of note in Melbourne.

At length Dunedin is honored with the visit of a Chinese, in the person of Mr Ah Mei. He has come down to make enquiries on behalf of influential countrymen in Melbourne. Some half-dozen more Chinese, we believe, are on their way here, and will assist Ah Mei in inspecting the gold fields. Should their report be favorable, a limited number of Chinese is likely to follow. Their desire, we understand, is to select a locality where they are little likely to come into collision or to interfere with the Europeans.
Otago Daily Times 20 December 1865

Also known as Ho-a-Mee, he was described as an “influential representative of the Chinese miners in Victoria” by the Evening Star, “deputed by Kong Meng and other Chinese merchants in that colony to inspect the mining districts of the province and report as to the advisability or not of a number of his countrymen coming over here.” -- Evening Post, 27 December 1865

The presence of Ah Mei and his mining assessors affronted some in the province immediately.

At the evening sitting … Mr Grant said he would give notice to ask tomorrow “Whether the Government will adopt some stringent measures to save this Province from a threatened invasion of barbaric hordes of Tartars, samples and pioneers of whom have just landed in Otago?” Perhaps the Government would answer at once.

The Secretary said that the honourable member must be aware that the Government, even if they had the disposition, had not the power to interfere to prevent Chinese coming into the Province; and they did intend not to take any action, whatever, in the matter. If there was any action at all, it must be on the part of the General Government.
Otago Daily Times 28 December 1865

 But, by January 1866, the deals had been done, and Chinese were heading for Otago to work.

Arrangements have been concluded with the Panama Company for conveying a large number of Chinese from Victoria to Otago. It is expected about 3000 will emigrate this year.

North Otago Times 25 January 1866

The Chinese are gradually increasing in Otago. For some months passed a large number have been at work on old ground in the vicinity of Gabriel's Gully, and we have not heard of any crimes having been committed by them. From the Dunstan Times, 2nd June, we learn they have made their appearance in the Dunstan district. It says— " John Chinaman has at last paid a visit to the Dunstan. Ten interesting specimens of the Flowery Land arrived at Clyde, by waggon, from Dunedin, on Monday last. They have already commenced washing the gravelly beaches of the Molyneaux, and appear satisfied with their prospects.
Southland Times 12 June 1866

The Chinese that have settled down to work in the neighborhood of Cromwell are doing remarkably well: their earnings are from £2 to £4 per week, and sometimes more. At the new rush at the Lowburn they have opened a new gully, which is turning out capitally. The number of this useful and plodding class of miners is considerably increasing; and from what I can learn, they are so satisfied with their success, that it will not be many months before our celestial population will be counted by thousands.

Otago Witness 28 September 1866

A number of Chinese have lately arrived — thirty three by the Omeo and eighty -three by the Otago. It is stated that these will be followed during the summer by a great many more. Indeed, the chartering of a ship to bring 400 direct from Hong Kong is reported, but I have not been able to ascertain whether the statement is well-grounded. Those Chinese who have been settled some time in the Province are undoubtedly satisfied with their success.
North Otago Times 14 December 1866

If it hadn't been for Lowe Kong Meng, the main 19th century immigration of Chinese to the southern goldfields might not have happened. The Dunedin supporters would have needed a kingpin, and a man which the Victorian colony's Chinese held in high respect, to have kicked it off. Here's his obituary.

As mentioned in The Argus of Monday, Mr. Lowe Kong Meng, the well known Chinese merchant, died at his residence in Malvern early that morning, after a short illness The deceased gentleman was born at St James's Island, Penang, in 1831, and was consequently a British subject by birth. He attended the high school at Penang until he was 16 years of age, when he proceeded to Mauritius for the purpose of perfecting himself in the English and French languages. There he established himself in trade on his own account, and finally came to Melbourne in 1853 as supercargo of his own ship. After making one voyage to Calcutta, he returned and established a firm of importers in Melbourne under the style of Kong Meng and Co. At that time he was the only Chinese shipmaster in the colonies, owning a fleet of half a dozen vessels, which plied regularly between Australia, India, and China, and he subsequently endeavoured, though unsuccessfully, to establish a service of packets between Melbourne and Port Darwin. Mr Kong Meng was of an exceedingly generous disposition, and gave liberally to churches and public charities without respect to creed or denomination. In politics he was strictly conservative, and he took an active part in opposing the recent restrictions on Chinese immigration.

Although he always prided himself on being a British subject by birth, the Chinese residents m Melbourne were accustomed to look to him as a lender in all matters concerning their welfare as colonists, and the Imperial Government at Pekin so far recognised him in this capacity as to create him a mandarin of the fifth order. In his domestic and private relations he was much beloved, and in social life he was highly respected. For 35 years he carried on an extensive business in Melbourne. Had he lived, it was contemplated to appoint him the Chinese Consul General for Australasia, a position which, as far as Melbourne is concerned, he had de jure long occupied. Himself an ex- pert in minerals, he was a strong supporter of the mining industry and a well known group of mines in the Ballarat district still bears his name. He was largely interested in many of the leading silver ventures, while his business capacity and success led to his being selected for the position of a commissioner at the Exhibition of 1880 81, as well as of the current Exhibition.

During his last illness he was attended by Dr Wallace, Dr Ginst, and Dr Seelenmeyer, while Mr E M James was also called in for consultation at the last. The cause of death was congestion of the kidneys. In 1860 Mr Kong Meng married the daughter of the Ilae William Prussia, of Tasmania, and he leaves a large family. His funeral took place yesterday, leaving his late residence Kooyong, Malvern, at a quarter to 3. The hearse with the remains preceded four mourning conches, which were occupied by the relatives and intimate friends of the deceased, while about 100 vehicles of various descriptions followed in the procession The principal streets along the route were lined with spectators, among whom the fellow countrymen of the deceased were present in large numbers, dressed tor the most part in their national costume. On arriving at the Melbourne General Cemetery the coffin, winch was of polished blackwood, trimmed with brass furniture, was borne to the family burial place, situated in the Church of England portion of the ground, the pall-bearers being Messrs Bates, Buncle, Harvey, Stewart, Nolan. G Pilley, Ah Yet (late partner of the deceased), and G B W Lewis.
Mr. H. Murray Smith and many leading merchants of the city also followed the coffin to the grave, where the Rev. J. Edwards officiated and read the usual service. The funeral arrangements were carried out by Mr A A Sleight, of Collins street.

Melbourne Argus 24 October 1888

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