Tuesday, May 19, 2015

John Douglas and restricting Chinese migration to Queensland in 1877

Douglas wanted to maintain the colony’s current prosperity.  He saw his government as “that of earnest men desirous of doing the best they can for the country which they are called upon to govern.”[1]  They were soon to have that opportunity in connection with the Chinese, there being deep concern over their numerical preponderance on the Palmer River Goldfield in far north Queensland.  It was widely felt that they were taking jobs from Queenslanders, leading to increasing “complaints of want of employment.”[2]  Chinese had come in large numbers to New South Wales and Victoria since the first gold rushes in 1851, and this had frequently led to resentment and outright hostility toward them, culminating in the Lambing Flat riots near Young, New South Wales, in 1860-61.[3]

Douglas was initially in favour of Chinese immigration to Queensland, and in 1865, it was reported that:

He did not think it probable that such immigration would take root in this country - that a race of Asiastics would settle down in any country governed by European laws.  Still he could see no reason that … the two races should not harmoniously amalgamate.[4]

However, this was before the Chinese arrived on the Queensland goldfields in large numbers.  By 1870, there were more than 2,000 Chinese miners scattered throughout the colony,[5] and rioting occurred over the presence of Chinese miners in Gympie in 1868.[6]  Despite this, by 1874 the Queensland government was prepared to countenance the importation of indentured Chinese labourers by sugar growers.[7]  However, the discovery of gold on the Palmer River caused a rapid expansion of Chinese immigration, and in a three-week period in April 1875, 3,272 Chinese disembarked at Cooktown, the port of entry to the Palmer.[8]  By 1877, there were an estimated 17,000 Chinese on the field, comprising some 10 per cent of the colony’s population.[9]

Douglas was concerned that the Chinese would dominate the northern part of the colony.[10]  Queenslanders were well aware of what was occurring in America, where, following the Californian gold rush, Chinese goldminers had settled in large numbers in that state, and were afraid that what had happened there would also happen here.[11]  This 1877 observation by explorer and bushman Christie Palmerston articulated the fears of many:

When once the Chinese swarm a goldfield, they overrun it as a horde of locusts do a wheat crop.  They are of no earthly use to Queensland, which they rob annually of much wealth, without yielding any reciprocal revenue or helping to develop the productive resources of the colony.[12]

Queenslanders had a stake in the future of their vast, sparsely populated colony, demanding to settle and develop it as they saw fit.  They wanted it peopled by men who subscribed to British values and who embraced the British way of life.  The Brisbane Courier insisted that, “Australia cannot be both Chinese and British; it must be one or the other.”[13]  The determination of many Queenslanders to halt Chinese immigration was compared to the actions of an earlier generation of Australian colonists who refused to receive convicts.[14]  Not only did they believe the comparison with convict labour was apt; they also believed that this was the gravest issue to have arisen in Australia since the abolition of convict transportation in Western Australia in 1868.[15]

It is difficult to analyse this strong antipathy to the Chinese in Queensland using contemporary constructions of race and racism.  What to us appears outright racism would not have been recognised as such by Queenslanders in the 1870s.  While there was most certainly an element of racism, it would be simplistic to suggest this was the sole or even dominant factor.[16]  Rather it was a complex mix of racial superiority, patriotism,[17] a clash of civilizations, the right to determine what sort of country Queensland would become, social Darwinism,[18] and fear – the fear of disease,[19] fear of miscegenation,[20] fear of opium,[21] and, above all, fear of invasion.  Queenslanders were resolute in their resolve to ensure that Northern Australia would not become another Hong Kong or Singapore, containing a servile class.  They would do whatever it took to prevent what had happened in California from happening here. 

