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Creswick Chinatown


Home Up Creswick Chinatown Chinese Community Chinese Cemetery Resources


The Creswick Chinese Camp – Black Lead

The core, and most long lived, Creswick Chinese community was located at Black Lead. The site has since been destroyed by large scale sluicing and the remaining titles amalgamated into larger residential holdings. Other satellite Chinese communities could be found at Portuguese Flat, Hard Hills, Black Lead, Clarke’s Flat, Bloody Gully, Mopoke and Slaty Creek. More recently these satellite communities have provided some fragmentary, but conclusive physical proof of Chinese occupation.

In the long term however, the commercial and cultural hub of the Chinese community was located at Black Lead. Black Lead as the location of all significant  Chinese cultural events, such as circus, theatre and Chinese New Year celebrations. It was also the location of most of the Chinese businesses, excluding the market gardens and one or two stores and restaurants which were located amongst non-Chinese businesses in Albert Street.

The first estimates of the Chinese population of Creswick were provided by the Ballarat Chinese Protector, W.H.Forster, who gave a figure of 1100 for the year 1859. It isn’t clear from these reports whether this was a district figure, or purely the population of Chinatown. Closer examination of the records suggest that the population figure was referring to the administrative district, rather than the township.

More reliable Chinese population estimates can be found in the records of the District Mining Surveyor. These record the Chinese population of Black Lead at a remarkably stable at around 400 individuals throughout the 1860’s and 1870’s. During the same period the total Chinese population of the surrounding district fell from a high just short of 2000 in the early 1860’s to less than 1000 in the mid 1870’s. All of these Chinese were alluvial miners. When compared to the corresponding figures for European alluvial miners, it can be seen that for substantial periods of the 1860’s, Creswick’s alluvial mining workforce was a fifty-fifty split between Europeans and Chinese.

The only marked short term fluctuation  to the population of Black Lead occurred during January 1873 with arrival of several hundred Chinese to take up employment at the Australasian mine. This is significant since it appears that the incoming Chinese were representative of an expansion of the existing commercial arrangements under which the Grand Trunk Gold Mine (known as the Key Company) was being operated under tribute by a Chinese business consortium with substantial direct Chinese involvement in deep alluvial mining. Independent research by the Chinese Heritage Interest Network suggests that it is this contracted, experienced Chinese workforce which provided the proposed labor for attempt to break the strike at the Lothair Mine and gave rise to the Clunes riots of 1873.

The only surviving images of Creswick’s Chinatown are two watercolours painted by Burkitt (1855) and Lindsay (1894).  The Lindsay watercolour from the final years of the Chinese camp shows a narrow shanty-lined street consistent with the surviving town plan which shows only three narrow streets lined with very narrow, adjoining, tenement allotments. In the early 1860s there were approximately 60 Chinese ratepayers listed on the various council roles. The council map shows the Chinese camp to have about 50 rateable properties however other descriptions, in the early years,  point to the existence of an extended tent community in the immediate surroundings.

 In addition to the Chinese miners, other members of the community were variously employed in occupations as diverse as merchants, tea shop proprietors, publicans, gamblers, pork butchers, market gardeners, hawkers, farm laborers, timber cutters, cartage contractors, joss house operators, and Chinese missionaries. It is believed that Black Lead Creswick had two Joss Houses, or mutual support societies. Research to date has not been able to link these Joss houses with any of the larger support societies such as the Hung League’s Ghee Hin Society in Bendigo. It is known however that during the 1860s some members of the Creswick Chinese community made substantial donations to the building of the See Yup Chinese Temple in South Melbourne, demonstrating active links to, and involvement with,  the broader Chinese community. Chinese Missionaries also lived in the Black Lead community and a Methodist mission was located there during the 1870s-1880s.

 There are references to Chinese doctors within Black Lead and also in the surrounding camps and settlements. Evidence of their activity is cited in a number of references, including the results of inquests into Chinese deaths.  There are references to Chinese doctors now working as miners and providing ah hoc support for the local community, but in these instances care is always taken to defer to the treatment provided by the local Creswick medical practitioners. The local Chinese stores have been shown to have held supplies of various Chinese medicines and to have frequently sold these to Chinese customers.

