Chinese Business History in Queensland - Pre gold rush: 1840-1850

Guest blogger: Rutian Mi - 2019 Queensland Business Leaders Hall of Fame Fellow

This research project focuses on finding out how Chinese business started and developed in Queensland during the 100-year period of 1840-1940 and the impact they had on the community. This blog post focuses on the pre gold rush period from 1840-1850.

While there are many researches that show Chinese people came to Australia long before the first fleet, the first officially recorded Chinese immigrate is Mak Sai Ying who arrived in Sydney on 27 Feb, 1818. As with many other Chinese immigrants in this period he started as a carpenter before he purchased land in Parramatta and was granted the licence for The Golden Lion Hotel, a public house in Parramatta.

Due to the restriction of the convict numbers to Australia there was a shortage of labourers.

In 1829, Fifty-Five Chinese migrated to Australia as labourers.

In 1823, John Oxley found Brisbane River but it was not until 1848 that the first Chinese labourers arrived in Brisbane.  

Plan of River Brisbane and chart of Moreton Bay, as drawn by John Oxley, 1823. John Oxley Library, State Library of Queensland. Neg 69012

In 1840, Sydney prohibited new convicts. More Chinese labourers were brought to Australia.

During 1840-1843, there was a drought in Australia and the land value crashed.

At the same time (1839-1842), British fought the first Opium War with China on behalf of drug traffickers. The battlefields were mainly in today’s Guangdong and Fujian provinces. The war ended with the “Treaty of Nanking” which opened free trade including opium in five ports: Guangzhou, Amoy, Foochow, Shanghai and Ningbo. Hong Kong also became a British colony.

The first Opium War not only opened the ports but also opened the eyes of the Chinese people to the Western world, especially in Guangdong and Fujian areas. With the increase of the trade with the world including with Australia, more Chinese people emigrated to overseas.

In 1848, first Chinese labourers arrived in Brisbane.

Most of the Chinese brought to Queensland before gold rush worked as shepherd, farm and general services. A photo from John Oxley Library showed a Memorandum of agreement between Choo and M.H Marsh owner of Maryland Station in 1850. According to the memorandum, Choo will receive three British dollars per month. In addition to his wage he also received Eight Spanish Dollars plus some weekly rations, including flour, rice, meat and tea.

Memorandum of agreement between Choo and M.H Marsh owner of Maryland Station in 1850. John Oxley Library, State Library of Queensland. Neg 161619

During this period, there is no evidence Chinese business in Queensland, but there were some trade links including labour traffic between Queensland and China.

Discover more

To help understand the historical background and the social background of Chinese business in Queensland I created this chronological overview of Chinese business in Queensland online using the time graphics platform.

Rutian Mi - 2019 Queensland Business Leaders Hall of Fame Fellow

Further reading from Rutian Mi

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I appreciate this!

Great article! Do you know how the Chinese people made it all the way over in the 1800's? I'll be really interested to know.