This a summary for a series of related posts. You can find individual posts here or linked below.
Also, this is a work in progress.
To start with, if you want some background on the Chinese in Tasmania, the best link I’ve found is to the The Companion to Tasmanian History, so read that, or if you want the short simple version:
In 1870 some Launceston businessmen decided to bring in Chinese labourers to work on the gold fields. They were never very numerous, about a thousand at the most, but then the population of the north-east was never very high. The Chinese made up most of the population during the mining boom. Prior to 1870, there were very few Chinese in Tasmania. The census of February 1870 puts the figure at 13. I have a list of those who arrived prior to 1870 that I’ve found so far.
The miners were mostly young working men from Guangdong (Canton), leaving a land devastated from war and rebellion for a land where they could make money through their work. They brought their religion with them, and built houses for their joss. Over time, the Chinese population declined and in 1930s,the caretaker of the final joss house in Weldborough arranged for its contents to be transferred to the care of the Launceston City Council. Thus, a museum exhibit that is also a functioning temple.
I’ve gathered notes about each of the temples, when it was used and descriptions. What I have is summarised below, with links to the individual entries with more information. You can find the individual posts under the category “Chinese Temples of Tasmania“. The main sources are the digitised newspapers on Trove and Tasmania’s Chinese Heritage: An Historical Record Of Chinese Sites In North East Tasmania. by Helen Vivian, 1985 (find it here), which is an survey of actual sites and interviews with former residents of the towns.
The first Joss-house or Chinese place of worship in this colony, was formally consecrated at mid-night on Monday.
The Mercury, 16 August 1872
By way of introduction it may be stated that Mr Jas Peters, of the firm of Peters, Barnard, and Co, primarily induced China-men to cross the Straits, and since the first contingent arrived, he has continued to treat them with great consideration and kindness, allotting for their use while in town, or until they obtained employment, a portion of his extensive promises in Patterson-street Peters, Barnard, and Co’s store has, in fact, been tho head-quarters of the Chinese, and here it is, in an otherwise unoccupied portion of the yard, that they have built their joss-house. Properly-speaking tho building itself is not exclusively a joss house, as it is occupied for various other purposes, the term applying strictly to an altar placed in a prominent position opposite the door.
The Mercury, 23 August 1872
The first article quoted above contains a description that includes:
In the centre of the upper part is the full length likeness of “a welly good man, who live tousand years ago and more.” He ascended to heaven, and his son sits at his left hand to assist him in blessing all the Chinese people. On the right hand of the deity or “welly good man” stands a bearded piratical looking character, said to be a disciple of the “welly good man,”
That’s referring to this image, or a variation. This picture is the from the top part of the main altar at the QVMAG (and it’s a copy of the picture which is in storage, as being on display isn’t good for pictures).
The Launceston joss house was located on the block bounded by Cameron, St John, Paterson & George Streets:
It was, however, soon discovered that the fire had broken out in a large wooden store, once the Chinese joss house, belonging to the property between Cameron and Patterson streets so long occupied by Peters and Co., afterwards by R. J. Sadler and Co., and purchased some seven months ago by Mr J. C. Genders, late of Adelaide
Launceston Examiner, 22 November 1881
The Genders’ building mentioned is now (2019) the Quest Savoy.
You can find more about the Launceston here, including fuller versions of the two articles quoted above. There’s no mention of it after 1872, except for comments regarding the former location (see bottom of other post). I presume the contents were moved to Lefroy.
1874 & 1877 to 1880s or 1900s
Lefroy was a gold town, it’s size fluctuating between a couple of hundred and a couple of thousand people over a short time. The first settlement of Nine Mile Springs was a short distance away, close to the Bridport Road. In 1874, there was a population of 300 persons on the diggings, including about 50 Chinese.
