«THE ERRATIC COMMUNICATION BETWEEN AUSTRALIA AND CHINA -By Eric Rolls NORTHERN TERRITORY LIBRARY SERVICE Darwin 1990 Cataloguing in Publication data ...»
The quality of the opium was not all it ought to have been either. The British Board of Trade wrote to the directors of the East India Company saying, 'the adulterated state of the drug has attracted attention and caused the system to be questioned'. The directors were outraged.
They replied, The indifferent quality of the drug is immaterial to the Company. We draw a large annual revenue from the monopoly...
Though the commodity is sophisticated and something else passed off upon them as opium under the name of opium, there is not any harm done to them'.
The Board of Trade responded primly, 'We bring the case to our own feelings by o b s e ~ n g that if a wine merchant were to mix elder juice or other trash...
with Port or Bordeaux wine and to pass off the composition
-- as wine we should on detection reprobate the fraud and not admit his attempting to just@ his conduct by saying there was not any harm done to the consumers'.
So the unwilling company instructed its agents. 'Never upon any account whatever to mix oil, cowdung, grass, sand, or any other extraneous substance with the drug after it comes into their hands'.
The Emperor, Qian Long, issued an edict prohibiting the use of opium.
I t is 'a subject of deep regret' he wrote, 'that the vile diet of foreign countries should be received in exchange for the commodities and money of the Empire.' Sales increased. One mandarin brought opium smokers before him and slit their lips so they could not draw on their pipes.
Sales increased to about 40 000 cases a year. Then, on 12 December 1838, dramatically, insulting and officially, with a retinue big enough to attract maximum attention, the Chinese vented their frustration on a native opium dealer. They strangled him in front of the British trading house. A new Viceroy, Lin, followed up by demanding that the British hand over all the opium in port, over 20 000 cases. He made obeisances and offerings to the Goddess of the Southern Sea, asked her to move a l her creatures out of the water he was about to foul, then he l employed hundreds of workmen to break up the balls of opium in a mixture of lime, salt and water, and trample them into a slurry that he washed into the sea.
The British Government was unjustifiably outraged. For two years British ships patrolled China's coastline, blockading, looting, raping, destroying. They attacked Shanghai, occupied it, then moved up the Yangtze Kiang to the beautiful and ancient city of Nanjing. The Chinese Government capitulated. The Emperor's agent signed the Treaty of Nanking on 29 August 1842. China agreed to open the ports of Guanzhou, Fujhou, Xiamen, Ningbo and Shanghai to unrestricted trade, to cede the island of Hong Kong, and to pay twenty-one million dollars in reparation for loss of trade and destruction of opium. It amounted to armed robbery. In the British House of Commons William Gladstone declared, 'A war more unjust in its origin, a war more calculated to cover this country with permanent disgrace, I do-no& knowT.
Among the special collections a t the University of Hong Kong, I found a startling notice in Dixson's Hong Kong Recorder of 19 July 1858. The J previous owner of Hong Kong advertised at great length that neither the Chinese nor the British Governments had consulted him when his land was handed over. Tung Wing Fook Tong, of Sunon district, was s formerly sole proprietor of the island of Hong Kong and of the hills and coast on the north side of the harbour under the general name of Tsim Shar-Choy'. He had trouble not only with governments, but with rascally Chinese who had seized his mainland holding as well as with his wife who was acting as though she had been the owner. He concluded, Tung Wing Fook Tong hopes that the Foreigners will not take a biased view of this matter'.
Australia, too, found commodities that interested the Chinese and for which there was a respectable market. Apart from trepang, hundreds of thousands of seal skins found ready sale, then, after the fur seal had been taken almost out of existence, sandalwood from northern Australia and Western Australia supplied another eager market. Australia's first Chinese probably came out as sailors on these trading ships.
In 1821 three Chinese, a servant, carpenter and a cook, worked for the Macarthur family on Elizabeth Farm,Parramatta. In 1827 two unnamed carpenters had their own business in Sydney. Another carpenter set up g in Adelaide in the 1830s. By the mid 1840s Chinese were a common sight in the streets of Sydney, along with Malays, French, Americans, Germans, Scots, Irish, English, New Zealand Maoris, ex-convict Negroes. Sydney was as cosmopolitan in the 1840s as it is now.
But it was not until the late 1840s that any number of Chinese began coming to Australia. Between 1849 and 1852 more than two thousand coolies, most of them from Fukien Province, were brought in as farm labourers and shepherds. I t was not a happy experience for either the Chinese or their masters. Those sent out a s shepherds had perhaps seen a dozen or so fat-tailed sheep feeding along village roads in the care of a child. In Australia they were given mobs of five hundred to a thousand to feed out over hundreds of hectares of empty bush. They lost the sheep, they lost themselves. They were underpaid and soon realised it. Some masters were bad and treated them with alarming cruelty. One Chinese bound with others for the Riverina six hundred kilometres from Sydney burnt his foot so badly he said he could not walk. The driver of the dray that carried their gear tied a rope round his waist, hitched it on to the back of the dray and dragged him. If they ran away they were hunted down with stockwhips like runaway cattle.
When rice became scarce and dear they were issued wheat and maize instead. I t was unaccustomed and unliked food and against their contracts.
Some of the Chinese were bad men, pirates and descendants of pirates.
