The gold rush in Victoria attracted immigrants hoping to make a fortune from all over the world, including ten of thousands of Chinese. This isn’t that story, because it’s written about in many other places (but you can start here if you’re interested.) The Victorian government was keen on these migrants with their weird habits and alliance to a foreign emperor, so in 1855 they brought in a tax of £10 per new arrival from China. Ships masters, not keen to eat into their profits, starting dropping their passengers in Sydney and Adelaide, and leaving them to find their own way to Melbourne. This isn’t that story either.
No, this is about an American who had a different idea.
CELESTIAL VISITORS.–The streets of Launceston were enlivened yesterday by groups of Chinamen who have arrived here in the Louisiana, and are on their way to Melbourne. They were generally dressed in the costume of their country, though one or two wore trowsers of a more civilised sort. They are mostly young men, and are under the guidance of a sort of chief, who determines their disputes. This worthy might be seen yesterday bearing aloft a blue calico umbrella. One of the party, however, carried a fan, and from his self-satisfied air and carefully arranged dress, he was doubtless a Chinese dandy.
The Courier, 8 December 1856
The Courier got a small, but important detail wrong.
Great dismay was caused amongst the Chinese on board the Louisiana on Monday by the announcement on the part of the master of the vessel that he proposed to leave a portion of their number at this port, and that therefore they must leave the ship, as he would supply them with rations no longer. The reason for this was said to be that the ship was under engagement to land the Chinese in Australia, and Tasmania being one of the Australian colonies, the master held that the contract on his part was complete.
Launceston Examiner, 18 December 1856
Yesterday (Tuesday) morning a deputation of ten Chinamen from the “Louisiana” waited on the police magistrate, with Er Ing, their interpreter, to complain of a breach of contract on the part of the master of the barque “Louisiana,” who, according to a printed agreement produced, signed by Y. J. Murrow, owner and agent of the “Louisiana,” was bound to convey them to Port Phillip, or if the barque remained at any other port, they were to be conveyed to Port Phillip by a steam vessel, otherwise the master was to refund double passage money.
Soon after this Captain Gardner arrived at the police office, bearing another printed agreement, signed also by Y. J. Murrow, undertaking to land the passengers in “Australia,” and he contends that this is a port in Australia ; there was nothing about Port Phillip in the agreement he produced, but he states that fourteen of his passengers did pay their passage to that port, that two of them died on the voyage from Hong Kong, and that the agreement produced by Er Ing is one belonging to one of the deceased men. Captain Gardner, therefore, wishes to turn the one hundred and seven celestials adrift here. The case is to come on for hearing at 10 o’clock today, when we trust if many of the followers of Confucius are to be examined on oath, the police magistrate will have a good supply of saucers at hand. The profit on the oaths of the celestials will be but trifling unless they are charged for the broken saucers, in addition to the usual shilling for performing that ceremony on the Bible. -Cornwall Chronicle.
Colonial Times, 19 December 1856
A CARGO OF CELESTIALS.— Launceston has been visited this week by a large number of Chinese, who arrived on Saturday last, in the Louisiana, from Hong Kong, which is now laying at our wharf. The men have been hawking fans, knives, pictures, &c., which have realised good prices, and some of them had indecent pictures for sale. They will leave here in a few days for Melbourne.
People’s Advocate, 11 December 1856
Of course, whenever you have “indecent pictures” you have people writing letters to the editor to complain about obscenities.
Since the arrival of the barque Louisiana with her living cargo of “Celestials” as they call themselves, but who I think deserve rather the appellation of ‘Infernals,’ the streets have exhibited them in the capacity of Hawkers, vending the productions of their country; silks–shawls–fans–feathers,— &c. &c. There does not appear to be a probability of the inhabitants of this town sacrificing these said celestials interest, by tricking or cheating them of then goods, they are wide-awake and evidently know well the value of money. But I have felt not a little astonished at the unconcern of our shopkeepers, who must be losers by the trafficof these gentry. … I am little concerned about the sale of silks and satin … but. Sir, I desire to record my strongest feelings of indignation at the temerity and impudence of these foreigners, for exposing to the notice of passengers in the streets, and of the inmates of dwellings, into which they insolently force themselves— the most obscene and brutal and disgustingly offensive prints and paintings which can be conceived by the most depraved even of their own country. Does our law tolerate, and do our conserves [?] the peace permit, in these miserable and [?] pagans and idolaters, the dissemination [?] the disgusting obscenity at which manhood [?] ? God forbid ; yet if so humiliating and [?] should pass unnoticed by the public authorities, I dare hope that the great majority of the inhabitants of Launceston will at once exercise their undoubted right to vindicate the respectability, and protect the moral feelings of the community at large. [?] all vice that of obscenity is the most degrading, the wretched creature who indulges in obscene language, practices, and habits, dishonour the mother who bore him and outrages the susceptibilities of the female sex. In mercy to the moral reputation of our police magistrate, I will believe that he is in ignorance of the facts to which I refer.
Cornwall Chronicle, 13 December 1856
(I can’t help thinking that the “great majority of the inhabitants of Launceston” were wondering how they could get more.)