The European population has considerably diminished of late, but the Chinese seem to be as numerous as over. These pious Orientals have lately erected a neat little Joss-house, and have thus shown, according to their light, a good example to the more favored Christian inhabitants. The door of the little temple stands open to all, to barbarians as well as Celestials. Over the table or altar, is hung a beautifully colored painting in the highest style Chinese art, of some divinity with a horrible looking demon whispering into the right ear and a mild looking angel into the left. Immediately below are placed some exquisitely carved jade figures, and upon the table a lamp is kept constantly burning. From the verandah in front are suspended some of those pretty paper lanterns familiar to all, and which are lighted up at night. The sacrifice of poultry since the dedication to Buddha has been quite alarming, and the good wives at the Springs are now kept in a constant state of dread of nocturnal celestial visitants.
The Tasmanian, 24 October 1874
This sounds familiar: some divinity with a horrible looking demon whispering into the right ear and a mild looking angel into the left
Chasing the gold, or at least, the gold mines, the settlement moved. A second joss house was opened in 1877:
Since my last the Chinese have celebrated the opening of their new Joss House with great festivities, providing a grand dinner for all who chose to partake of the same–and I can assure you, a person would have thought that numbers who went had not eaten anything for a week. Amongst those who sat at the festive board were a goodly number of the fair sex; considering our small population. Both morning and night, nothing could be heard in little China town, but the report of fireworks, and of bankers at the fan tan shops, calling the winning numbers.
Launceston Examiner, 21 July 1877
The population seems to have peaked around 1880, then declined only to rise again at the end of the century. But as the European miners moved on, so presumably did the Chinese, leaving the gold fields for the tin mines. The last contemporary mention of the Joss and his house at Lefroy is a police report in 1883, but in an interview by Helen Vivian with Bill Gibbons (born 1899), he talks about going into the Joss House and later seeing it pulled down (see the longer post for extracts from interview), so it was in use until the 1900s (as in 1900-1909).
I wonder if the temple contents followed the Chinese population to Weldborough and the newly constructed temple there, while the building the remained at Lefroy continued in use for the small population remaining there and over time acquired new objects
1884 – 1933
Weldborough was a tining mining town established in the 1870s. Below is a news story about the opening of the joss house, a desciptive piece and then the transfer to Launceston. More informaiton, and picutres, are in the separate post.
New Joss House. — We have been interviewed by the high priest (about 5ft 6in) who is to officiate at the inauguration of the new Joss House at Thomas Plains on the 31st inst. The ceremony is to be of a most imposing, character, as the Mongolian dresses, emblems, banners, regalia, and fireworks are to be gorgeous, and the music — most ancient; from Pekin —-celestial. The ceremonies will occupy two days and nights, viz., Thursday and Friday next,’31st January and 1st February. We envy the inhabitants of Thomas’ Plains, who will have full opportunity of. witnessing the mysterious ceremonies on this occasion. The admission is free, and all are invited.
Daily Telegraph, 26 January 1884
CHINESE NEW YEAR FESTIVAL.
By A. R. Browne
Whilst up on Thomas Plains inspecting a mine, I took the opportunity of visiting the Chinese head-quarters at holiday time. It was Chinese New Year, and was celebrated by a week of merry-making, starting from January 31; besides, a new joss house had just been erected and was being inaugurated. The camp is in reality a town situated about a mile from Weldborough on the face of a gully surrounded on three side by dense forest. Entering from the east side and from the principal street, the ears are assailed by a noise similar to that produced by the clashing together of saucepans, kettles, and other articles, from the culinary regions.