Perhaps they are best regarded as having been British race patriots, precursors of the ‘White Australia’ policy of subsequent generations, buttressed by a pervasive fear of the ‘Yellow Peril.’  As a traveller to the Australian colonies from England observed, many colonists despite respecting and admiring the Chinese, feared their immigration would “prevent the rising Australian nationality”[22] and undermine wages.[23]

The Thorn government had moved swiftly, introducing in 1876 the Goldfields Act Amendment Act, in order to restrict Chinese immigration through the imposition of a heavier licence fee to mine or to carry on a business on a Queensland goldfield.[24]  Governor Cairns was concerned with the contents of this bill, for it appeared to be opposed to international comity, to be inconsistent with Britain’s obligations under current Chinese treaties, and to be harsh and unjust to those Chinese in the colony who were British subjects.[25]  He referred it to the secretary of state for the colonies, the Earl of Carnarvon, who upheld Cairns’s concerns.  Nevertheless, by the time this correspondence had been received in the colony and made public, Thorn was no longer premier and it fell to Douglas to resolve the crisis.

Douglas had already taken practical steps to restrict Chinese immigration into the colony.  As he later recounted:

Dear old Charley Mein[26] and I had to bear the brunt of the first great Chinese invasion into Queensland.  We tried legislation, but the Colonial Office would not have it.  Then we had recourse to a ruse; we proclaimed the Chinese empire in quarantine, it was a sublime piece of cheek, and it was effective.  At one time we had some thousand Chinamen in Queensland at Fitzroy Island.[27]  O’Connell was acting governor at the time.  He signed the proclamation[28] like a lamb, and that killed the invasion.  It never got ahead again.[29]

Carnarvon, unaware of Douglas’s motives, duly replied to the Queensland governor expressing his reservations.  He suggested that the Bill be modified to make it “less directly and exclusively aimed at the subjects of a friendly power,” as well as “less calculated to injure British subjects of Asiatic or African origin.”[30] 

Not surprisingly, the disallowance of this Act was met in the colony with a burst of indignation, for Queenslanders considered it an infringement of their powers of self-government.  The Brisbane Courier urged that the government “should not quietly submit to the defeat which they have sustained.”[31]  Douglas needed no prompting, pointing out that Britain should recognise and uphold the power of the Queensland parliament to pass whatever laws it deemed necessary for the welfare of the colony, and that the only limit to its authority should be those imposed by Royal instructions to the governor.[32]  Douglas was also upset that “the existence of international obligations between Great Britain and the Empire of China should be allowed to be a pretext for forcing upon us a Chinese population against our wishes or interests.”[33]

Douglas wrote to the premiers of the other Australian colonies as well as New Zealand, seeking their support and co-operation to preserve the rights of self-government, as the Queensland government understood them to be.[34]  His “novel and exceptional” action was roundly supported.[35]  The following quote is a representative comment on colonial feelings towards the Chinese and their support for Douglas’s attempts to halt Chinese immigration:

The premier appears to have made up his mind to grapple forcibly with the Yellow Agony question, and he means to make assurance doubly sure by getting the co-operation of the other colonies in some decided action.  The fact is, Mr. Douglas wants to tell our dear maternal relatives at home that we don’t want Chinkies, and that we won’t have them.  We want Britons, and Germans and Scandinavians – good solid beef-eaters, and axemen, etc.  So the Chows must go out, my Lord Carnarvon, and depend upon it Douglas knows the right string to pull.[36]

Douglas’s two dispatches, one to the agent-general in London,[37] the other to the Australasian colonial chief secretaries, outlined, as he saw it, the colonies’ right to make their own decisions in this and other matters.  As he noted:

We have been accustomed to consider our rights of self-government as second to no other rights which we possess as British subjects.  We are not unjustly proud of the civilisation which has been established here by our energy.  But we fear that both our rights and our civilisation may be compromised, and that our social and political systems may be imperilled, if on any plea whatever a Chinese immigration is forced upon us against our wishes and our interests.[38]

While New Zealand declined to comment on the constitutional question involved, Tasmania, South Australia, Victoria and New South Wales all expressed their support for Douglas’s position.[39]  Nevertheless, if the Queensland Government wished to have its anti-Chinese legislation enacted, then it would have to amend it, despite any objections held by it.  Despite this, Douglas was loath to amend the Bill, believing that Queensland must be able to control its own destiny in this matter.  Accordingly, he amended the Bill in the most minimalist way; replacing the term, “Asiatic and African aliens” with the less specific “any person.”  The amended Bill was then passed by the Queensland parliament in June 1877.

