Chinese migrating to Australia during the gold rush period were mainly from the Pearl River Delta of Guangdong Province, whilst others came from the southern part of Fujian Province.
Approximately 390 Chinese were buried in the old cemetery at Creswick, however only 22 Chinese headstones have survived. These headstones have been translated and where possible further information gathered concerning the named individuals. Several of the headstones give the owners birthplace as the county of Taishan. Given that the Chinese lived in communities based on their places of origin, it suggests the existence of sizeable community probably from a common set of villages within Taishan.
Cemetery and other records reveal the existence of extended family groups within the Creswick Chinese community, it was not uncommon for find cousins, brothers, uncles and nephews represented among the population further strengthening the conclusion that community would have had pockets of Chinese speaking the same dialect of Cantonese, having similar features and sharing similar ideologies and backgrounds. These in turn would have provided the critical mass for traders and business men expand the commercial provision of goods and services for that group.
Of the 390 burials, 14 of these bodies were subsequently exhumed for repatriation of the remains home to China, via the Tung Wah hospital in Hong Kong. Significantly there are 4 Gin clan members shown on the surviving headstones and recent CHIN research in China has confirmed this clan had a multigenerational involvement in gold mining, and other interests, in both Australia and the United States.
The Ballarat Chinese gravestones may give an indication of the likely origins of the larger community. Of the surviving 480 Ballarat Chinese headstones, over 52% are from Ningyi County, 26% give Sun Hui in Gangzhou as the place of origin, with the remainder being a mix of Tahisan, Chang Shen, Hoi Ping, Oon Yee, Tung Kuan , Soon Tack etc.
The first recorded Chinese burial at Creswick was Ah Chin and Ah Chung on December 28th 1858, the last burial was Shong Yuang on October 21st 1910.
Creswick Cemetery: Chinese Section
Chinese Section is located at the South East part of the General Cemetery,
towards the right hand side of the main cemetery road. Originally
the Chinese Section consisted of two neat rows of headstones. The headstones
were moved by the Creswick local community, in particular, the Rotarians, from
the original Chinese Cemetery, near the then Chinatown, now part of the
Calambeen Park in Cushing Street. This was an attempt by the caring and
kind community to better preserve the Chinese heritage, as the headstones near
the Calambeen Park were in an unsupervised area and they were prone to
destructions caused by vandals.
Organisation restored two additional headstones returned to the Cemetery Trust
by some locals, thus making a total of 22 Chinese headstones in the
cemetery. It is interesting to note that one headstone was used as a house
foundation stone and as the headstone was not exposed to the elements for all
these years, the paint on the Chinese characters written across the headstone
were as fresh as the day they were inscribed.
In general the headstones are in good
conditions. However, there
are instances where the ravage of time and the unfortunate cases of broken
headstone made it difficult to entirely decipher the inscriptions on the
are three areas of challenges.
(A) Dates: The date system used. Gregorian, Chinese era name or Solar-lunar calendar. (See also Help? on date systems)
(B) Name of the departed: usually clear
in Chinese, if the headstone remained intact.
Correlation with public record can be a challenge, given that their
“English Name” can be represented in a number of possible ways – usual
problems of transliteration.
(C) Place of Birth: Style of Chinese characters used.
General Description of Headstone Inscription Layout
In general, each headstone has four
clusters of Chinese inscriptions, namely, Top Row, Left Column, Central Column
and Right Column. All
inscriptions are in traditional Chinese as still employed by overseas Chinese in
Hong Kong, Malaysia, Singapore etc. This
is to be expected, as Simplified Chinese Characters did not come into fashion
until after 1948, when the government of The People’s Republic China (PRC) introduced the
simplified character set, in an effort to reduce the number of strokes, which
make up the written word, and thus help lift literacy in PRC.
The Chinese place great emphasis on
honouring the departed. Unlike
most Western cultures where fine verses would be inscribed on the headstone,
such as “In loving memory, dearly loved and missed etc.” Instead, the
headstone is used to record a number of important matters about the person, such
as the name of the individual, date of birth, date of death, where the
individual originated, down to the home village level.
Thus care and attention are taken in the preparation of the words and
inscriptions on the headstone.
In Creswick, the Chinese Characters on
the headstones are usually beautifully formed.
From this, it would appear that within the Creswick Chinese community,
there must have been a well educated individual, perhaps employed as the
community Scribe who would write letters for and on behalf of any illiterate
Chinese pioneers. It would not be
surprising that this Scribe offered his service to draft the inscriptions on the
headstones. It is also likely that
the process of headstone making for the Creswick Chinese burials must have been
advanced, and the stone mason who followed the Chinese written transcription, a
true craftsman. Interestingly,
on some headstones, there are English Inscriptions, of what we presume to be the
deceased adopted “English name”.
From a calligraphy point of view, by comparison, the English inscriptions
are of a lower quality.
Top Row: usually the District where the individual came from.
There are exceptions, as in Headstones x,y,z, where the individual’s "English" name is shown.
Left Column: Date of Death, usually in the year of the Chinese Emperor in power.
(See the Supporting Section on ‘Calender & Date System in use by the
Middle Column: Name of the individual being memorised or
interred. We use the term
“memorised” as we are uncertain if after exhumation of the remains for
re-interment in their native country the headstone remains in the cemetery.
(Exhumation was a common practice for individuals whose relatives can afford
exhumation and re-interment in China, as wished by the individual or his
Right Column: Place of Birth, usually to the level of village.
In the following paragraph, we list some of the headstones still standing. We have transcribed the the original Chinese characters. Reading from left to right, Chinese characters, the Pinyin pronunciation, the English definition of the character, the Cantonese pronunciation, the possible name in English (by pronouncing the characters in Cantonese and Hoisan dialect), Date of Death (DoD) in the Chinese dating system, possible Dead of Death in the Gregorian Date system, Village of Origin where shown on the headstone and Note associated with other information that we discovered about the individual.