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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

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