Who Were They?
Cook in geological camp [Vic.], photograph, photographer unknown, ca. 1854-1862.Contributors
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Labourers, merchants, artisans and scribes: Chinese voyagers brought a range of experiences and skills.
Miners, carpenters, translators, entertainers, scholars, gardeners, butchers, cooks, doctors, herbalists and entrepreneurs were in their midst.
Southern Chinese villages in the 1850s-1870s were densely populated places with sophisticated divisions of labour. Someone described as a simple 'labourer' on arrival may have been trained in a variety of specialist trades which were then brought to the goldfields as transferable skills. The Chinese education system was an advanced one in the world at this time, though not all arrivals were literate. Some had basic literacy or knew only a few characters or numbers. They would employ scribes when they could for legal and communication purposes. Some voyagers were highly literate, educated people who voyaged out in the working teams, perhaps in the role of team leader or head man, some taking the important role of scribe.
Also making the journey were merchants or professional men who had hopes of exploiting new and promising business opportunities. To many merchants the chance to establish a business empire in the market-oriented economy of Victoria was very appealing.
They were a mix of ages, most in their twenties and thirties, but some were younger and some were in their sixties and seventies.