History with Brian James: James McCullock Henly and the Chinese gold miners

Burrangong Gully, heritage listed former Chinese migrant camp.
Burrangong Gully, heritage listed former Chinese migrant camp.

History with Brian James

James McCullock Henly and the Chinese Gold Miners

James McCullock Henley arrived at lambing Flat sometime in 1860 or early 1861, most likely at the request of the Chinese. He had been involved with the Chinese on the Victorian Goldfields as an interpreter for about five years.

In late December 1860 Henley wrote a long letter to the Albury Border Post about 'Chinese Oaths' commenting on a trial involving two Europeans convicted of assault solely on the evidence of the Chinese. Although an advocate for the Chinese he always pointed out the problems Europeans had when not understanding their motives and culture.

The Sydney Mail on December 15 reported 'Great Riot at Lambing Flat Diggings Two Chinese killed and Ten seriously wounded - A Vigilance Committee formed - Six Shanties Burnt'.No prosecutions were proceeded with and the Sydney Government continued to turn a blind eye .

The first 'roll-up' forcing the Chinese off their claims occurred in January 1861 ,using the complaints that the Chinese polluted the water and brought disease like leprosy. Few lepers had been found in Victoria ,but scare tactics brought results.

The water issue was a red herring as the Chinese had been restricted to one area and were never near the water sources of the Europeans .

The Yass Courier reported in April that "by the treaty made with the Chinese, they are permitted to come here on the same footing as British subjects".

They also stated that "Mr Henley, the Chinese interpreter, is on the ground, with the view of negotiating with the Government for indemnity". Six hundred Chinese miners went to the Mining tribunal and used Henley to state their grievances to Commissioner Cloete.

They were treated with contempt and were ordered from his presence, yet Chinese miners who had departed Lambing Flat for Sofala and Braidwood were receiving protection. On June 28, Henley went to the police camp and told Commissioner Lynch that he had been told that on Sunday a mob was going to muster at Tipperary and drive the Chinese off their claims. He begged for protection but was told none would be given. On Sunday 30th at their temporary refugee site at Back Creek they could hear the mob bearing down on them, Henley again went to the police camp and sought protection but was told they were waiting for orders.

Hundreds of Chinese were brutally assaulted, their tents and blankets burnt, robbed of their money, maimed and treated barbarously..

It appears that the police did not check ,enumerate or interview the evicted assaulted homeless Chinese squatting on James Robert's Station at Currawong. They had days to do so and Henley would have been there to translate .

Henley was a witness at the Young and Goulburn trials of August and September, 1861. Amongst other eye-witness evidence he stated that "the Chinese were ran after and their tails cut off with knives and tomahawks, they were kicked, and one shot in the thigh, one man had his scalp taken off him in a cruel manner, my property was burnt as well as the rest".

Henley also claimed he saw three Chinese killed but this was never brought up in court as no assault or murder charges were laid.

Mr Buchanan who was a 'parliamentary retainer' of the rioters was attempting to discredit Henley and argued in Parliament that Henley should be charged with perjury. The Premier, Cowper, would have nothing of this as there was no reason to do so .

On May 20, 1862 almost a year after the riots William D Campbell Esq arrived to fulfil his instructions of July 1861 to inquire into the riots and domiciled himself at Boorowa. His final report was written at Beverley, Boorowa .

Quite obviously there would be no dead bodies still lying about or burnt remains of tents nor scattered Chinese belongings or cut pigtails.

If Campbell had arrived at the start of his assignment Chinese would have still been in the district. Interviews would have been possible, records might have been saved which years later might have been worth pouring over.

  • Sourced from 'James McCulloch Henley' by Carol Holsworth.