The Treatment of Chinese Miners in Australia: Analytical Essay

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The first colony of Australia was established at Sydney by Captain Arthur Phillip on January 26, 1788. They believed the land was terra nullius or empty land as they couldn’t see any evidence of buildings, crops, land development, fences, borders or governments. This assessment was incorrect as the land belonged to the Aborigines as they had lived there for over 60,000 years.

Chinese migration and settlement in New South Wales has a long history. Early records show evidence of Chinese migration, this influx of people was being considered as a solution to the labour shortage in the Colony during 1828. Many Chinese immigrants came to Australia working as shepherds, rural labourers, cooks and gardeners.

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Many fortune seeking Australians ventured to different countries in search of gold. Edward Hargraves sailed to Californian for gold rush in 1849. He was unsuccessful but was struck by the topographical and geological similarities between California and the interior of New South Wales.

Governor Charles FitzRoy had heard rumours of the gold to be found in New South Wales and believed a mineral discovery in the colony could reverse the economic downturn. In 1849 he convinced the British government to offer a reward to anyone who found a commercially viable amount of gold.

In January 1851 Hargraves returned to the colony and immediately headed inland, convinced he would find gold and, more importantly, claim the government reward. Near Bathurst, Hargraves enlisted the aid of John Lister and brothers William and James Tom. Within weeks they had discovered a small amount of gold at a site Hargraves named Ophir. Hargraves returned to Sydney in March 1851 and presented his samples to the government. The government’s geologist Samuel Stutchbury was sent to confirm the gold. Hargraves was eventually awarded the £10,000 prize, which he refused to share with Lister or the Tom brothers. Between 1854 and 1855, about 31,000 Chinese people arrived on the Australian goldfields.

Gold was discovered in Victoria in 1851, James Esmond, he discovered gold in Clunes, it is approximately 40 kilometres north of Ballarat. James Esmond received a £200 reward from the Victorian Government as he was tye firs person to find gold within 320 kilometres of Melbourne. It was proclaimed that from 1 September 1851 all miners in Victoria must pay 30 shillings per month for a licence to dig for gold or risk prosecution.

Gold licenses were a method the government used to tax the miners and to attempt to control the number of people mining the goldfields. Governor La Trobe believed the tax would provide revenue to maintain law and order and discourage those thinking of leaving their regular employment.

The Eureka Stockade was caused by a disagreement over what gold miners felt were unfair laws and policing of their work by government.

The Chinese miners were quite different to the European miners, this is one of the key factors that sparked the anti-Chinese sentiment. Chinese miners grew vegetables which they used to eat instead of paying lots of money for extra food, this was not a common practice for European miners. The Chinese people were also disliked by Europeans as the mined as individuals whereas the Chinese miners worked in groups. The Chinese split tasks like cooking, cleaning and mining, this allowed the chines miners to work for longer hours, this wasn’t done by European miners. The Chinese miners also had different cultural practices to the European miners, like the use of opium. The chinese dressed and presented themselves in the same manner as China, their clothing and presentation was different to the Europeans. The chines miners of that time are often depicted with their hair in a ponytail and in clothing that is likely made of silk from their homeland. Even the Chinese’s anatomy was slightly different to the Europeans as their skin tone may have been different and the shape of their eyes was different. All of these differences cause a hate towards the Chines minority. There were many occasions where the government was unfair towards the Chinese miners (or institutionalised racism) and endorsed the horrific actions of some European miners.

Institutional discrimination took the form a series of punitive taxes on entering Victoria and then on taking up residence, while restrictive legal requirements impinged on where Chinese could stay.

From 1855 the Chinese were taxed a ten pound fee to arrive in Victoria by ship, and from 1857 additional annual residents' fees of between 4 and 6 pounds were imposed on Chinese on top of the poll tax.

Starting in 1856, thousands of Chinese migrants travelled through Robe on their way to the Victorian goldfields. In 1857 alone, some 15,000 or so Chinese landed in Robe direct from China, to avoid a poll tax imposed by the Victorian government. After staying a few days, they gathered their supplies and set off on foot, walking more than 400 km through the bush.

Ultimately in 1901 a federated Australia would form on the basis of a White Australia policy, excluding Chinese immigration and in some instances refusing citizenship to those who had made a life in Australia.

Chinese diggers were subject to growing resentment on the gold fields. European miners were angered by the increasing Chinese presence in the goldfields and violently lashed out on several occasions in an attempt to drive the Chinese away away. In some instances, full scale rioting resulted as angry Europeans attacked the Chinese miners.

The Australian governments didn’t do anything to properly aid the Chinese miners, even after countless attacks and murders. The government endorsed the appalling actions of the European miners.

A prime example of the government endorsing the anti-Chinese mindset was anti-Chinese propaganda posters. These posters depicted the Chinese in a negative and derogatory manner. These were another method of institutionalised racism that the government used.

