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This Day in Labor History: July 4, 1857

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On July 4, 1857, Australian miners drove 2,500 Chinese miners out of a camp in Victoria and killed at least three of them. The Buckland Riot was indicative of the hostility whites around the world felt toward Chinese immigrants in the nineteenth century.

The Buckland Valley of northeastern Victoria became a major gold mining sector in the 1850s. Like in California, it brought people from around the world to make their fortunes. Lots of Australians had come to California in 1849 and lots of Americans would go to Australia a few years later. Both areas attracted large numbers of Chinese seeking economic opportunity lacking at home. But those Chinese caused massive resentment. In both the United States and Australia, whites articulated how this was a white man’s country and there was no room for others, whether the indigenous people being slaughtered in both places or non-white immigrants. In 1854, a group of Chinese immigrants trying to get off the boat in Melbourne were beaten by a mob. Anti-Chinese violence grew throughout Australia, with ten to twelve riots of various size between 1854 and 1857.

It was in 1854 that the gold in the Buckland Valley was discovered. By 1857 there were about 2,500 Chinese in the Buckland Valley. After a raucous meeting in a hotel that was probably not much more than a frothing racist incitement to riot, about 100 miners, possibly led by Americans, at least according to some news reports, decided to drive the Chinese out of the mines. Supposedly shouting “Come on and let us drive the long tailed devils off at once,” they set after the Chinese miners. In a day of brutal violence, the mob beat and robbed the miners, driving them across the Buckland River and out of the valley. Three died, at least. But we really don’t know, because probably several more drowned fleeing across the river. One European woman who was married to a Chinese man was beaten nearly to death for his racial betrayal. One Chinese man had his finger hacked off by someone stealing his gold ring.

Thirteen miners were tried by the government for rioting. But the juries found them nine of them not guilty and those verdicts were cheered in the courtroom. No one was hiding that this was a white man’s country. This wasn’t the act of a few racists. It was the act of a deeply racist society. But the government, who wanted the cheap labor that the Chinese provided, wanted them back in the valley. But only about 50 would return, unwilling to be murdered. By the 1860s though, groups of Chinese did return and remained a sizable population in the area for the next century. However, anti-Chinese violence would continue for years in Australia.

This is the 360th post in this series. Previous posts are archived here.

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