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Religion and vice

Every Chinese townships surveyed recorded with two major sources of vice – opium and gambling. Opium was first introduced by the British thru the East Indies Company as a substitute for goods in the trade with China. China’s Qing government recognised its evil influence to the society and various unsuccessful attempts had been made to eradicate this. This eventually led to conflict – the Opium War, resulted in the citing of Hong Kong to the British crown in 1841.

Interactive graph. Click to select or exclude gold fields.

It was estimated that close to half of the Chinese mining population in Victoria used opium to some degree. There were 34, 15, 10 and 5 opium shops in Ballarat, Beechworth, Bendigo and Maryborough respectively. The survey reported that the daily opium habit of a poor miner would cost 4-8s per week, with wealthier miners spending 1 or 2p per week on this drug. Considering the average income for a miner of 8-12s per week, this would equate to half of their earnings.

Gambling presented another problem for the miners. This could be best summarised by W. Ah-Kew, interpreter from Maryborough gold fields. “If a man has money, his mind is so bent upon winning, that he neglects his business, breaks his word, and commits theft.”

The cost of opium and gambling combined, could easily wipe out all the income of the miners. This in turn would led to social and law and order issues.


Early Chinese migrants