Although Europeans and Chinese came to Australia in search of gold but their experience were extremely different. The Europeans resented the Chinese for mining in groups, their different culture and even their appearance. They experienced institutionalised racism in the form of unjust taxes. Many Chinese miners were even killed during European led riots. Overall the treatment of the Chinese miners was appalling, the Europeans treated them in a disgusting, unfair and unjust manner. This image depicts the violence that occurred during anti-Chinese riots. Three anti-Chinese riots heave been listed below.

Buckland River

After a series of violent clashes between Chinese and European miners occurred at the Buckland River gold field a group of Europe miners decided they had enough. On July 4th, a small group began to charge through the Chinese camp tearing down tents and demanding that the Chinese leave. Acts of violence increased as the European crowd gained momentum. Chinese miners were trampled, robbed and beaten. A European wife of a Chinese miner was beaten and nearly killed, another Chinese miner had his finger severed for a gold ring. Tents, homes and properties were looted and burned.

Panic-stricken Chinese fled across the river and were given assistance and shelter by sympathetic European diggers and landowners. 2500 Chinese miners were expelled from their camps. The Victorian government granted compensation for the Chinese diggers and they were encouraged to return to the field under the guidance of police and an appointed Chinese Protector. The Chinese miners eventually returned to the goldfield to abating hostility, and camped among specially selected Chinese villages. A majority of the rioters were released without charges as the local juries believed their anger was understandable. This did not happen to………….


While travelling overland, Chinese miners had stumbled upon a rich field in Ararat. The success of the Chinese was deeply resented, as they had been able to secure the best claims on the field. Several incidents occurred in May, and after a violent incident in a Chinese store where a small group charged the Chinese camp. European and American miners attacked the Chinese with timber and axe handles.

After the attack, the Government planning to confiscate the Chinese claims and hand them over to European diggers. The Chinese were finally forced from the field in 1858. A new law required all Chinese in Victoria to purchase a Residence Ticket. A Chinese digger without a ticket could not sue for the recovery of a mining claim that had been jumped. Many Chinese miners didn’t know this as it wasn’t communicated to them in a language they could understand. On February 3rd European diggers demanded to see the tickets. When the Chinese failed to produce them, the Europeans jumped over sixty claims, worth over 1000 pounds each. An inquiry was held but the only compensation awarded the angry Chinese was they were able to sell their mining equipment and timber used in their mines, they received a poor price in a buyers market. This did not happen to………….Lambing Flat

After many of the goldfields in Victoria had been raked bare, most diggers headed to new fields in New South Wales. In 1860 miners felt Lambing Flat was their last chance to find their fortune. By January of 1861, it was estimated that the population at Lambing Flat had grown to almost 15,000. A Miner’s Protective League had formed, petitioning for the removal of the Chinese 'for the protection of native industry'. In February 1861. A brawl resulted from a 'roll up', 1500 Chinese fled. With the guidance of police, the Chinese returned to the field. However, on June 30th, one of the worst riots of the Australian gold rush occurred.

Between 2000 to 3000 European miners marched on the Chinese camp. The mob, hunted and whipped the Chinese, knocking them down with the butt ends of their whips... in many cases pulling their pig tails out by the roots, and planting their fresh trophies on their banners. Following this they searched through the tents for hidden gold, and then deliberately burnt every tent in the encampment. After the Europeans were done the camp was a heap of smouldering ruins. The miners who stayed to hide their gold in mine shafts were buried alive. Over a thousand Chinese miners fled, and almost five hundred were injured. Finding refuge on the nearby property of James Roberts, they received food and shelter for several weeks. This did not happen to………….This is one of many anti-Chinese propaganda posters. This poster depicts an unpleasant looking chinese man opposing Federation. There are European women attempting to hold him back. The Chinese man is depicted as large to symbolise the large power and threat they opposed to the Europeans. The facial expression of the chinese mane is angry and unpleasant. This did not happen to …..This image depicts the beginning of the Eureka Stockade

The miners felt this was an unfair system as they were unable to claim the land and could easily be relocated at a moment's notice. They were also required by law to buy a licence and carry it with them at all times. They weren’t pleased and were prepared to fight for change.

In late November 1854. The miners refused to cooperate, and burned their licences. On 30 November, 500 miners gathered under the Eureka flag and elected Peter Lalor as their leader. The miners swore to fight together against police and military. On 3 December, there was an clash between the miners and the police/military forces. The miners planned their defence and attack carefully, they ultimately stood no chance against the superior firepower of police. When the battle was over, 125 miners were taken prisoner and many were badly wounded. Six of the police and troopers were killed and there were at least 22 deaths among the diggers:

Although the rebellion at the Eureka Stockade was unsuccessful, the miners were able to bring the changes they desired.

Within months all the miners were released, and the licensing laws were replaced with a system where miners paid a tax on gold they found, instead of paying for the possibility of striking gold. Miners were also given the right to own the land. This benefited both Europeans and Chinese miners.

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The Treatment of Chinese Miners in Australia: Analytical Essay. (2022, July 14). Edubirdie. Retrieved July 19, 2024, from
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