Landing Chinese at Cooktown, 1875

Wood engravings of Chinese Miners in Cooktown

Source:  Illustrated Australian news, [Melbourne], July 2 1877.

This wood engraving was published in Melbourne in the midst of the Palmer River Gold Rush.

Before newspapers could reproduce photographs, engravings were a feature of ‘Illustrated’ publications. Engravers worked from sketches or photographs or neither! It is very unlikely that this unknown artist ever visited Cooktown.

The engraving shows Chinese men landing at Cooktown in great numbers, with goods on shoulder poles, on their way to the goldfield.

Note the tone of the commentary, using the word “Invasion” in the title. It picks up on anti-Chinese sentiment that was present on earlier goldfields in Victoria and New South Wales and that was transferred to the Palmer, via the European miners who joined the rush from southern state and also via anti-Chinese sentiment expressed freely in newspapers like these.

Source: State Library of Victoria. Original place published  17 May 1875 in  Illustrated Australian News for Home Readers (Melbourne, Vic. : 1867 – 1875) 17 May 1875.

This wood engraving depicts an arrival scene of Chinese men being brought from the main ship to shallows on the Endeavour River, Cooktown. The men are using tenders (little boats) to reach the shoreline but are having to make the final leg by casting their goods over the side and swimming them to shore.

The image is pragmatic in its depiction of Chinese mass migration to the Palmer River goldfields from 1873, which at its height as a goldfield had over 18,000 Chinese men working the field.

The success of the goldfield led to the establishment of a port town Cooktown and resulted in the establishment of a Chinatown in Cooktown complete with two separate temples suggesting at least two different dialect groups were present.

Dr Sandy Robb

Qing Ming

Qing Ming (Toomb Sweeping) Festival

Discover more of Cairns’ rich Chinese-Australian history

Cairns Historical Society + Cairns Museum Members are invited to two special events to mark the Chinese Festival of Qing Ming.

Qing Ming is an important, age old Chinese festival where families make their annual pilgrimage to their ancestral graves to “sweep the tombs” and pay respects to their forebears and loved ones. In China it is a public holiday and occurs 104 days after the winter solstice. This year (2022),  it falls on 3  – 5 April.

To celebrate Qing Ming, Cairns and District Chinese Association Inc (CADCAI) are planning two  community events to increase awareness of the festival and to recognise and pay respect to the thousands of invisible Chinese migrants who came to north Queensland to “seek their fortune” but sadly died here without any family around them.

The festival complements our current exhibition ‘Rediscovering Buk Ti: Chinese settlers in the lower Herbert district’.

Friday 8 April

History Talk –  Reviving Qing Ming

Join CADCAI for a short historical presentation by NQ Chinese historian Dr Sandi Robb and CADCAI’s own Heritage Manager Mary Low, to learn about Qing Ming and how it was celebrated in Cairns. Also known as the Pure Brightness Festival, this calendar event honours the ancestors of Chinese families and pays respects to those buried in Cairns Cemeteries. 

06:00 – 7:00 pm 

Entry is free but bookings are essential. Click here to book 

Location: CADCAI premises, behind Asian Foods in Grafton St (walk down the lane beside Asian Foods)



Sun 10 April

Qing Ming Cemetery Outing (and optional Lunch)

09:00 am – 11:00 am

Visit the heritage-listed Cairns Pioneer Cemetery to honour over 200 Chinese who were buried in mostly ummarked graves. In the Chinese tradition we will bring offerings of food and wine and burn incense. Then we’ll move onto the Martyn St Cemetery Visit several known sites to honour the early Cairns community starting at Andrew Leon and Mary Leon Piggot’s grave and memorial headstone. Other sites will include key Chinese early settlers and families.

Click here for more information and bookings