The Chinese and the diggers at the Rocky River [letter to the editor, 3 August 1861]

[Editor: A letter from a miner, regarding problems between European and Chinese miners at the Rocky River goldfield. Published in The Maitland Mercury and Hunter River General Advertiser, 3 August 1861.]

The Chinese and the diggers at the Rocky River.

To the Editors of the Maitland Mercury.

Gentlemen — As you have copied a correspondence from the S. M. Herald respecting the Chinese and the diggers at the Rocky River, I most respectfully submit that an opportunity should also be allowed for the abused digger to be heard. In the whole of the article in question there is a broad departure from the truth, and a systematic distortion of what really took place.

The petition alluded to was adopted by the miners for the following reasons: On this gold-field the Chinese already are in a majority or three to one European; and when those 1400 Chinese arrived in Sydney in one day, a general impression prevailed that a large number would be added to that majority. That we had good grounds for this supposition must be evident, when I inform you that a number of those Chinese were brought to Sydney by a Celestial, whose brother keeps a Chinese store on these diggings; and, also, the said Celestial, some months since, left the Rocky for the express purpose of proceeding to China, and importing to Australia more Chinese.

Now what were we to do under these circumstances, which are plain facts, distort them as interested writers may? Would it do for us to wait and see ourselves one European to ten Chinese? I should say no; three to one is just three times more than we care to have.

We, therefore, knowing that the Commissioner had received such discretionary power as enabled him to separate the races, requested him to use that power; not, as the Herald’s correspondent insinuates, to turn the Chinese out of their claims, but really and nothing more than to restrict all Chinese henceforth arriving on this gold-field to such portions of it as may seem advisable, in order to prevent a collision between the races.

Under what master the correspondent studied English, I know not, but he certainly must twist our petition out of its real form to construe any part of it into a threat in inuendo. I suppose he did that to enable him to use the “soft sawder” to our commissioners which he so delicately laid on.

As to the correspondent’s slanders respecting our want of industry, perseverance, and sobriety, which he says John possesses, I would merely state that on this gold-field there is as industrious, enterprising, and sober a community as any part of New South Wales can show. For instance, the mining here has generally entailed much labour and expense from the very heavy nature of the sinking.

Now, I should like to ask what proportion of deep shafts have been sunk by Chinamen? — but a very small one, not more than one in a hundred. Again, water-races have been brought in miles, at much expense and labour — by whom? Why, Europeans. There are several large tunnels at work on this gold-field, and others are also starting — all by Europeans. A party of Chinese did start one, but in one month jibbed.

The occupation of a very large proportion is to prowl about and wash “headings,” the result of European labour, and “tailings” after Europeans’ washing. In a majority of cases the headings and tailings have not been abandoned, but have been left to accumulate until there was a sufficient quantity to make it worth the labour to wash them; but it very often happens that they are removed, and all the European can see is the mark where some Chinaman had set his cradle and his heap of tailings. It is just as much a robbery as it would be for a thief to dig a farmer’s potatoes while small; the farmer of course thinking it more profitable to let them grow large, but it would pay the thief, who was at no other expense than simply digging them up. This is one reason of assaults on the Chinese; men have been exasperated at their repeated losses, and at last have thrashed the thief.

Again, if we are on the verge of starvation, how could we be drunken, where would the means come from? With regard to John always having a sovereign, the fact is the principal part of the gold obtained by Chinamen here has been brought to the surface by European labour; and further, the gold would have been extracted by Europeans, did not the Chinese forestal them. Hence they never develop a gold-field, nor yet do they obtain gold which would otherwise have been lost.

As to selling stuff of no value. It is a mere trade speculation; and any practical miner knows how very speculative a purchase a claim, or washing stuff, is. However, “John” generally tries stuff well before he bids. A Chinaman last year bought a claim for £40, which realized to the Boss between £500 and £600; and on Sydney Flat the other day a heap of headings was sold to a Chinaman for 25s., which, in two days washing, realized a 5 ozs. 16 dwts., or nearly £22; another heap, for which a Chinaman paid 6s., realized 2 ozs. in one day’s washing, with three days similar to it. These are not general misstatements, but a few known facts. Now, if they (the Chinese) were so persevering, how is it they purchase washing-stuff of little value, the refuse of the cradle after washing, which, owing to the fine character of the gold obtained here, will always pay for re-washing?