The new Queensland governor, Sir Arthur Kennedy, was most surprised at how few changes had been made to the amended Bill, and was inclined to reserve it as well.[40]  However, he was under considerable pressure.  As Harding remarked, “It was a classic example of the governor’s duties as an imperial agent coming into conflict with the system of responsible government in the colonies.”[41]  Attorney general Griffith applied further pressure to the hapless governor in July and August 1877, arguing that there was no legal objection to his assenting of the Bill.[42]  Douglas, frustrated by Kennedy’s reluctance to assent to the Bill, threatened to resign and force the dissolution of parliament.  Kennedy knew that an election fought over this issue would overwhelmingly vindicate the stance of Douglas and his ministry, and he therefore requested that the British government telegraph him explicit instructions to either assent or reserve the Bill.[43]  Approval was swiftly granted, and Kennedy assented to the legislation on 27 August 1877.[44]

Douglas’s actions over the anti-Chinese legislation were a watershed in the relationship between the Queensland government on the one hand and the governor and the British Colonial Office on the other.  For the first time in its short history, the government had successfully prevented the governor’s exercise of his independent discretion.  In bowing to Douglas, the Colonial Office conceded that the governor’s exercise of his personal discretion in accordance with British government instruction or policy was unable to prevail over a ministry determined to use its majority in parliament to force legislation through it.[45]

Douglas was buoyed by this result, for Queensland had prevailed and the Chinese threat effectively addressed.  Always a man of principle, he had forced the governor to place the interests of the colony above those of Britain.  Douglas’s transformation from a British aristocrat to a Queensland nationalist was now complete.  The successful resolution of this thorny issue also demonstrated the power that Douglas wielded as premier.  However, this power was now at its zenith, for in a couple of months he would be beset by a personal scandal, one from which he struggled to recover.

That was in the future.  In the meantime, Douglas passed additional legislation further limiting Chinese immigration to the colony: The Chinese Immigration Restriction Act, which restricted the number of Chinese immigrants to one for every 10 tons of a ship’s capacity, and imposed a £10 entrance tax on each Chinese arrival.[46]  As a further incentive to encourage Chinese not to settle permanently in the colony, the tax was refunded if they left within three years of arrival and had committed no crimes or not caused the colony any expense through confinement in hospital or an asylum.[47]  The following year, the Act was amended further, to exclude Chinese from mining areas for the first three years after a discovery of gold there.[48]

These Acts restricting Chinese immigration were extremely popular and effective.  Only 500 new Chinese arrived in the colony between mid 1877 and 1881.[49]  Thus the legislation enacted by the Douglas ministry effectively curbed Chinese immigration into Queensland from this point onwards.  A brief perusal of the press for this period attests to the popularity of this measure.  Queenslanders most certainly did not want the Chinese on their goldfields or in the colony and would have gone to great lengths to stop them.  Nevertheless, how did Douglas himself feel about the Chinese as people?  Did he have any regrets in restricting their presence?

Douglas was a committed liberalist and respected the Chinese, considering them “industrious, frugal and law-abiding.”[50]  They were, he informed his fellow parliamentarians in 1876, “as intelligent as themselves.”[51]  He supported the appointment of a Chinese consul to Queensland,[52] and regarded the respected Chinese Australian, Quong Tart, as a personal friend.[53]  Nevertheless, Douglas believed that they were inappropriate as colonists:

They do not bring their women with them; or, if they do, the women who immigrate belong for the most part to an immoral class.  They come and go, carrying back with them the proceeds of their industry.[54]

