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Last Update
30th of October 2017

INFLUX OF ‘DIGGERS’

Chinese Diggers
Chinese in Bendigo
Kind permission of the Bendigo Art Gallery
A Chinese Settlement in Victoria, 1877. Illustrating the interior of the Chinese Camp at Sandhurst (Bendigo) – wood engraving, Charles Gregory. The peak in numbers of Chinese alluvial miners had been in the 1850’s – by 1880 most of the Chinese camps were deserted.

As a result of the rush of people to the area, the Gold Commissioner’s Office, the Police Barracks and the courts were erected on Camp Hill, now the present Rosalind Park in central Bendigo. The “diggers”, as the miners were called, numbered as high as thirty thousand and came from all over the world; from England, Wales, Scotland, Ireland – along with Germans, Italians, Swiss, French and Americans. The Chinese population reached many thousands in the early gold rush period but their numbers dropped rapidly as the nineteenth century progressed. The Golden Dragon Museum in Bendigo celebrates the contribution of the Chinese to the goldmining, cultural and commercial life of the growing city.

With the discovery of gold, Gold Commissioners were appointed in 1852 to administer Victorian colonial law and, from the Government Camp, Commissioner Panton dealt with matters chiefly arising from the Gold License. In addition to the imposition of the gold license of thirty shillings a month the diggers also objected to the method of collection by the police of the time. Between June and August 1853, Bendigo diggers took to wearing a red ribbon as a symbol of their objection to the license and to arbitrary government. On August 28th 1853, ten thousand diggers marched on the government camp and offered ten shillings for their September license; Commissioners Panton and Wright could not accept this gesture but did not collect licenses for September. The day passed without anger or bloodshed. The diggers were eventually to succeed in having the license replaced by a Miner’s Right.

The angry Red Ribbon protests by miners against the goldfields authorities in 1853 were orderly by comparison with the later Eureka episode at Ballarat. However, the earlier Red Ribbon Movement on the Bendigo field is increasingly viewed as being significant in the development of the democratic process in Australia.

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