Their perseverance is thus: a Boss has a number of these poor wretches bound to him by some agreement, and if they can only clear him 1 dwt. of gold per day each, he can afford to ride about on horseback, and be quite the Mandarin; and as their food costs but little, the aggregate earnings is a very nice sum for their Boss, who takes care to keep them at it early and late; in fact, a “legalised slavery in free Australia.”

In the Weekly Empire of the 19th instant, there appears a correspondence from Hongkong, and as the writer is placed in a better position for knowing what kind of Chinese is deported thence for Australia than even the Herald’s Rocky correspondent, we must place faith in his statement when he says: “The Chinese immigrants you get are like the population of Hongkong — the scum of China.” “Again, your Government could consistently refuse to allow all the vagabonds in China to visit your shores.”

Yet, listen, oh gold digger, hear it, ye British born; these are the men whom the Herald’s Rocky correspondent wants us to imitate; and to what depths of depravity must he imagine us to have sunk, when “the scum of China” is mentioned as our superiors. But enough of such misrepresentations — suffice it to say, there are as loyal law abiding men on the Rocky as in any part of her most gracious Majesty’s dominions; and if we have a grievance we have a right to state that grievance, and ask for it to be removed by those who have the power to do so, so long as we do it with that respect to the powers that be, which has always been shown on the Rocky. Much more could be said, but as I fear I have already transgressed on your valuable space,

I have the honour to be, your obedient servant,

Rocky River, July 26, 1861.

P.S. — I forgot to mention that the petition referred to was adopted at a public meeting, held on the 27th June, so that the correspondent’s insinuations of our following or acting in collusion with the rioters at Lambing Flat falls to the ground.

The Maitland Mercury and Hunter River General Advertiser (Maitland, NSW), 3 August 1861, p. 2

Editor’s notes:
dwt. = an abbreviation of “pennyweight” (a unit of mass that is equal to 24 grains, 1/20 of a troy ounce, and 1/240 of a troy pound; although there were some variations in historical measurements); the abbreviation “dwt.” is comprised of “d.”, the abbreviation for “penny” (a reference to the small silver Roman coins; singular “denarius”, plural “denarii”), and “wt.” (“weight”)

forestal = an archaic spelling of “forestall”

Herald = in the context of Sydney, New South Wales: The Sydney Morning Herald newspaper

Hongkong = an alternative spelling of “Hong Kong” (also rendered as “Hong-Kong”)

inuendo = an alternative spelling of “innuendo”

jibbed = to be reluctant or unwilling to do something; to balk at carrying on an action; to stop work, to refuse to go on

John = slang for a Chinese man, as in “John Chinaman” or “Johnny Chinaman”

Mandarin = a senior public servant in the Chinese Empire; someone with a position of power and influence; a very powerful or influential public servant; someone who acts with characteristics attributed to Mandarins (autocratic, reactionary, secretive)

oz. = an abbreviation of “ounce” (a unit of mass that is equal to 480 grains; although there were some variations in historical measurements)

P.S. = an abbreviation of “postscript” (the abbreviation “P.S.” is commonly placed before any extra text which has been added to the end of an already-completed letter, i.e. added after the writer’s signature; it may be placed before any extra text added, as an after-thought, to any other body of writing)

S. M. Herald = in the context of Sydney, New South Wales: The Sydney Morning Herald newspaper

soft sawder = compliments, flattery; cajoling (may be used as simply “sawder”, although the term “soft sawder” was common)

water-race = a channel of water, especially a watercourse used for industrial purposes

[Editor: Corrected “know how” to “knows how”; “one days’ washing” to “one day’s washing”; “re-washing.” to “re-washing?”.]

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