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During the early 1800s the people of the Guangzhou Delta area in China were suffering considerable hardship. The area was over populated and many people lived in poverty. In addition they were suffering from the destructive effects of British Imperialism and the opium trade. For many of the rural poor the solution was to finance sons and brothers to travel and work overseas. It was thought they would become rich and quickly return to their village, enhancing their family's position. Mainly they went to California and Australia but some came to New Zealand.

Chinese gold miners didn't come to mine in the Wakatipu until after the initial gold rush. When gold was discovered on the West Coast of the South Island in 1864 many gold miners at the Arrow packed up and followed the rush. Those who owned businesses were suddenly faced with a serious loss of custom. The wider Otago Province was faced with losing its main source of wealth - income from taxes on gold.

The Otago Provincial Government however had a solution - they invited the Chinese to come and work on the Otago Goldfields. At first Chinese miners came direct from places in Australia such as Ballarat but increasingly many came direct from their homelands in Guangzhou. Existing goldminers were not keen on competition and as the Chinese traveled inland to the goldfields they suffered harassment.


Discussion / research: Why do you think they chose the Chinese?


The Site

The Arrowtown Chinese Settlement is one of the best researched and preserved sites of its kind in New Zealand. In 1983 the Lands and Survey Department (now Department of Conservation) carried out an archaeological excavation. They also restored some of the huts using the same materials as those originally used. Today a visit to the Chinese Settlement provides a fascinating insight into the lives of these miners - the harsh conditions they endured, the racism they encountered, as well as prosperity.

The following resource has suggestions for discussion below.

For the past week, Arrowtown has been the centre of attraction for about 200 Chinese, who have made night hideous with their exploding crackers, and their disgusting presence felt in more ways than one. On Sunday night last, even Europeans, and, we believe females at that were to be seen playing 'fan-tan', while every night for a week, the Chinese stores have been scenes of indescribable vice and repulsive practices. The opium pipe, we hear, has been freely dispensed, even to little boys. Several people were seen under the influence of brandy, and altogether the Chinese Camp has been the sink of iniquity for days and nights past. It seems strange that Europeans should so far forget themselves as to mingle freely with almond eyed, leprosy tainted filthy Chinamen, but the fact is disgusting and lamentable as it may appear.

Tuapeka Times 11 March 1885



What does the above extract tell us about attitudes held by Europeans towards Chinese miners at this time?

Do you think the Europeans mentioned in this text felt the same way as the writer towards the Chinese? Why?

What evidence can you find in this extract describing some of the culture Chinese miners brought with them to the Otago gold fields?




  • Many of the huts in the settlement were used for different purposes. This photograph shows the archaeological excavation of Hut 3.
  • Look carefully at the photograph. Write a paragraph outlining what an archaeologist is and does. Why is their work important? From the photo write a few sentences describing the tools and methods which you see being used by these volunteers.

Following is a list of some of the artefactual remains found at this site and descriptions of some of the physical features. Consider them carefully - suggestions for discussion follow.


Artefactual remains at Hut 3:
Cotton reels
Food bowls

Hut 3 is sited on an elongate, partially revetted mound between the main track through the settlement and an old tailrace channel…It consists of a 3m x 2m (6sq m) rectangular depression, partially bordered by horizontally stacked schist walling with vertically placed slabs at the south end corners. Unusually small pieces of stone were utilised in the wall stonework. Underlying some sections of the wall and forming the entire wall in places are sections of compacted silty clay. This was dug from inside the hut, puddled in the pit so formed, and consolidated into walls…The eastern wall of the hut also has a low secondary stone alignment parallel to and about 50cm beyond it. The enclosed area may have served as a small garden plot. The vertically placed slabs of stone and flat metal sheeting found around the hut …were placed there by the Chinese to prevent rabbits from burrowing under the walls of the huts and into gardens. Within the hut the inferred position of the fireplace (the NW corner) has been obliterated by the growth of a large willow tree…An orange-brown ash deposit at the foot of the western end of the mound… Excavation revealed the extent of the midden to be c. 3m x 3m and 25 cm deep. There were few artefactual remains amongst the ash, other than fragments of 4 shouldered food jars …and two celadon rice bowls.

Neville Ritchie, The Arrowtown Chinese Settlement, An Interim Report on the Excavation, Department of Lands and Survey, pp33-34



  • What building materials were used in this hut? Why do you think these were used?
  • What was this hut and its surrounding area used for? Use examples from the extract to support your answer.
  • What does this extract reveal about the lifestyle of the Chinese miners at the Arrow?

Did you know?

  • In 1866 there had been less than 200 Chinese miners in Otago, but by April 1868 the Chinese population in New Zealand had increased to 1270, most of whom were on the goldfields. In 1871 their numbers peaked at around 4300. By 1921 this figure had dived to 59 in large part due to the effect of anti-Chinese immigration legislation.
  • The Chinese miners drew their religious beliefs from the three major religious doctrines in China - Confucianism, Buddhism and Taoism. They had many rituals designed to keep evil away or to invite good fortune. Ancestor worship was very important to them. Many maintained small shrines in their huts and two temples were built, one at Lawrence in 1869 and the other at Round Hill in 1883.
  • The Chinese were skilled practical people who were quick to see the advantage in western technology, particularly in the area of hydraulic sluicing. The extent of their workings at Round Hill are legendary as were their water races in the Shotover area. Over 45% of all Chinese miners in 1874 were sluicers
  • Some Chinese miners brought their addiction to opium with them while others took up opium smoking in New Zealand as an escape from the hardships and loneliness they faced. It has been estimated that about 10% of the Chinese mining population was addicted to opium and perhaps as many as 60% smoked occasionally.
  • Few Chinese women came to the New Zealand goldfields, in 1878 there were only nine Chinese women, and only 89 by the turn of the century. Yet about 70% of the Chinese miners were married men. Why do you think women remained in China?

(All books and unpublished works listed are available at the Lakes District Museum either for sale or in the archives collection)

Butler, P., Opium and Gold, pub. Alister Taylor, 1977
Ng, J., Windows on a Chinese Past - Volumes 1-4, Otago Heritage Books, 1993 Ancient and Modern History, Chinese Settlement in New Zealand, Past Present and Future (by James Ng)
Ritchie, N., The Arrowtown Chinese Settlement, An Interim Report on the Excavation, Dept. of Lands and Survey
Ritchie, N.A., Archaeology and History of the Chinese in Southern New Zealand during the Nineteenth Century, Thesis submitted for the Degree of Doctor of Philosophy, University of Otago (anthropology), Dunedin, New Zealand, 1980


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