The chance discovery of a photograph of Chinese prisoners in a jailyard in Burketown in 1900 has led to research on the story and historical events that lead to the arrest.
The original photograph one of four featured on page 876 of the Queenslander, 27 October 1900 showing "Chinese prisoners being fed under supervision outside in the Gaol Yard, Burketown, Queensland, ca. October 1900."
According to the State Library of Queensland 25 Chinese workers were arrested crossing the Northern Territory/Queensland border without permission and were arraigned to Normanton for trial.
The SLQ invited guest blogger and historian David Huggonson to tell their story.
Mr Huggonson begins with the Palmer River and Hodgkinson goldrushes in north Queensland between 1873-1876 when prospective miners flooded into the region.
By mid 1874, Chinese alluvial gold miners from Etheridge and Charters Towers goldfields began to move to the new fields and many new Chinese immigrants arrived with shipping companies offering deck passages at low rates.
The South Australian Register reported on 24 April 1875 on the "Influx of Chinese into Queensland" with eight hundred landed at Cooktown a month earlier.
The white population were not happy with the big influx and there were riots and big anti-Chinese meetings in Brisbane and other cities.
In 1877 the Queensland Government responded by passing the Chinese Immigration Regulations Act, which authorized a ten pound poll tax to be paid by ships' masters on every Chinese person transported on their vessel.
By 1877 there were about 16,000 Chinese on the Palmer goldfield though most were unsuccessful and living in destitution.
Some went home or to the newly formed settlement of Cairns. Chinese farmers were pioneers of the banana growing and sugar cane industries. Others found employment on northern pastoral stations as cooks and market gardeners.
In 1887, Northern Territory authorities began to build the Palmerston to Pine Creek railway and many Chinese miners found work as navvies on the railway.
Afterwards many headed on foot for Queensland overland looking for work on the Normanton to Croydon railway line or the Croydon Goldfield.
The Maryborough Chronicle of 10 April 1894 carried a report that "droves of Chinese are in Camooweal from Port Darwin heading for the north Queensland goldfields". Twenty-three crossed near Camooweal and forty-three others followed the Georgina River down and crossed near Lake Nash pastoral station.
The Queensland mounted police were waiting and conducted them back into the Territory.
Travelling Chinese found without a permit were taken to Burketown and shipped back to Port Darwin. By 1898 the permit system had been cancelled and Chinese were prohibited from entering Queensland.
With federation in 1901 immigration control became a Commonwealth responsibility but legislation maintained the disqualification and discrimination of the former colonies.
One of the first Acts of the new Commonwealth Parliament was the Immigration Restrictions Act 1901.
Mr Huggonson said the new law aimed to limit non-white (particularly Asian) immigration to Australia. The Commonwealth Franchise Act 1902 disqualified from the Commonwealth franchise "Aboriginal natives of Australia, Asia, and the Islands of the Pacific except New Zealand". The Commonwealth's Invalid and Old-age Pensions Act of 1908 denied pensions to Asiatics (except those born in Australia) or Aboriginal natives of Australia, Africa, Islands of the Pacific.
"Clearly, it was intended that these people were to have no place in the future of White Australia," Mr Huggonson concluded.