Image 'Chinese carpenters at work, Emerald Hill', c1867

TLF ID R2807

This is a black-and-white print that shows a group of Chinese carpenters in a workshop at Emerald Hill (South Melbourne) around 1867. A European man, who may be an artist, observes two of the carpenters at work. The carpenters appear to be making celestial carvings, which were spiritual objects for the Chinese, but which may have been used decoratively by European Australians. Various objects and carvings are stacked against the rear wall of the workshop. This print was taken from a wood engraving made by Frederick Grosse that was published in the 'Illustrated Australian News for Home Readers' in March, 1867.

Educational details

Educational value
  • This asset shows Chinese immigrants in Melbourne in this period - over 100,000 Chinese arrived in Australia from the 1840s to the 1890s, mainly to work on the gold fields but also as contract or indentured labour; despite the introduction of discriminatory laws to discourage Chinese immigration, by 1857 more than 26,000 Chinese had come to Victoria; most of these immigrants were men and over half ultimately returned to China.
  • It indicates that many Chinese immigrants remained in Victoria after the gold rushes - from the 1870s, Chinese immigrants settled in towns and cities where they engaged in a variety of occupations including market gardening, cabinet making, shop keeping and laundering.
  • It shows Chinese immigrants working as carpenters in Melbourne in this period - by 1891, 525 (about 10 per cent of) Chinese workers in Victoria were employed as cabinet makers, producing cedar chairs and other furniture; however anti-Chinese feeling led to union calls for the stamping of all Chinese-made furniture and, in 1896, the Victorian and New South Wales governments passed legislation to this effect.
  • It may show Chinese contract or indentured workers - these workers, most of whom were agricultural labourers, carpenters or domestic servants, were brought to Australia in this period to meet an alleged labour shortage caused by the end of convict transportation and the gold rush; however, unions saw Chinese workers as cheap labour who took jobs from white Australians and this view helped fuel anti-Chinese sentiment.
  • It depicts the clothing worn by Chinese artisans and manual workers in this period - Chinese men wore a 'sam-fu', which was usually made of cotton and consisted of a long gown (sam) with loosely cut trousers (fu) that were worn rolled up or bound at the ankle.
  • It shows that Chinese men wore their hair in queues or plaits in this period - it was common for Chinese workers to secure the queue out of the way in a coil around the back of the head; the dress and hairstyles of the Chinese accentuated their difference in the eyes of Australians of European descent and made them easy targets for racism.
  • It gives an example of the work of wood engraver Frederick Grosse - Grosse (1828-1894) produced a number of engravings for illustrated newspapers and magazines in Victoria and also worked as an engraver for other artists; wood engraving is a printmaking technique in which a print is made from a design incised on the transverse section, or end, of a hardwood block.
  • It is an example of the type of illustration that appeared in newspapers and magazines in this period - engravings and line drawings were used to illustrate newspapers and magazines until the early 1900s when they were superseded by photographs.
Year level

5; 6; 7; 8; 9

Learning area
  • History

Other details

  • Author
  • Person: Frederick Grosse
  • Description: Author
  • Contributor
  • Name: National Library of Australia
  • Organization: National Library of Australia
  • Description: Content provider
  • URL:
  • Name: Education Services Australia
  • Organization: Education Services Australia
  • Description: Data manager
  • Person: Frederick Grosse
  • Description: Author
  • Copyright Holder
  • Name: National Library of Australia
  • Organization: National Library of Australia
  • Publisher
  • Name: Education Services Australia Ltd
  • Organization: Education Services Australia Ltd
  • Description: Publisher
  • Address: VIC, AUSTRALIA
  • URL:
  • Resource metadata contributed by
  • Name: Education Services Australia Ltd
  • Organisation: Education Services Australia Ltd
  • Address: AUSTRALIA
  • URL:
Access profile
  • Colour independence
  • Device independence
  • Hearing independence
Learning Resource Type
  • Image
  • © Education Services Australia Ltd and National Library of Australia, 2013, except where indicated under Acknowledgements