In 1851 Melbourne was nearly deserted when the male population rushed off to the Victorian goldfields.
In 1852 news of the gold rush had spread throughout the world and thousands of hopeful diggers started to arrive in Melbourne. During one week in March 1853, a staggering 138 vessels anchored in Hobson’s Bay.
While most gold seekers came from the United Kingdom, the Chinese were by far the largest group of foreign nationals on the goldfields. In 1857 they formed about 14 per cent of the diggers and by December 1858, when they numbered about 40,000, they comprised over 20 per cent of the mining population.
The Victorian Government warned of the ‘unpleasant possibility of the future that a comparative handful of colonists may be buried in a countless throng of Chinamen’. In 1855 the Victorian Parliament passed an Act to restrict the number of Chinese passengers on a vessel to one in 10.
The new law did not stop the arrival of Chinese immigrants. Many landed instead in South Australia and walked overland to the Victorian goldfields.
Extracts from the various documents relating to the Glen Huntly
… several cases of Scarlatina [scarlet fever] began to make their appearance; also a few cases of small pox, and measles, amongst the emigrants …
Inward Registered Correspondence, PROV, VPRS 19/P0, unit 5>
The Chinese diggers protested against the 1855 immigration tax. This petition, opposing the tax, includes 3089 Chinese signatures.
Original Papers Tabled in the Legislative Assembly
, PROV, VPRS 3253/P0, unit 32