 Chinese Headstones in the Creswick Cemetery

 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. In the early days of Chinese immigration, the immigrants lived and worked within clan groups, district groups or other pre-existing social frameworks. During the later years, as numbers declined, this structure was significantly weakened, and a consequence the associated support networks were often unavailable to Chinese who had elected, for whatever reason, to remain in Victoria.

 Work is continuing on the analysis of the Chinese names associated with the Creswick community to determine if  the origins of the initial community. For example we have yet to discover if it was a “mixed” communities,  or established as an offshoot of one of the known “clan” communities (eg. Ballarat (Chin), Horsham (Poon), Beechworth (Ung)) or perhaps district based (eg. Amoy – Little Bendigo, Fujian – Golden Point, Ballarat).

Approximately 390 Chinese were buried in the new cemetery at Creswick, and information recently supplied by other researchers has identified approximately 20  Chinese burials in the old Creswick Cemetery, which was closed in the late 1850s. 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 suggesting  the existence of sizeable community and perhaps 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 dialects, 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 (Chin )) 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.

 Family Life

Few of the Creswick Chinese community formed lasting relationships with women in the district. Most men were either married, with wives at home, or planning to marry on their return to China. Statistically, marriage and permanent settlement within Australia was the exception to long standing practice.

 Within Creswick there are examples of a number of higher profile formal marriages – most notably among the various Chinese merchants and business operators. Examples include the Lee Hung Gong, William Loo Ching and Hing Yung families.

 There were also many temporary, informal and colourful arrangements established between women and the Chinese owner operators of the bars, opium dens and gambling houses. In these instances women took the name of their Chinese partners only for the duration of the relationship, adding to the challenge of identifying and tracking any families arising from these unions.

 Regardless of the nature of the union, fertility didn’t seem an issue and it was noted on several occasions that the birth rate within Black Lead was such that consideration was being given to establishing a separate Black Lead school. However, because the Creswick Chinese community went into serious decline in the latter part of the 19th century, it isn’t clear how many of these families would have settled in Creswick district for the longer term. Both the Loo Ching and Lee Gong Hung families moved to areas offering better long term business prospects and their situation was by no means unique. Market gardeners have tended to be the longest surviving members of regional Chinese communities and this could provide a fruitful area for further investigation within the Creswick Chinese community.

 There is evidence of a number of the Creswick Chinese community making home visits to China and then returning to Creswick district to continue either business operations or mining and fossicking.

Relationships with the Outside World

 The Chinese community of Creswick was an active part of the larger gold fields Chinese community. As such there was much movement between the various Chinese camps, in addition to the migrations occurring in response to new gold discoveries and the opening of new gold fields.

 For example, for many years a Chinese coach service operated from Creswick. The Chinese coach rang regularly between Creswick and the larger Chinese camp at Guildford and the coach operator, Ah Sue, had stables in the Chinese camp at Black Lead. By all accounts the service was well patronised by the Chinese community. Other Chinese coach operators are known to have linked Creswick to the Burnt Creek and Dunolly gold fields.

Creswick in the 1860s – Tea and Sympathy and the Pressure for Change

As with many other communities, the early 1860s in Creswick saw growing pressure for curbing the number of Chinese entering the colony. In Creswick the pressure took the form of the establishment of the Creswick Anti-Chinese Immigration Society. This short lived venture received substantial coverage in the local newspaper and was ultimately significant in only two respects :

1.       It revealed the polarisation of viewpoints between mainstream Creswick township and surrounding satellite communities. This polarisation was largely  economic rather than political, as the surrounding areas were caught in a failing surface alluvial mining based economy. While branches of the Anti-Immigration Society were established in several surrounding  communities, the group collapsed when it proved impossible to engage, and the gain the support of, the citizens of Creswick itself.

