Preserving legacy of Chinese miners

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The reverse of three 19th century mining licenses from Round Hill. Collection of the Southland Museum and Art Gallery Niho o te Taniwha. Gift of Tait Ward and Company, 1990. 1990.48.1 (p, z), 1990.48.20 (co).

AS the saying goes, there are two sides to every story. As I discovered recently, there are also two sides to every mining licence.

The Southland Museum & Art Gallery (SMAG) holds more than 600 mining records compiled by The Round Hill Mining Company from the 1870s to the mid-20th century.

Some of these licences bear Chinese characters, likely names, handwritten by Chinese miners who came to Round Hill to make their fortune.

Both European and Chinese prospectors settled at Round Hill when gold was discovered in the 1870s.

In 1874, a Chinese settlement was established and became known as

By the 1880s, the Round Hill settlement had about 300 occupants, more than 100 miners’ houses, a hotel, a temple (known as a Joss House), and opium and gambling houses.

During this same period, The Round Hill Goldmining Company emerged.

The Company aimed to amalgamate the water rights in mining sites throughout Southland and to disenfranchise local Chinese miners.

Ever since mining started at Round Hill, water access had been an issue.

The solution had been to build large water races, the remains of which can still be seen throughout Longwood Forest today.

By the early 1890s, The Round Hill Goldmining Company owned a large portion of the water rights. This gave them leverage over individual miners still operating in the area, in particular Chinese miners.

By the time 1907 rolled around, the Round Hill Chinese settlement only contained a scattering of Chinese and European occupants.

Many of the Chinese miners who lived at Round Hill came to New Zealand to earn money to send back home.

In addition to mining, other business ventures were also pursued.

Lye Chup, whose name is on two of the pictured licences, was a miner at Round Hill in the 1880s and 1890s.

In 1889 Lye Chup, along with Lye Fun, leased the Tchung Fong Hotel in Round Hill. The hotel was a well-known establishment in described as having a billiard room, theatre hall, stables and a garden. Unfortunately little else is known about Lye Chup.

Most accounts of Chinese experiences during the New Zealand gold rushes are only seen through legal documents and newspaper articles created by Europeans.

The mining licences held at SMAG were compiled by a company which sought to rid Round Hill of Chinese miners.

It is poignant these documents help us to preserve the legacy of the people they sought to erase.

  • Laura Davies is collection technician at The Southland Museum & Art Gallery
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