Douglas was also concerned that an influx of Chinese could entirely supplant European labour, leading to a society that could “seriously affect and change the conditions upon which our political system is founded.”[55]  Douglas was in the fortunate position where his views as premier, the policy of his party, and the concerns of the Queensland electorate were largely in alignment.  Furthermore, he had achieved a historic victory over the imperial government, which was obliged to assent to his amended legislation even though it did not address its concerns.  That New South Wales and Victoria supported his position was immensely gratifying to Douglas.  Although he remained loyal to queen and empire, he now put Queensland first.  Moreover, Douglas truly believed in the threat the Chinese posed to his beloved colony, as evidenced by this private communication to the New South Wales premier, Sir Henry Parkes:

The invasion which causes us the greatest anxiety at the present time is the Chinese inroad.  It is a serious affair you will find.  Sir Arthur Kennedy  remains to be satisfied that the Queen’s Government will not give way about it, and that they will insist upon Chinamen being placed on an equality with our own people.  I think that they will not insist but in the meantime we are in a fix.[56]

In halting continued Chinese immigration to Queensland, Douglas achieved what he believed was a good outcome for Queensland.  He passionately believed in the superiority of British civilization, the primacy of British values, and the efficacy of British institutions, and refused to have them subordinated to what he considered an alien culture.[57]  A strong believer in the British Empire, Douglas did what he could to ensure that Queensland remained in ‘the family.’[58]  For once, his stubbornness and refusal to deviate from principle were assets and, faced with this refusal to budge, Kennedy and the Colonial Office had no alternative but to concede.  Nevertheless, Douglas never saw this victory as a personal triumph.  Rather, it was a victory for British values and for Queensland, a colony that would now remain white and European.[59]

[1] The Premier. “Address in Reply to the Opening Speech.” Queensland Parliamentary Debates, vol 23, 1877, p. 1
[2] Brisbane Courier, 11 April 1877, p. 2
[3] D. L. Carrington. “Riots at Lambing Flat 1860-1861.” Royal Australian Historical Society Journal vol 46 part 4, 1960, pp. 223-43; R. B. Walker. “Another Look at Lambing Flat Riots 1860-1961.” Royal Australian Historical Society Journal vol 56 part 3, 1970, pp. 193-205
[4] Mr Douglas. ”Address in Reply to Opening Speech.” Queensland Parliamentary Debates, vol 2, 1865, p. 8
[5] Evans (1988), p. 254
[6] Fitzgerald, p. 221; Evans (1988), p. 280
[7] Willard, pp. 38-39
[8] Evans (1988), p. 255
[9] Willard, p. 40. At the 1876 census, the population of Queensland was 173,283 people. (Vamplew, p. 26.) 17,000 was also about the number of the estimated European population for the whole of north Queensland at that time. (Rolls, p. 211)
[10] John Douglas. “Adjournment.” Queensland Parliamentary Debates, vol 23, 1877, p. 34
[11] Willard, pp. 41-42. For more details on the Chinese in California, see Brisbane Courier, 31 March 1877, p. 2.
[12] Queensland Figaro, 5 February 1877, quoted in Fitzgerald, pp. 224-25. For an analysis of European attitudes to the Chinese and their perceived threat to the colony, see Evans (1988), pp. 254-318. For another letter that is easily as strident as the one penned by Palmerston, see “Outside Ideas.” Brisbane Courier, 14 April 1877, p. 5. However, there were also voices in favour of the Chinese, including; “The Chinese Question in a New Light.” Brisbane Courier, 8 September 1877, p. 3
[13] Brisbane Courier, 31 March 1877, p. 4
[14] Brisbane Courier, 25 April 1877, p. 2
[15] Brisbane Courier, 8 May 1877, p. 2
[16] One of the few admissions to racism at the time appeared in the Brisbane Courier, 23 November 1878. “Let us begin by candidly confessing that in our opposition to them there is something of sentiment and of prejudice too. We have not arrived at that sublime pitch of perfection, that total absence of partiality in which socially and industrially, we can like a Negro or Mongolian as well as we do men of European blood.” (Quoted in Evans (1988), p. 235)
[17] Patriotism had a somewhat different meaning in the late nineteenth century than it does today. For a contemporaneous definition, see Edward Westermarck. The Origin and Development of Moral Ideas. 2nd Ed. London, MacMillan and Co., 1917, p. 167
[18] See Evans (1988), pp. 241-45
[19] Smallpox had recently been encountered aboard ships plying the China route, leading to a mandatory 16 day quarantine for these vessels.
[20] See Evans (1988), pp. 293-99. As the Northern Miner noted on 26 May 1877, “There is no affinity between them and men of the Caucasian race, and miscegenation of races so physically antagonistic must inevitably degrade the higher race.” (Quoted in Evans (1988), p. 261)