The first thing that meets the eye is wooden shanties, Chinese lanterns, and last but not least, Chinese literally in swarms. The noise proceeded from the two first huts of the street, which proved to be the joss- houses or churches. The Chinese religion is a saint worship. The two josshouses are consecrated, the old one to the patron saint, and embodiment of bravery, a saint corresponding with the Sir Galahad of Saxon legendary, the new one to the saint of longevity and health; this saint has a hundred sons, each of whom has a hundred sons. The old josshouse is a room richly papered with dark red velvety hangings, opposite the door a table covered with cloth embroidered with gold, green, and purple silk, and garnished with pieces of silver and glass ; this was the altar, on it stood a small lamp extemporised out of a tumbler containing the oil with a bit of cork supporting the wick ; also several vases, some containing joss sticks, which when burnt emit the odour of pastilles others thin slips of wood with Chinese writing on them. The Chinese are a superstitious people, and when embarking in any new enterprise consult Joss by drawing a slip of wood on which they are told whether they shall have good or bad luck. Behind the table stands a screen carved out in peculiar gaudily coloured figures, on looking through or behind this, is seen the image of the Joss in relief with a small lamp suspended in front of it; around the walls are large ornamental pikes, fixed on stands. Now for the noise. It was produced by half-a-dozen Chinamen, one hammering on a large wooden drum, one on a small one, a third clashing a pair of enormous cymbals, whilst two or three more battered away on most unmusical gongs, with pieces of wood. There were several Chinese in the room smoking their pipes and talking. The whole scene was lighted up by his beautifully-wrought lanterns suspended from the ceiling, whilst outside the door hung two more, but of paper. The second house was but a repetition of the first, except that it contained a sort of banner shaped like a small round table, with a long, richly embroidered cloth on it. I was informed the noise was kept up for five days and nights to serve the double purpose of keeping the joss awake, and frightening the devil away.
Mercury, 16 February 1889
An unusual mission over the week-end resulted in a unique acquisition for the Queen Victoria Museum, Launceston. A relic of the days where there was a large Chinese population at. Weldborough was the ornate Joss House with its fittings, which originally cost about £3000. For several years it has brought welcome contributions to the hospital by way of donations from visitors. Negotiations were opened recently to transfer the joss house to Launceston, and over the week-end the Mayor (Alderman A. Hollingsworth), Messrs. Eric Scott, D. S. Jackson, Walter Hedge, and Chung Gon (leader of the Chinese community) travelled to Weldborough and in two trips by lorries transferred the joss house to Launceston. The joss house, which should prove an intensely interesting exhibit, has some valuable carvings, and should be a particularly welcome addition to the Museum from the educational and religious viewpoint.
Examiner, 18 December 1933
I’ve found very little about Garibaldi’s temple. I’ve included everything I have in the longer post. Due to a lack of information, it’s hard to pin down the dates of use, but, based on available information, c.1890 to 1920s seems likely.
Chinese Josshouse, Garibaldi
Weekly Courier, 21 May 1914
A large Chinese camp has lately been built at the Garibaldi about eight miles from here, which will probably shortly become the head-quarters of the Chinese in this district. The only thing required to make it so now is a Joss House, which will probably be obtained, either by building a new one, or the removal of the one at Weldboro’, unless our respected missionary Wong Poo, succeeds in converting the majority to Christianity, when probably instead of a Joss House, they will have a church.
The Mercury, 3 April 1886
The Chinese new year is just over and the Celestials, numbering about 600 in camp, have had a rare festival this year. I hear that about £400 was gathered for the occasion, which went towards a new joss house at the Garibaldi claim, an addition to joss house at Weldborough, and £100 for fireworks.
The Tasmanian, 23 February 1889
Leaving the one main street we go a few hundred yards to a separate building of larger dimensions. This is the josshouse. Hundreds of visitors are round about it and here, too, we find most of the Chinese congregated. Beautiful and costly lanterns are hung by the josshouse door. Round some lanterns are paper mandarins, etc. revolving on stately procession. Inside the building one is almost overcome with the strong incense and heated air from multitudes of burning tapers. Heavily decorated silks, etc. shut off most of the end view, where, perhaps, Joss himself has his abode for the time. Most of the decorations are very elaborate, and some are exceedingly beautiful.