One landowner on the Darling Downs was murdered. On several stations stockmen were threatened by angry Chinese jabbing at them with broken sheep shear blades strapped to sticks. Their anger seldom lasted long. Even after such violent demonstrations they usu&y went back to work, though sometimes it was for a different master. Under the Masters and Servants Act their contracts could be sold.
The finds of gold in New South Wales and soon after in Victoria and Queensland ended those contracts. Along with thousands of German, Irish and English workers the Chinese rushed to the goldfields. There were not police enough to find them nor courts enough to charge them.
Police and magistrates had joined the rush.
The gold discoveries in Australia coincided with a tea shortage in China.
Captains who had sailed from Melbourne and Sydney to pick up a cargo of tea found they had a wait of several months. So they refitted their ships, glued up posters announcing Australia as the new Gold Mountain (California was the old Gold Mountain) and brought back hundreds of Chinese gold diggers. All the first ship-loads came in a s free men.
They were mostly poor peasants, so they had borrowed the money to come out from family, from friends, from village clans. The interest rates were high, up to 100 per cent a year, their very family might have been mortgaged, but they were free men able te- make their own decisions. Very soon there were thousands working the Victorian fields.
Their organisation was extraordinary. One can only marvel at how they coped. Perhaps one in a hundred knew enough English to ask directions. They were accustomed to closely-settled farms and frequent villages, to big rivers and plenty of water, yet they found their way hundreds of kilometres inland through dry Australia, and carried loads of u p to 100 kilograms on shoulder poles. They brought rice, dried fish, dried vegetables, sauces to stock their own shops. They brought gardeners and a supply of vegetable seeds, they brought their own doctors and medical supplies, they brought opium and opium smoking equipment, they brought gambling games, everything needed to set up Chinese villages in Australia. They crowded together in small rooms built side by side along narrow alleys. They had not come to settle. Their aim was one hundred pounds sterlingl, a sum that would then buy land enough in China for a family to live comfortably, and they were prepared to live very hard in Australia until they earned it.
Few of them had any mining experience. At first they did no prospecting for new claims. They reworked the mullock'heaps of the rather careless European miners. Village groups worked together. That gave them an advantage over European miners working singly or in groups of two or three. If one party of Chinese found nothing in a couple of weeks of washing dirt they would be supported by the finds of other parties.
People of many nations came to Australia but the Chinese were the biggest single group. Because they kept to themselves, because their language was so different, their appearance, their religion, they were regarded with suspicion. When by 1855 numbers in Victoria reached 1 000 they were regarded with genuine fear. I t seemed -the whole of China was coming to take over Australia. The Victorian Government restricted the numbers each ship could carry to one Chinese passenger for every ten tons registered, and imposed a poll tax of ten pounds sterling2 a head. The Chinese, again displaying their extraordinary organisation and their communication system, as well as their ability to dodge indbnvenient laws, booked passage for Adelaide and Robe in South Australia where there was no poll tax. When the first party landed in Adelaide, stray cats and dogs disappeared into woks overnight.
Robe, so much nearer the goldfields, became the favourite port. Fifteen thousand Chinese passed through it in 1856. They recognised one of the seaweeds in Guichen Bay as edible and harvested many tons of it to dry on racks built along the beach. Rich in Vitamin C, it was a vahable food after the long voyage.
If they had money enough they hired a teamster to cany their gear and lead them across, many hired guides at exorbitant rates and walked.
Some of the guides led the party for a couple of days then disappeared during the night, leaving the Chinese to find their own way around the lakes and swamps in the wettest winter ever known in south-east South Australia. They bought sheep from landowners along the way, killed them, scalded them and plucked the wool out. The ignorant heathens' laughed the graziers, 'they don't know how to skin a sheep'. The Chinese attitude was that no-one but a hairy barbarian would discard i d the skin, such a valuable part of the flesh.
Later Chinese often came out under different conditions. A ?
storekeeper in Adelaide, others in Melbourne, Hobart and Sydney, had grown wealthy enough to bring out hundreds of coolies to mine for them while they worked off their passage money. They put experienced miners from China, California and Australia in charge of them. They kept control of them, not only through the innate honesty of the Chinese, but through secret societies that made sure they stayed honest. They developed some different and interesting methods of mining, especially the system of paddocking used in Tasmanian creeks and rivers. They built three-sided timber walls from the bank to midstream, plugged the gaps with grass and clay and bucketed out the water. Then they removed al the loose mud and gravel from the bed l and washed it into the previous paddock. Sometimes crevices in the bedrock were lined with gold.
On every field where the Chinese worked there is still evidence of their ability to move water. They took levels with a rice bowl fitted in the middle of a 1.8 metre plank and filled with water to a marked line.
They tipped the plank till the water reached the rim on the bottom side. With that seemingly crude instrument they ran water twenty kilometres round the sides of mountains. Stone pitched dams are still in place in the Palmer River area in North Queensland, aqueducts still collect water a s they did in the 1870s when 17 000 Chinese mined there. At Tenterfield in northern New South Wales creeks still run through the new paths cut for them over a hundred years ago. In one place they diverted a creek through a channel cut across a bridge to a lower creek. For hundreds of metres they dug out a channel sixty centimetres' wide and five to ten metres deep. One does not walk around that country at night.