Pearl River Journeys
Going to market, China [picture], John Henry Harvey, photographer, Thomas Allom, artist. 1 transparency : glass lantern slide. ca. 1900-1920.
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The journey to Australia usually began first by walking from your home village to a trading town, then travelling by junk along the river or the coast to an international shipping port.
If you came from one of the 'four counties' (See Yup) of Guangdong Province, as did the majority of Chinese to the Victorian goldfields, you probably started out your journey from your home village in the Tiashan, Xinhui, Kaiping or Enping counties.
You would have walked for some days (up to 170 kilometres) crossing the intersecting tributaries of the Pearl River Delta until you reached the outskirts of the sophisticated city of Guangzhou (Canton). At some point you would probably have journeyed by junk across rivers or coastal waters. Your eventual destination was a sea port such Hong Kong, an English managed island port founded in 1842, which was a short coastal journey from Guangzhou.
You may be travelling with family and village members who had also been recruited to go goldseeking with you. Unless you had enough money to pay for your own passage, you would be under a contractual obligation to an organising company who had purchased a ticket for you to sail to the goldfields, in the expectation of that debt being repayed with interest.
Once at a sea port you and your fellow travellers would wait in a shanty town for a British, American or Dutch passenger sailing ship to take you across the sea to Australia.
Here you might be exposed to opium use or gambling for the first time in your life.
Pictured here is a Chinese boat typical of the kind used for river journeys in Southern China in the 1850s-1870s.
With thanks to the Museum of Australian Democracy at Eureka's ‘Chinese Fortunes’ exhibition curator Cash Brown.