The Mercury, 1 March 1912
This might be a photo of the Branxholm, or it might not. (From the QVMAG collection, QVM:1998:P:0004). Other than that, all I have is this paragraph and an oral history transcript from Tasmania’s Chinese Heritage: An Historical Record Of Chinese Sites In North East Tasmania by Helen Vivian (pp. 56 & 152-4).
Erected in 1906, the building, which was weatherboard with corrugated iron roof, wooden floor and lined with lap jointed baltic pine, was dismantled in 1928-1929 by Mr G. Watt and incorporated into his house at Branxholm. Prior to the building of the Joss House ceremonies were held in a house in the vicinity. A group of Chinese, led by Ah May, pooled resources and built the Joss House in a few days. Mostly local materials were used but some were ordered from Scottsdale. The location was chosen because it was close to a number of nearby mining huts and was on route from Branxholm to Ruby Flat.
Oral History Interview with Tasman Kincade
Also they had a small Joss House at Branxholm. Only a small one. The main Joss House was at Weldborough. They had a small Joss House at Branxholm. The building was pulled down. A chap bought the building and pulled it down and built it into a house which still stands. And they took all the interior fittings and the gods and everything out of it. They went to the one in Weldborough which is now in the Museum in Launceston.
HV: Do you remember when the Joss House was pulled down?
TK: George Watt pulled them down and he came there in 1929 or 30. George Watt shifted it from Gladstone and he bought the place there at Branxholm and he pulled this down and built part of a room onto it. It was a room about 10 x 12. Something like that.
HV: Just going back to this Joss House. Do you remember seeing this Joss House?
TK: I was in it.
HV: How often?
TK: I’d be about 8 or 9. Ten perhaps. I went up there once and they had a New Year festivity at this Joss House and I went up and ate some of the food. They had terrific cooks you know the Chinamen.
HV: Can you describe the Joss House?
TK: Well it was just a building. In the back of it were a whole lot of festoons. There were gods and coloured papers. A lot of hangings and little pictures. Always on the alter part of it. It has a double door opening like that in it. Narrow doors. As you went in there was a light which they kept continually burning on this alter. That I can remember pretty well. They had crackers there and all this sort of thing was in it. It would be in the Museum one now. Also we used to go as kids. Billy Ah Moy would take us up to their place for their Christmas festivities, which was a New Year. They had no god as we know it but they had their own form of worship, but not the gods as we know. Not our form of worship. They took us up and we used to have some terrific feeds that they would put on. Down at the back at the place we lived in at Branxholm, was an old Chinese cooking oven where they would roast a full pig. I wonder if it is still there?
The Joss House was built upon pegs. They didn’t dig a foundation out. It was built up on pegs. Just on stumps. They didn’t build anything really permanent, although a lot of them were there for a long time.
HV: Did it have a wooden floor?
TK: All wooden. Weatherboard sides. Iron roof.
HV: Not split palings?
TK: No. There was iron on the roof.
HV: Would there have been very much stuff inside, or just a few things?
TK: It was literally filled. You would walk in and it was all around you. 154.
HV: Do you remember the door way as you walked in, were there Chinese characters down the side?
TK: As it opened up?
TK: I wish I had a picture of it. I know there was a lot of Chinese characters about. I would say they were on the door. I don’t think there was any on the outside. As I can remember, I don’t think there was a verandah on it. The one at Weldborough had a verandah on it and the Chinese characters were in that. On the door as it opened, they’d be down each side of the verandah. I can remember they had a lot of it about. They were always displaying their signs and everything pretty well.
HV: That Joss House was there until about 1929?
TK: Well say about 1929 or 30.
HV: That’s fantastic. That’s why the people really haven’t heard about that one.
TK: It was only a small one. It was only a subsidiary of the big Joss House. They always gathered at Weldborough for the big celebrations.
That is the end. Any additions, corrections, speculation or more information is welcome!
To finish off, a random picture from the Weekly Courier
A Celestial’s Home, South Mt. Cameron, North-Eastern Tasmania, Weekly Courier 18 February 1905