2.       The establishment of Creswick Anti-Chinese Immigration Association received national press coverage. This in turn resulted in the organisers of the Lambing Flat Riots contacting the Creswick Association with a statement of solidarity and request for support. Faced with this request the Association took that view that it was aligned with a law and order platform, rather than a path of civil disobedience – and shortly after the Association disappeared from public view.

 By 1864 on observer had occasion to describe Creswick as calm, clean and quiet and having citizens with “an amiable weakness for tea parties”.

 The late 1860s saw a drought further pressuring the alluvial-mining based sector. Many Chinese alluvial miners are believed to have left the district at this time, opting instead for the opportunities opening up in Queensland and Northern Territory. This northward migration was to become even further pronounced during the closing years of the next decade.  Creswick mining during the 1870s was dominated by the move to deep alluvial mining north and northwest of the township  and ongoing expansion of large sluicing activity in the southeast in the areas of old shallow alluvial activity. Both have left permanent memorials in the district, the first in the form of large mullock heaps and the remains of batteries etc rising above farmland, and the second in step, broad gullies running for kilometers through what is now state forest.

Creswick in the 1870s – Rorts and Riots

By the early 1870s Creswick has still not yet emerged as a major quartz gold field. Further, there was little evidence across the colony of Victoria on significant engagement of Chinese participating in either quartz or deep alluvial mining mining. Young’s report of 1868 estimates the following :

-          Sandhurst: 3500 Chinese, none employed in European claims

-          Beechworth district: 7000 Chinese, 1 in 10 are working on European claims

-          Ballarat,: 800 Chinese, 20% working on European claims. This is further verified by Dicker’s  Mining Record which suggests that this involvement was “unskilled surface work”.

 It is therefore all the more remarkable, that within the mining community of Creswick, the early 1870s had seen the leasing of a major deep alluvial mine, The Grand Trunk Gold Mine (later the Key Company Gold Mine) to a consortia led by local Chinese business man Pin Que. Pin Que was to lease and operate the mine, meeting all the expenses – and including sourcing of labor, In return Pin Que’s consortia was to receive eighty-eight pound  of every one hundred pound of gold sold. This arrangement ran for several years, with the bulk of the workforce being Chinese miners, while shift and surface management in the hands of Europeans.

 In January of 1873, the Director’s of the Australasian mine entered into a similar agreement for partial leasing of their mine under tribute to Chinese business interests. The result was a significant increase the number of Chinese deep alluvial miners living in Creswick and a corresponding increase in community tension, as those European miners still in employment grew concerned about the security of their own livelihoods. This tension in turn gave rise to greater impetus for the establishment of unions and in the longer term to the establishment of the Australian Labor party. In fact Spence, recalling his youth working in the Creswick Mines recalls the growing community disquiet when it was realised that Chinese labor was being considered for more than just the Australasian and Grand Trunk Mines.

 By early 1873, 30-40% of Creswick’s gold output was obtained from mines wholly or partially operated by Chinese-led business consortia. It was this pool of available Chinese deep alluvial miners working in both the Key Company and Australasian mines which provided the Chinese workforce with which it was proposed to break the 19 week strike at the Lothair Mine at Clunes.

 Peter Lalor, the hero of Eureka and long standing member of parliament was a director of both the Australasian and Lothair mines at the time of the strike. Lalor was in a position to have first hand knowledge of the cost-effectiveness and efficiencies offered by a Chinese labor force under an appropriate commercial framework.

 Creswick was unique in having a Chinese community with the numbers, skills and commercial arrangements already in place to support large scale deep mining mining ventures. Unlike the Chinese at comparable gold fields, Creswick’s Chinese had one characteristic feared by the European miners – they were organised. Creswick’s Chinese community, thanks largely to the business acumen of Pin Que, was one of the first and few examples of large scale organised Chinese labor in the nation. Pin Que took the model he developed in Creswick, operating large mines under tribute with skilled Chinese labor, with him to the Northern Territory where he subsequently become on of the territory’s most successful mining entrepreneurs.

(Updated 28th November 2006)