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Image Handwritten Chinese notice about gold fields mining legislation, 1873

TLF ID R7995

This is a handwritten notice, the body of which is in Chinese characters, informing Chinese miners about the 'Gold Fields Regulations' and 'Gold Fields Act'. The notice is 15 columns wide with approximately 25 characters running down each column. Below the heading, in smaller script, is written 'By Order / of the Commissioner / J.G. McDonald Esqre / Charters-Towers / May 1st 1873' and 'Translated by / James McHenley / Anglo-Chinese Linguist'. The edges of the paper are worn in places and there are pin holes in each corner.

Educational details

Educational value
  • This translated notice was meant to inform the rapidly increasing numbers of Chinese miners of the mining regulations in force in 1873 on the Charters Towers gold field. In 1870 there were few more than 2,000 Chinese miners in all of Queensland, most arriving from southern states. The discovery of gold at Charters Towers in 1871 and at Palmer River in 1873 attracted thousands more, with large numbers travelling directly to the northern Qld gold fields from Hong Kong.
  • The majority of Chinese miners would not have been able to read this notice because they came from impoverished backgrounds such as farming, where literacy rates in terms of written characters were low. They were forced to rely on others for important day-to-day gold field information. On arrival, many joined, for a small fee, Chinese societies that offered translation and scribe services as well as advice on fitting into the new environment.
  • Many people on the gold fields at the time, including the Chinese miners, could not read or write. They relied on others to be told important information that affected their lives overall, including the content of current mining regulations. Anyone reading, translating or scribing for somebody else had to be trustworthy, as they were relied upon to be accurate and honest.
  • As indicated on the notice, the law in operation on Qld gold fields in 1873 was the 'Gold Fields Act', a New South Wales Act dating from 1857, and its accompanying regulations. Sometimes vague and confusing, these regulations gave information on claim size, the number of claims allowed, the direction a claim could be worked in, absence from a claim, and registration and marking out of claims. The regulations also included the annual fee for the right to mine for gold.
  • In 1873 the official in charge of administering the Act and regulations at Charters Towers was Commissioner J G McDonald and, as the image shows, he ordered that this notice be prepared. The duties of gold commissioners of the time included adjudicating disputed claims, proclaiming new discoveries, recording claims, arranging gold escorts, collecting revenue and statistics, and providing for the poor and sick. McDonald had at his disposal two troopers and a clerk.
  • The 'Anglo-Chinese Linguist' who prepared this notice was James McHenley who, after graduating from a Scottish university, had studied Canton dialects and the written Chinese language at a college in China for three years. In his June 1873 letter to the Qld attorney-general seeking a Court appointment, he states that his translations of the Gold Fields Regulations 'were circulated among the Chinese and Tartars for their edification'.
Year level

6; 7; 8; 9; 10; 11; 12

Learning area
  • History
  • Studies of society and environment

Other details

  • Author
  • Person: James McHenley
  • Description: Author
  • Contributor
  • Name: State Library of Queensland
  • Organization: State Library of Queensland
  • Description: Content provider
  • Address: QLD, AUSTRALIA
  • URL:
  • Name: Education Services Australia
  • Organization: Education Services Australia
  • Description: Data manager
  • Person: James McHenley
  • Description: Author
  • Copyright Holder
  • Name: State Library of Queensland
  • Organization: State Library of Queensland
  • Address: QLD, AUSTRALIA
  • Publisher
  • Name: Education Services Australia Ltd
  • Organization: Education Services Australia Ltd
  • Description: Publisher
  • Address: VIC, AUSTRALIA
  • URL:
  • Resource metadata contributed by
  • Name: Education Services Australia Ltd
  • Organisation: Education Services Australia Ltd
  • Address: AUSTRALIA
  • URL:
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Learning Resource Type
  • Image
  • © Education Services Australia Ltd and State Library of Queensland, 2013, except where indicated under Acknowledgements