Chinese Language Records at PROV

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Public Record Office Victoria holds a few but precious Chinese language records from the nineteenth century and early twentieth century. These records show how Chinese residents of the colony used the legal and administrative systems of Victoria to run their businesses, defend themselves in the hurly-burly of colonial life and represent their interests both individually and as a distinct cultural group.


Official Documents Printed in Chinese

The existence of Chinese language records produced by the Victorian government of this period indicates that the government recognized the need for effective communication with its Chinese residents.

The Victorian colonial government employed interpreters to translate between Chinese and English speakers and to provide official documents printed in Chinese.

William Henry Foster, the Chinese Protector in Ballarat from late 1855 to 1861 made sure to have government notices and regulations printed in Chinese in Ballarat’s bilingual Chinese-English newspaper, copies of which have been digitized by the Central Highlands Regional Library Corporation. The transcribed Letterbook, Reports and Diary (in English) of W H Foster can be found on the PROV Wiki.

This printed poster of Mining Statute no 480, translated into Chinese and printed by the Victorian Government Printer, is one of these official documents that can still be found in the archives.

PROV VPRS 4553/P0, unit 1

PROV, VPRS 4553/P0, Unit 1

The Central Board of Health in Melbourne sent out notices in Chinese to be posted up by Local Boards of Health around Victoria. This entry of 2nd September 1881 in the committee minutes of the Local Board of Health of the town of Ballarat East shows that the local Board has received a notice in Chinese..

PROV, VPRS 12764/P1, Unit 1

PROV VPRS 12764/P1, unit 1

The poster itself has not survived in the records of Ballarat East, but another poster in Chinese sent out by the Central Board of Health that year has been found in the inwards correspondence of 1882 of the central goldfields town of Sandhurst (in 1891 it became the City of Bendigo). Apparently it took a year to receive and to file the notice.

Sanitary Notice in the Chinese Language

Chinese Language Records Written by Chinese Residents

Records written by Chinese residents can be found scattered through court records, government correspondence and other administrative records. For example, the records of the Creswick courts contain this invoice, submitted as evidence of a debt owed for groceries, when a Chinese shopkeeper sued for payment of a debt in 1865. See the court documents and the Chinese text here.

This handwritten invoice has been retranslated and transcribed into printed Chinese by a contributor to the WIKI and can be found here.

PROV, VPRS 5954/Unit 2, 1865
PROV VPRS 5943, unit 2, 1865



Petition usually list signatories, but sometimes the Chinese names of the petitioners have been written down by the person most competent in written Chinese in the local community.

PROV has many petitions from Chinese residents in colonial Victoria. The petitions show Chinese people representing their concerns to the government, but they are also a rich repository of Chinese names, often given in both Chinese and in an English form
In this image of a section of  petition from Melbourne Chinese residents you can see the name of John Alloo. John Alloo was well-known as an interpreter and as an early restaurateur in Ballarat.

John Alloo signature.JPG


PROV VPRS 1189/P0, unit 482

Anna Kyi examines petitions of Chinese residents in her two articles in Provenance Number 8 September 2009: ‘Finding the Chinese perspective: Locating Chinese petitions against anti-Chinese legislation during the mid to late 1850s’ and ‘The most determined, sustained diggers’ resistance campaign: Chinese protests against the Victorian Government’s anti-Chinese legislation, 1855 to 1862’ .Petitions to view on the PROV WIKI include:

Petitions from Ballarat

Memorial of Chinese Merchants and Storekeepers residing at Ballarat 26 November 1863

Petitions From Creswick

The humble petition of the undersigned Storekeepers and Rate-payers on Black Lead 30 April 1867

Petition of we the undersigned ratepayers Chinatown Blacklead Creswick 17 July 1872

We the undersigned, Chinese, resident at and in the vicinity of the Chinese Camp 1 Oct 1873

We the undersigned guarantee to take the water to our establishments if it is extended to the Black Lead 15 April 1871

Increasing Access to Our Chinese Australian Heritage

There are many more Chinese language records to be found in the archives. Finding them will add to our understanding of the lives of Chinese people in Victoria. If you would like to help make more these records visible, you can add images of, or references to records you have found in the archives to this page.

A challenge! If anyone wants to put up translations of the Chinese language material found in PROV this could be a place to share them.

Links to Places Involved in the Preservation and the Exploration of Australian Chinese Heritage.

Chinese Museum Melbourne

Chinese Heritage of Australian Federation Project

Dragon Tails

Gum San Chinese Heritage Centre Ararat

Golden Dragon Museum Bendigo


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