Celebrating South Australia


25 June 1857 Chinese in Robe

 25 June 1857   Chinese in Robe

The ship Koenig Willem II arrived in Robe on 25 June 1857 and disembarked 397 Chinese. On 30 June the ship dragged her anchor in a gale and foundered four miles east of the town where she broke up in the pounding seas. Of her crew of 25, 16 perished, although the captain was saved at the last moment when he managed to reach shore on a floating drum. The sailors were buried in the sandhills nearby.

The Koenig Willem II was only one of 32 ships which brought thousands of Chinese men, and one woman, to the southern port in 1857. So many Chinese were attracted to the Victorian goldfields in the 1850s that in 1855 the Victorian government placed a poll tax of £10 on all Chinese immigrants arriving in Victoria. This led to the 'China' ships, as they were known, having to find another port to land their passengers, and as Robe was the best harbour near the Victorian border it became the logical answer to the problem. In 1856 about 4300 Chinese were landed there, and in 1857 10,325 came ashore. In all over 16,000 immigrants went through the port. Their influx was a boon to Robe for they bought all their supplies in the town before setting out on the long walk to the goldfields.

The Victorian government was not impressed by this arrangement and pressured the South Australian government to pass a Restriction Act in June 1857 to cut the inflow of the Chinese. This was repealed in 1861 because the Governor, Sir Richard MacDonnell, regarded the Act as contrary to Britain's freedom policy, but by this time the gold rush was over.

Kathleen Bermingham, Gateway to the South East , SE Times, 1961,  p. 107.
Wilf Sprengel, The Ecstasy and Agony of Guichen Bay, 1986, pp. 22-28.