Australia in the 1850s

Anti-Chinese sentiment

In the early 1850s, many Chinese immigrants came to Australia as indentured labourers working as shepherds, rural labourers, cooks and gardeners.

In 1853, the first boatload of Chinese miners arrived in Victoria. Between 1854 and 1855, about 31,000 Chinese people arrived on the Australian goldfields. There was anti-Chinese sentiment, hostility, discrimination and prejudice. Jealousy arose sometimes due to the success of the Chinese miners. There were significant attempts by the European population to restrict Chinese people from entering the colonies.

In 1855, anti-Chinese legislation was passed in Australia and in the British colonial world for the first time. The Victorian Government imposed a tax of £10 for each Chinese person arriving in the colony, plus a restriction on the number of Chinese people allowed to disembark in Melbourne to one Chinese person for every 10 tonnes of shipping. In 1857, South Australia limited Chinese immigration by imposing a £10 poll tax on all Chinese people entering the colony. In 1857, anti-Chinese sentiment heightened when riots took place in north-eastern Victoria on the Buckland River. About 120 miners attacked Chinese people in their camp, stole their gold and burnt their tents and all their belongings. Some of the Chinese people died by drowning in the river or getting lost after escaping into the bush.

The Chinese diggers rallied in protest against the poll tax by forming the 'United Confederacy of Chinese' on the Ovens, Bendigo, Castlemaine and Ballarat goldfields. The confederacy called upon the Chinese diggers to protest against the resident tax of £4 imposed upon them. In 1859, their protest came to a head when several thousand Chinese people marched in protest in Castlemaine, where they presented a petition to the Victorian Government that contained many thousands of signatures of support for the cause.

Anti-Chinese sentiment_1850

A snapshot of 1858

  • January
    • A telephone line opened between the Sydney GPO and South Head.

  • May
    • New South Wales followed the lead of Victoria and South Australia to become the third colony to introduce the principle of manhood suffrage for parliamentary elections.

  • June
    • A huge gold nugget named the Welcome Nugget weighing 68.98 kilograms was found at Ballarat.

  • August
    • The Aborigines' Friends' Association (AFA) was formed at a public meeting in Adelaide in South Australia.

  • September
    • The first recorded game of Australian Rules Football was played between Scotch College and Melbourne Grammar.

  • October
    • The first intercolonial electric telegraph line was officially opened between Adelaide and Melbourne.


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