[21] Douglas considered the scourge of opium to be “A terrible curse to a nation ... Worse even than whisky. Worse than gin or rum or brandy or any other spirits.” (John Douglas to Robert Douglas, 19 May 1894. Andrew and Lorraine Douglas Papers.)
[22] Geoffrey Blainey, ed. Greater Britain, Charles Dilke Visits her new Lands, 1866 &1867. Sydney, Methuen, 1986, p. 130
[23] As Windshuttle has remarked, this was seen as having the potential to create an “impoverished, racially segregated, social underclass.” (Keith Windschuttle. “Racist Essay is From the Left, not the Right.” The Australian, 29 September 2005, p. 12)
[24] Willard, p. 42
[25] Ibid.; Robert Tan. The Chinese Question in Queensland During the Nineteenth Century: A Brief History of Racial Conflict. BA Hons thesis. University of Queensland, 1958, pp. 107-8; Eric Rolls. Sojourners: Flowers and the Wide Sea. Brisbane, University of Queensland Press, 1992, p.207
[26] Charles Stuart Mein was the postmaster general and leader of the government in the upper house at the time.
[27] Fitzroy Island, off Cairns, was used as a quarantine station for Chinese disembarking at Cooktown, the port of entry for the Palmer River goldfield. For more information on the Fitzroy Island quarantine station and the Chinese who were held there, see Dorothy Jones. Trinity Phoenix: A History of Cairns. Cairns, Cairns Post, pp. 92-93 and “Fitzroy Island.” Brisbane Courier, 30 June 1877, p. 5
[28] This proclamation appeared in the Government Gazette, vol 20 no 52, 29 March 1877, p. 971, and gave the government the power to detain the ships Kat’ and Brisbane as well as any other vessel for quarantine purposes. The standard period in quarantine was 16 days.
[29] John Douglas. “Thursday Island and the Japanese.” Port Darwin, 5 June 1895. Dixson Library, State Library of New South Wales, Ad 39; “Japanese Invasion.” Bulletin, 31 August 1895; Alfred Stephens. Diary. Fryer Library, University of Queensland, UQFL 2/2835, pp. 37-39; Douglas (1902), p. 47
[30] Willard, pp. 43-44; “Chinese Immigration.” Queensland Legislative Council Journals, 1877, pp. 289-90.
[31] Brisbane Courier, 11 April 1877, p. 2
[32] Willard, p. 46; The Premier. “Address in Reply to the Opening Speech.” Queensland Parliamentary Debates, vol 23, 1877, p. 1
[33] Henry Hall. Australia and England: A Study in Imperial Relations. London, Longmans, 1934, p. 209
[34] John Douglas. “Chinese Immigration.” Queensland Legislative Council Journals, 1877, vol 1, pp. 533-34. It was also reproduced in the Brisbane Courier, 8 May 1877, p. 3
[35] Brisbane Courier, 8 May 1877, p. 2
[36] “Topics on the Pavement.” Brisbane Courier, 12 May 1877, p. 3
[37] Colonial Office, CO 234/37, Memo no 7403, 19 June 1877, pp. 491-92
[38] John Douglas. “Chinese Immigration.” Queensland Legislative Council Journals, 1877, vol 1, p. 534
[39] For a detailed account of what transpired, see Willard, pp. 47-50; Todd, pp. 187-91 & Rolls, pp. 207-8. For the Victorian response, see Graham Berry. “Further Correspondence Respecting “the Gold Fields Act Amendment Bill of 1876.” Queensland Legislative Council Journals, 1877, vol 1, p. 537. For the South Australian position and response, see Brisbane Courier, 29 June 1877, p. 2 & Queensland State Archives COL/13, no. 3075, 4 June 1877. For the Tasmanian response, see Queensland State Archives COL/13, no. 2996, 28 May 1877. Western Australia was not consulted, as it was not yet a self-governing colony. For a contemporary analysis of the various colonies responses, see the Brisbane Courier, 25 August 1877, p. 4.

