Landing Chinese at Cooktown
Title: Chinese Landing at Cooktown, Queensland Engraving
Date: Monday May 17th 1875
Dimensions: 370mm x 271mm x 1mm
Material: Ink on paper
Provenance: The Melbourne Sketcher Newspaper
Description: This object contains an image engraved on the right and text on the left. The black and white/yellow engraving depicts the scene of the Chinese Landing at Cooktown. The majority of the figures are depicted as Chinese with the traditional Chinese long braid hairstyle; they are seen onshore and disembarking from small vessels, in the water carrying their belonging. Men of European appearance are seen commanding the vessels and their passengers. On the left of the object is a detailed description of the scene and commentary of contemporary migration.
This object depicts a scene from the 1875 Chinese Landing at Cooktown, Queensland, as recorded by an unnamed Victorian resident writing from Cooktown. Set in the Palmer River, the image represents the 820 Chinese passengers of the Singapore and Adria steamer vessels which arrived on a Saturday from Hong Kong. The vessels lay out 2 miles from shore, the passengers and their luggage were bundled in the water and left to wade ashore. The imagery depicts the harsh treatment of the Chinese passengers at the hands of the seamen onboard. The text on the left describes the scene in great detail, providing insight into the event itself and the rise of anti-Chinese sentiment throughout the late 19th century. It describes the personality traits possessed by Chinese migrants of which European migrants were envious and ultimately felt threatened by; patience, plodding (worked laboriously) perseverance and frugality which resulted in greater earnings saved by Chinese migrants.
Significance: This object illustrates the discriminatory treatment of Chinese migrants arriving in Australia in the late 19th century. Harsh and discriminatory treatment of asiatic immigrants in gold-fields across Australia was wide spread throughout the migration boom as a result of the gold rush of the late 19th century. The detailed text provides insight into the evolution of anti-Chinese and anti-Asiatic sentiment which ultimately resulted in restrictive immigration policy which governed Australian migration for most of a century.
Text transcript: Landing Chinese at Cooktown, Queensland
Melbourne, Monday, May 17, 1875.
Landing Chinese at Cooktown.
The engraving represents a scene which recently occurred at a Northern Queensland port, on the occasion of two steamers arriving with a large number of Chinese on board. The remarkable feature of the scene is the harsh treatment to which the Chinese immigrants are being subjected at the hands of the seamen in the boats. The number of Chinese in the several Australian colonies is large and always increasing, but the European population far from being reconciled to their presence, and from time to time the ill-will existing between the two races breaks out into open hostilities. One objection to the Chinese as colonists is that they come here merely as sojourners for a time, with a determination to return to their own country as soon as they have got enough to establish themselves comfortably at home. Another objection is temporary residence by their wives and country-women, their camps invariably become centres of a system of demoralisation which is a hideous danger to the community. There is also the feeling of jealousy on the part of the working classes. The Chinese are patient, plodding, persevering, able to subsist on little, and often succeed in getting livelihood and saving money where a European would starve. These being the circumstances and characteristics of the Chinese in Australia, it is hardly a matter of wonder that a hostile feeling should manifest itself when a celestial influx occurs at a gold-field. During the last months meetings have been held in various parts of Queensland, calling upon the Government to adopt a means for checking the Chinese influx. It is this anti-Chinese sentiment which is depicted in our engraving. The scene is in Cooktown, on the Palmer River, and the port of landing for those seeking to reach the Palmer River diggings. An old resident of Victoria, writing from Cooktown thus describes the scene : -On Saturday two northern steamers came into this port-the Singapore and the Adria-and within twenty four hours landed 820 Chinamen from Hong Kong. The excitement was intense, and the landing of them was still more so, as they were landed in small boats-the steamer lying out about two miles. Both Chinamen and their luggage were bundled out into the water, and left to wade ashore as best they could. They were to be pitied, but the old salts did not show the slightest compassion, notwithstanding that they brought them.