Australia in the 1880s

The 'Chinese' question

On 3 May 1888, a large meeting was held at the Sydney Town Hall to protest against Chinese immigration. The next day a shipload of Chinese immigrants was prevented from coming ashore at Sydney. A crowd marched to Parliament House demanding that the premier, Sir Henry Parkes, 'stop the invasion'. Soon after, the NSW Supreme Court ordered that the Chinese immigrants be allowed to disembark, but Parkes refused. Anti-Chinese laws were passed in all colonies in 1888. However, Chinese migrants proved remarkably successful in establishing and maintaining a successful presence in the economic and cultural life of 19th-century Australia.

Some Chinese migrants became labourers as a means of making a living.

A snapshot of 1888

  • January
    • Non-Indigenous Australians celebrate 100 years of colonial settlement.

  • May
    • A demonstration against Chinese immigration takes place outside Sydney Town Hall and a month later an Intercolonial Conference on the Chinese question is held.
    • In Queensland, Thomas Glassey becomes the first trade union candidate in any colonial parliament.

  • December
    • The Centennial International Exhibition opens in Melbourne in the newly built Royal Exhibition Building.
    • Henry Lawson's first story, His Father's Mate, is published.
    • The women's magazine, The Dawn, begins publication with editorials by Louisa Lawson, mother of Henry Lawson, and advocates voting rights for women and divorce law reform.
    • It also included household hints, a short story and poetry as well as fashion news. Established by Louisa it was prepared and printed by women.


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