[40] Kennedy to Colonial Office, 6 June 1877, CO 234/37
[41] Harding (1997), p. 205

[42] Griffith, in his original objection to Governor Cairns reserving this bill the previous year, had asserted that, “the competency of the Queensland legislature to deal with the question appears to be one supported both by principle and precedent.” (Griffith to Cairns, Colonial Office 234/36, Despatch no. 80, enclosure no 2, pp. 291-95)
[43] Kennedy to Colonial Office, 11 August 1877, CO 234/37
[44] Harding (1997), p. 205. Greenwood accurately summed up this episode as follows: “Assent to the Queensland Gold Fields Amendment Act of 1876 was withheld chiefly on the grounds that it injured, not only aliens, but British subjects of Chinese origin, and that it was inconsistent with the agreements between Britain and China under the Treaty of Tientsin (1858) and the Convention of Peking (1860.) When the colony showed itself determined, however, a new bill was allowed to go through with verbal amendments which did not remove either objection.” (Gordon Greenwood. Australia: A Social and Political History. Sydney, Angus and Robertson, 1977, p. 135)
[45] Harding (1997), pp. 205-6. The significance of this was recognised at the time, with the Brisbane Courier editorialising that the assent of the Bill; “is one of the most important in the history of parliamentary legislation in Queensland, or, indeed, in all the colonies … [it] throws a new light on the relations of these colonies with the imperial government and establishes a precedent which may prove extremely valuable at a future time.” (Brisbane Courier, 25 August 1877, p. 4 and also the Brisbane Courier, 2 November 1877, p. 2)
[46] Evans (1988), p. 268. This Bill was assented to before the Goldfields Act Amendment, making the latter superfluous.
[47] Rolls, p. 210
[48] Fitzgerald, p. 225. As a further disincentive, the status of a field as new could be further extended by proclamation, whenever the government desired. (Rolls, p. 210; Evans (1988), p. 270)
[49] Willard, p. 51. For example, In Cooktown in the four months following the passing of the Act, only £20 was received, half of which was paid back. (“News of the Week.” Queensland Evangelical Standard, 29 December 1877, p. 308)
[50] Ross Johnston (1988), pp. 291-92
[51] John Douglas. “Gold Fields Act Amendment Bill.” Queensland Parliamentary Debates, vol 20, 3 August 1876, p.381, cited in Evans (1988), p. 255
[52] John Douglas to the Governor, 5 August 1878. Queensland State Archives, COL A/651, in correspondence no 02800 dated 12 March 1891. This support was in response to the Colonial Office seeking views on the desirability of appointing Chinese consuls to the British Empire.
[53] John Douglas to Robert Douglas, 19 May 1894. Andrew and Lorraine Douglas Papers
[54] Ross Johnston (1988), pp. 291-92
[55] Ibid.
[56] Douglas to Parkes, 4 June 1877. Sir Henry Parkes Correspondence vol 11, A881, CY reel 33, pp. 122-26 &141-44. Dixson Library, State Library of New South Wales
[57] For more on the superiority of British civilization, see Walter Mills. The Struggle for Existence. Chicago, International School of Social Economy, 1904, p. 545 & Evans (1988), pp. 256-57
[58] As Douglas later remarked: “The right of parliament to legislate on a matter which so closely affected the future of the country was resolutely maintained, while, at the same time, the requirements of the imperial government were respected.” (John Douglas. “To the Electors of Maryborough.” Brisbane Courier, 5 November 1878, p. 7)
[59] I am well aware of the contradiction inherent in this statement, given Queensland’s large Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander population, but at the time, they were considered to be in an entirely different category.