Chinese Camp - Creswick

Chinese Camp - Creswick

Chinese Camp at Creswick

Title: Chinese Camp, Creswick (1855)

Artist: Horace Burkitt, born in England in 1836; emigrated to Port Phillip (Melbourne) in 1852 at the age of seventeen and worked as a public servant in various Victorian towns, pursuing his hobby of landscape painting in the surrounding districts. In 1855 he was stationed in Melbourne with the Harbour Department but evidently made a visit to the Ballarat goldfields at that time.

Date: 1988 reproduced by the National Australia Bank of the 1855 original in the Creswick Historical Museum, Victoria

Dimensions: 253mm x 217 mm x 1mm

Material: Ink on paper, polymer coating

Provenance: Page from the 1988 National Australia Bank Calendar, Australia

Description: Watercolour painting of grey and orange tones, three men appear in the foreground, a camp consisting of several house like buildings with distinguishable Chinese architecture, with four red flags in the background.

This object represents the incredible migration influx in the state of Victoria as a result of the 1851 discovery of gold. Set in the gold-field settlement of Creswick in 1855 the watercolour depicts the distinct exotic architectural elements of the Chinese camp including; the pitched roofs with carved centre-boards, strong-coloured banners and pennants, and gong house, an extraordinary achievement being in a foreign land. The text clippings accompanying the image describe the immigration boom of the time, with an emphasis on the high number of Chinese migrants. It explains the way in which cultural clashes erupted in 1855 as a result of the private way in which Chinese migrants lived in their camp. The hostilities against the Chinese lead to discriminatory legislation, intended to restrict them from migrating to the colonies.  

The text also provides biographical information on the artist Horace Burkitt, his arrival and work in Victoria.

Significance: This object illustrates the migration boom of the mid 19th century which transformed Australian communities into multicultural towns and cities. The cultural clashes between European and Chinese communities had a lasting impact on Australian society resulting in the discriminatory Immigration Restriction Act of 1901 known as the 'White Australia Policy' which effectively prohibited Asian migration to Australia until the 1970s. It provides evidence of the creation of various cultural communities within Australia and the way in which historical perspectives shaped migration and the fundamental reasons for which migration occurs.

Text Transcription: The first gold was discovered in Victoria in 1851, and in the following ten years the colony's population increased from 77,000 to 540,000. The composition of the influx was no less remarkable than its size, prompting one traveller's claim that 'we have a representative of nearly all the nations on the face of the globe'. The various national communities frequently stuck together and formed themselves into segregated settlements and Ballarat, for example, had sizeable Cornish, Irish and German towns. But the most distinctive of them all was always the Chinatown.

For the more than 25,000 Chinese men (and five Chinese women) who emigrated to the goldfields between 1854 and 1857, Victoria was Dai Gum San, the New Gold Mountain. In their appearance, dress, language and customs they stood out from their fellow diggers and then when they built their settlements, temples, clubs, tea shops and theatres were included, to provide the focus for their lively and self-sufficient society. The architecture itself was, as much as possible in a frontier land far from their homeland where they had no access to traditional craftsmen and materials, a re-creation of those forms and structures with which they were familiar.

In Burkitt's picture the characteristic steep pitched roofs with carved centre-boards, the strong-coloured banners and pennants and the gong house all mark this settlement's exotic non-European origins. Even the painter's style seems to have been affected by the Chinese watercolour tradition, though it is unlikely to have been a studied intention.

The French Antoine Fauchery praised their industry and noted that in 'their working relations they live in perfect agreement with their neighbours, to whatever nation the latter may belong. After their day's work they go back to their camp, where the thickest of veils hides their private lives'. It was not by any means an opinion shared by many of the diggers, and in the year this picture was painted bitter fighting had broken out in Creswick when a party of diggers jumped Chinese claim. The alienation of the Chinese was reinforced by discriminatory legislation and law enforcement.

(Arthur) Horace Burkitt was born in England in 1836; he emigrated to Port Phillip in 1852 at the age of seventeen and worked as a public servant in various Victorian towns, pursuing his hobby of landscape painting in the surrounding districts. In 1855 he was stationed in Melbourne with the Harbour Department but evidently made a visit to the Ballarat goldfields at that time.

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