A gentleman who had occasion to visit the Chinese barque, entrusted his horse to the care of a Chinaman, who was induced by the bystanders to get upon the animal’s back, nod regale his countrymen with a Chinese parody of the celebrated ride of John Gilpin. Tho animal, frightened by the novelty of such a jockey, or flattered by having a celestial on his back, started off, his speed being still further quickened by the strange yelling of his rider’s countrymen. The jockeyship of the Chinaman was amusing enough ; his eastern dress, inflated with air, giving him the appearance of a balloon on horseback, whilst his pigtail streamed behind in the breeze. He soon lost his heelless shoes, but held on manfully by the horse’s mane, until at last the animal was brought up by Mr. Edwards’s house, at the imminent hazard of sending n his rider over his head.
Launceston Examiner, 18 December 1856
Among the authorities, steps were being taken to get the reluctant residents to their preferred destination.
The Louisiana.-The Chinese Consul at Melbourne, Ataw, accompanied by his Aide-de-Camp Akair, arrived here by the Black Swan, on Sunday, with a view to arrange with Captain Gardner to land his passengers at Guichen Bay, where guides will be in attendance to pilot them to the diggings. Captain Gardner was at Hobart Town on business but was expected back yesterday.
Courier, 1 January 1857
The mate and crew [of the Louisiana] appeared at the Police-office yesterday morning, before the Police Magistrate and Captain Drew, the Harbor-master, to request advice how they were to act. Th mate said that Captain Gardner had left the ship on his return from Melbourne, taking with him his chronometer, clothing, and all his property ; and also, the ship’s articles and papers, stating that he was going to consult the American consul at Hobart Town, and get advice, as to how he ought to act in the dilemma he found himself. The mate had not heard from Captain Gardner since Christmas, and it had been stated, that he had left Hobart Town and gone in Manilla.
Cornwall Chronicle, 7 January 1857
The Chinese by the ‘Louisiana.’— The Celestials have at last cut the gordian knot respecting their destination, by paying their own fares in the schooners ‘Vixen’ and ‘Tamar,’ to Guichen Bay, from whence they can reach the Victoria diggings overland. The ‘Vixen’ was cleared out yesterday, and the ‘Tamar’ will be ready for sea to-day. The ‘Mercury’ will take their baggage direct to Melbourne, from whence it will be forwarded to meet them at the diggings.
Cornwall Chronicle, 14 January 1857
The town of Robe, on Guichen Bay, was where ships started dropping their Chinese passengers. On the eastern edge of South Australia, new arrivals only had a 500 km walk through the bush ahead of them before they reached the diggins, carrying their belongings. Following the footsteps of Chinese prospectors from Robe to Bendigo. And if you’re interested, there’s a story about the lone woman who made the trip.
And as for the crew of the Louisiana:
The Louisiana Again. — The crew of this barque having demanded their discharge from this vessel, on the ground that she was unseaworthy, as her bends were worm-eaten, her counter rotten, and her rigging worn out, Mr. M’Pherson (the American Consul) came up from Hobart Town, with Mr. Tonkin, to hold a survey on the Louisiana, and yesterday the police magistrate, in the presence of Mr. M’Pherson, Captain Gardner, Mr. Fisher, and three of the crew of the vessel, made known the result, which was : that the worms had touched the vessel’s bends, but so slightly as not in any way to affect her safety, that from the dryness of her transoms it was evident her counter could not be very rotten,— that the rigging though weather-worn was sufficiently good, when repaired, for the voyage back to Hong Kong; that a main topsail and other sails were required, and some slight repairs to the boats, when the vessel would be perfectly seaworthy for such a voyage. The report of survey was signed by Mr. Henry Tonkin, of Hobart Town, and Mr. E P Tregurtha. of Launceston, Marine Surveyors. The Police Magistrate explained to the men that he had no power to break the ship’s articles, and if he had he was still without power to recover their wages for them. He considered they had acted in a very improper manner in refusing to work, and if they did not go to work at once, obey orders, and proceed on the voyage to Hobart Town, he would sentence them to imprisonment until the vessel was ready to leave, when, if the captain applied for them, they would he released to go on board. Mr. M’Pherson, as American Consul, said the cargo was very much damaged in consequence of the crew’s refusal to work, and they certainly deserved severe punishment. The men left the office grumbling, and apparently in a very discontented frame of mind.
Cornwall Chronicle, 4 February 1857
P.S. This wasn’t the first time a ship’s captain decided he’d rather drop his Chinese passengers in Launceston. Two years earlier the captain of a Dutch schooner tried the same thing, but that was a smaller story.
MAGISTRATE IN A FIX.—At the police office on Saturday last, thirteen emigrants from the celestial empire, arrayed in apparel peculiar to their country, and headed by Ahong the watchmaker, of Wellington-street, who assumed the character of interpreter for his less-learned countrymen; applied to the police magistrate under the following circumstances:–They stated that they had emigrated in the Dutch schooner Melvine, under the agreement that the captain should land them in Melbourne from Canton for the sum of seventy dollars. The captain had received the passage money and brought them here, but refused to pay for their transmission across the Straits. This was the cause of complaint, and in substantiation of their claim, to amazement of the police magistrate, they placed in hand an agreement written in the Dutch language, and bespattered with Chinese hieroglyphics. Mr. Gunn said it was too much to expect a police magistrate to understand the Dutch and Chinese languages, and handed the document to Dr. Casey, who happened to be sitting on the bench at the time The doctor may have seen some “enigmatical prescriptions” during his professional career, but the one now placed before him appeared to mystical for him to decipher. The police bench declined to interfere in the matter.
Cornwall Chronicle, 22 June 1854
Header image: Flemington Melbourne, by Samuel Brees, State Library of Victoria