In the mid 19th century, a wave of Chinese migrants came to Australia in search of prosperity. By 1861, over 24,000 Chinese individuals were living in Victoria 1. Many resided in gold mining towns such as Sandhurst, Castlemaine, Maryborough, Avoca, Omeo, Daylesford, Ballarat, Smythesdale, and Beechworth. While many Chinese migrants eventually returned home, some chose to make a permanent home in Victoria.

Chinese and Miners on the Way to the Diggings (1860). H8401

The State Library has various records to help you research your Victorian Chinese ancestors. The majority of these resources can be viewed in the Newspaper and Family History Reading Room. A good place to start would be to work out how and when they migrated to Victoria.   

Passenger lists

The Public Record Office Victoria holds early Victorian passenger lists. You can search the Index to unassisted passenger arrivals 1852-1923 on their website. The index provides the name and age of the person, the ship, month of arrival, and port details. The full passenger list can provide further information, such as your ancestor’s language skills, occupation and nationality. Many of these passenger lists are available to view on the Ancestry website, which you can access for free until the end of December with your State Library membership. Alternatively, you can view the microfiche version in our Newspaper and Family History Reading Room.

Note: The spelling of names varied and could be open to the interpretation of the scribe at the time. It’s therefore useful to keep an open mind when searching for your ancestor’s name.

Here is a section from the Eliza Jane passenger list, displaying the names of passengers who travelled from Hong Kong in 1855.

Some of the Chinese migrants arrived in South Australia or New South Wales before making their way to Victoria, so you might want to consult interstate archives.

Newspapers

Historical newspapers can be a great source of information for family historians. The State Library holds a vast collection of historical newspapers that you can use for your research. Listed below are just some of the early regional newspapers you could explore. Some of these papers are digitised on the Trove website. Others can be viewed in microfilm or in hard copy at the State Library.

Ararat
The Mount Ararat advertised and chronicle for the district of Wimmera. 

Ballarat 
Ballarat times and Bunninyong and Creswick’s. creek advertiser
The Ballarat Times
The Ballarat and Southern Cross
The Ballarat Star
The Miner and Weekly Star
The Chinese advertiser (Ballarat)
The English and Chinese Advertiser


Bendigo 
The Bendigo Advertiser


Beechworth 
The Ovens and Murray Advertiser
The constitution and Ovens mining intelligencer. 

 
Castlemaine 
The Castlemaine advertiser and county of Talbot chronicle. 
The miner’s right and Castlemaine Advertiser

Directories

Post office and trade directories can be another useful way to trace your ancestor. You can find a comprehensive list of the directories we hold on the Researching your Victorian ancestors research guide.

If your ancestor lived in Melbourne, you could try searching the Sands & McDougall Melbourne Directory. Every 5 years of this directory has been digitised on the State Library’s website. The University of Melbourne has also digitised every year of the Sands & McDougall Melbourne directories from 1857 to 1880.

Here is an entry for Clin Geon Chong. He was a general dealer listed in Chinatown. 

Burial records

Burial records can be another great resource. We hold the following publications in our Newspapers and Family History Reading Room.

Victoria Police Gazettes

Some families have a skeleton in the closet. You never know, you may have a relative who had a run-in with the law. To check if that is the case, it is worth searching the Victoria police gazette to see if there were any notices circulated about your ancestor. Victims of crime are also mentioned, so it can be worth searching even if your ancestor was a law abiding citizen.

The State Library holds issues of the Victoria police gazette from 1853-1971. Many of the Victoria police gazettes are available to view on the Ancestry website.

Here is a paragraph in the Police gazette about George Ah Cheong, an escaped prisoner who dashed off to NSW via Gippsland. 

Police gazette Victoria collection 1855, 1864-1924. Courtesy the of Ancestry website.

Resources for researching Chinese family history in China

The following resources may be useful for researching your ancestors who lived in China.

We hope these resources help you get started with your research. For further assistance, feel free to contact our Ask-a-librarian service.

More to explore

Chinese Australian Cultural Society (Ballarat)

Golden Dragon Museum (Bendigo)

Museum of Chinese Australian History (Melbourne)

Gum San Chinese Cultural Centre (Ararat)

State Library’s guide to Gold miners and mining

CAFHOV – Chinese Australian Family Historians of Victoria. CAFHOV provide a forum for Chinese Australian family historians,researchers of Chinese Australia and post-graduate students and academics undertaking research into aspects of Chinese Australian history and culture.

CAFHOV recently launched the Victorian CEDT index, an online searchable index to three registers of applications for Certificates Exempting from Dictation Test (CEDT) from 1904-1959. Further information on the importance of the Victorian CEDT Registers can be found on the Historian Sophie Couchman’s website.

References

  1. Victoria. Parliament. (1863). Census of Victoria, 1861. Population tables. Melbourne: J. Ferres, Govt. Printer.

This article has 2 comments

  1. Many Chinese worked on Vineyards in the Rutherglen/ Gooramadda/ Brown’s Plains area in Nth East Victoria. When my great great grandfather James Martin died (in 1890,) his probate papers had a list of all Chinese workers he had employed and the amount of money owing to them. The head man was Ah Why who was responsible for them receiving the money. One relative mentioned that on Fridays, the Chinese would walk to Cornishtown to do their shopping and return at dusk, carrying their goods on sticks over their shoulders with little lamps attached. He said that the twinkling of the little lights looked like “fairy-land”. He was only a young boy at the time (pre. 1906).
    Ah Why always collected donations for charities in Beechworth and his name often appeared in the “Ovens & Murray Advertiser”.
    Fay J

    • Yes. An employer’s dossier may contain a list of employees. What a find. Thank you for sharing your story.

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