The first Chinese arrived at Kiandra in the middle of winter in June 1860 probably from Victoria. Chinese mostly arrived as part of group employment arrangements in well-organized groups to mine for gold. The population quickly increased in the following weeks and peaked at around 700, or about 20 per cent of the population of the area, in July and August 1860. These men came mainly from the goldfields in northern Victorian, around Beechworth, and from July 1860 from the goldfields in southeastern New South Wales, on the Shoalhaven. Numbers of individual Chinese also came to the area. These included storekeepers, butchers, bakers, tailors and doctors. These men plied their trades and professions throughout the Kiandra district from 1860 until 1916.
The Chinese population lived in small groups around the town and at different times, they established small camps at Chinaman’s Flat (several miles to the north of the main town), Jackass Flat (near New Chum Hill just north of the town), and at Pollock’s Gully. In early July 1860 there were complaints from the European diggers about the Chinese so in order to avoid conflict Commissioner Cloete moved the two nearest Chinese camps further from the town. The main Chinese camp was about one kilometre to the east of the township, and existed from mid-1860 until around the turn of the century. From then until 1916 the social and economic life of the remaining Chinese at Kiandra centred around a complex of buildings on the southern outskirts of the town, near Pollock’s gully.
In the harsh winter conditions at Kiandra very little mining could be done by anyone. Some Chinese found other steady employment transporting goods to Kiandra. In August 1860, the Celestial Transit Company engaged 50 Chinese to transport printing machinery to town. They carried 4400 pounds of equipment over 14 miles of snow covered broken country in ten hours.
Fueled by riots at Lambing Flat, anti-Chinese sentiment spilled over into Kiandra in August 1861. Europeans claimed that they had caught several Chinese clearing out Mr. Gee’s race in Pollock’s Gully and retaliated by burning some tents in the Chinese camp, terrorising the occupants and driving the Chinese away from Kiandra. Sub Commissioner Cooper persuaded the Europeans to draft a petition outlining their grievances rather than commit further violence which was subsequently sent to the government. The Chinese at Kiandra were then forbidden to camp on or near the township and were required to live and work within the confines of their own camp.
After peaking in about August 1860 Kiandra’s Chinese population began to decline. This drop was commensurate with declines across New South Wales and Victoria, falling from around 450 in 1861 to about 150 in 1872.
Accounts of Chinese at Kiandra, and of Kiandra itself, during this period are rare. In January and February 1872 a special correspondent for The Town and Country Journal undertook a tour of southern New South Wales that included Kiandra. The report shows the Chinese were a significant presence at Kiandra with about 150 Chinese compared to 80 Europeans and living in the township proper and describes Chinese New Year preparations, Kiandra’s Chinese temples and a gambling house.
Gold production at Kiandra continued to drop and, by the end of the 1880s the Chinese remaining at the camp about a kilometre to the east of the town began to abandon it. By the early 1890s the Chinese camp contained only a handful of men. A core of the remaining Chinese moved into buildings located on the southern outskirts of Kiandra in the later part of the nineteenth century. From there men like George Ah Chee, Henry (known as Harry) Ping Kee and Tom Kan (Fook Ying) became prominent businessmen in the Kiandra community. This was at a time when the town was almost at a standstill, with only about 200 to 300 people, of which the Chinese comprised possibly a third of the population. Photographs taken in Kiandra in the 1890s and early 1900s show many of the buildings to be in disrepair and in not much of a habitable state which may explain their sale to the Chinese.
The two stores of Tom Yan and George Ah Chee/Harry Ping Kee formed the social and economic centre for the remaining Chinese at Kiandra until 1916. In 1916 both stores were destroyed by fire, and a Chinese man named Jimmy Ah Doo died. The fire was not only a tragedy in terms of loss of human life, but it also represented the passing of an era at Kiandra. The last of the early Kiandra Chinese had lost their gathering place in the town. Tom Yan stayed in Kiandra with his family and continued to live and work there until his death on 27 October 1925, aged 80. He was the last of the native-born Chinese at Kiandra.
Sources used to compile this entry: Smith, Lindsay M., 'Cold hard cash: A study of the Chinese ethnicity in archaeology at Kiandra, New South Wales', MA thesis, Department of Archaeology and Anthropology, Australian National University, 1998; Carrington, D. L., 1959, The Gold Rushes of New South Wales 1851-74: a social history, M.A. Thesis, Australian National University, Canberra; Gregors, G., 1979, A Survey of the southern New South Wales Alpine Architecture 1840-1910, B.Sc. (Arch.) Honours thesis, University of Sydney; Hueneke, K., 1987, Kiandra to Kosciusko, Tabletop Press, Canberra; Perkins Papers, Cooma-Monaro Historical Society, National Library of Australia, and Tumut Historical Society; Preshaw, G. O., 1888, Banking Under Difficulties or Life on the Goldfields of Victoria, New South Wales & New Zealand, Edwards Dunlop & Co., Melbourne; Tait, A., 1977, Kiandra, the forgotten town: a study of a gold town, Extended Essay for M.A. University of Sydney; The Adelong Mining Journal, 31 August 1860; The Alpine Pioneer and Kiandra Advertiser, 21 September 1860; The Braidwood Observer and Miners’ Advocate, 27 June 1860, 11 August 1860; The Sydney Mail, 3 March 1888, 26 January 1889, 11 April 1891; The Sydney Morning Herald, 30 June 1860, 5 January 1871; The Town and Country Journal, 2 March 1872; The Yass Courier, 14 December 1860.
Prepared by: Lindsay M Smith, Australian National University
- Smith, Lindsay M, 'Cold hard cash: Preliminary archaeological investigations of Chinese people in Kiandra, New South Wales', in Kee Pookong, Ho Chooi-hon, Paul Macgregor & Gary Presland (ed.), Chinese in Oceania, Association for the Study of the Chinese and their Descendants in Australasia and the Pacific Islands; Chinese Museum; Centre for Asia-Pacific Studies, Victoria University of Technology, Melbourne, 2002, pp. 21-33. Details
- Smith, Lindsay M., The Chinese of Kiandra, New South Wales: A report to the Heritage Office of the New South Wales Department of Urban Development and Planning, October 1997. Details
- Smith, Lindsay M., 'Cold hard cash: A study of the Chinese ethnicity in archaeology at Kiandra, New South Wales', MA thesis, Department of Archaeology and Anthropology, Australian National University, 1998. Details
- Market gardeners in Kiandra
- c. 1860 - c. 1900
- Australia - New South Wales - Kiandra
Created: 20 July 2005, Last modified: 7 November 2005