J. Chung Leong in a car outside Chinese Herbalist, Ballarat 1915-1925.
Source: Museum Victoria
Question: I am a fifth-generation Australian of Chinese descent. My ancestor came to Australia during the gold rush and I have begun to do some family history research. Does the museum have records or information relating to the Chinese in Australia in the 19th century?
Answer: Immigration Museum explores the stories of people from all over the world who have migrated to Victoria. Our exhibitions, events, collections and resources focus on the immigration experience – including the history of immigration to Australia and the varied immigrant communities within the state.
For your individual family history research, the museum doesn’t hold records or archival material relating to specific immigrants. For this type of information you will need to go to state and national archives, which hold this information. Our infosheet on researching family history includes lots of useful information and links to assist people with finding and accessing records relating to their family's immigration to Australia.
Nonetheless, museum staff can help you find historical resources on Chinese-Australians and the gold rush, as well as suggestions for further research to help you contextualise your research and place it within the wider history of 19th-century Australia.
In 1851 gold was discovered near Ballarat. The lure of untold riches drew around half a million immigrants to Victoria in only a decade. Chinese immigrants came in large numbers and by 1861 made up almost 7% of the state’s population. In Melbourne, Little Bourke Street soon became a thriving centre of the Chinese community and today is famous as the heart of Chinatown.
There are numerous resources available that you can use to explore the history of the Chinese community and their history in Australia. The Immigration Museum website has much to offer and searching will reveal a wealth of information about the history of Chinese immigration. For example historical information, statistical data and images about this community are available via the Origins site, which explores both the past and present of Victoria’s immigrant population. Also, the Immigration Timeline provides general information about the history of migration to Victoria, including some notes on the history of the Chinese community.
Chinese immigration is also explored in the museum itself. The Getting In gallery explores the origins of the White Australia Policy in the context of large-scale Chinese immigration to Australia and touches on issues of discrimination felt by the community because of their race. At the Immigration Discovery Centre there is a wide selection of books on Chinese-Australian history that visitors can access. We encourage people to come and explore these resources, as well as to get advice from the Discovery Centre staff about avenues for further research.
A number of other public institutions, including the State Library of Victoria and the National Archives of Australia have excellent historical resources on Chinese-Australian history. There are also many organisations that specialise in this area, such as the Chinese Museum, the website of which has a good general history of Chinese migration to Australia, links, resources and an excellent collection of photographs. A wealth of information can be found about Chinese-Australian history online; we have listed just a selection of these. Good luck with your research!