Rocky River Uralla

A brief historical background

by Juanita Kwok

Rocky River in the “New England” district of the Northern Tablelands of New South Wales is situated on the traditional land of the Anaiwan people. Historian Callum Clayton Dixon has documented the determined resistance of the Anaiwan to the invasion of their lands by pastoralists in the 1830s. [1] Pastoral stations were run by convict labour until the cessation of convict transportation created a labour shortage which prompted the importation of Chinese indentured labour from the late 1840s.[2] Chinese labourers brought to work as shepherds on pastoral runs and for the Australian Agricultural Company at its Peel River Estate came mostly from the port of Amoy in Fukien province.

The Northern Tablelands were still a place of frontier conflict when the Northern New South Wales goldrushes began in 1851, following the announcement that gold had been discovered at Swamp Oak Creek, a tributary of the Peel River, 24 kilometres east of Tamworth. Other discoveries followed, the most important among them at Nundle and Hanging Rock on tributaries of the Peel River, on the Timbarra River east of Tenterfield and on the Rocky River near Uralla. By November 1852, the Rocky River was a major alluvial field.[3]

Amoy men were already working on the goldfields when gold seekers from the Pearl River Delta area of Canton began arriving on the Rocky River goldfield in 1856. Their arrival was met with resentment by the Amoy and clashes between the Amoy men and “the Hong Kong men” were reported. In September 1856 European miners violently attacked and drove Chinese from the Rocky River goldfield. The names of those assaulted suggest that many of the victims were Amoy men. [4]

Notwithstanding, the Chinese population on the Rocky River goldfield continued to grow. In July 1858 it was reported that “the number of Chinese on the ground is truly astonishing; they now consider themselves a very important body and readily show fight to the white population. A large Chinese store and butchering establishment is now in full operation on these diggings…”[5] Though a proposal was raised on the Rocky River in 1861 to prohibit Chinese from the NSW goldfields, it received little support.[6] This may have been due in part to order maintained on the goldfields by the presence of resident gold commissioners who maintained peace and resolved disputes on the field.

Map of Rocky River Gold fields map
1860 map of the Rocky River. State Archives NSW, NRS 8210 AO 10316, Lands Department Lithographs.

In April 1866, the system of resident gold commissioners was dispensed with and disputes which had until that time been settled on the field were referred to Justices of the Peace in a Court of Petty Sessions. When Frederick Dalton, the Resident Commissioner at Rocky River was made redundant, Chinese storekeepers 鄭尚 “Cheng Sheung” (romanised as Ah Sioung) and 阿和 Yi Wah, goldminer 鄭隆 Ah Lung and one hundred and twenty other Chinese residing at Rocky River wrote and signed a petition in Chinese addressed to the Minister of Lands, requesting that Commissioner Dalton be retained as resident Gold Commissioner.[7]

Petition from the Chinese miners at the Rocky River Goldfield, 1866 [Enclosure to Letter No. 66/2953 in 5/3703B] (Chinese scroll and English translation). State Archives New South Wales: NRS 7933, Letters received [Department of Lands].

Though Dalton was subsequently appointed Commissioner for the Northern Goldfields, he was responsible for a very large area, so the Rocky River no longer had a resident commissioner. [8]

The Chinese settlement on Rocky River was concentrated at Mt Jones, where the existence of a township formed by the Chinese, with its own store, butchers shop and joss house was reported in 1863. At least three buildings described as joss houses were erected by Chinese miners on the Rocky River goldfield. The first was described in the 1863 report of the Chinese township at Mt Jones, as being “conspicuous by its large flag with Chinese characters printed on it flying outside, and a tawdry dirty finery inside.”[9] An 1866 report of the death of a Chinese miner on the Rocky River goldfield suggests that a second joss house opened in 1866.[10]

The translation of one the temple artefacts at Inverell Pioneer Village reveals it is from a joss house at Rocky River. The artefact is a donor plaque which lists the names of 155 Chinese men who donated funds for the erection of the Rocky River temple. As the plaque is dated 1866, it appears it dates from the second temple built on the Rocky River goldfield. A third joss house was opened on the Rocky River in 1880. The opening ceremonies were described as having consisted:

in the discharge of myriads of crackers and miniature guns, beating of tom toms, gongs and other Celestial discords … the discharge of fireworks had the effect of thoroughly disturbing the usually peaceful slumbers of the European settlers, who at the time scarcely appreciated the somewhat novel manner of dedicating a place of worship. The pyrotechnic display was continued with unabated vigour throughout the following day … [11]

By 1870, Chinese mining was shifting its focus from gold to tin, with the opening of tin fields at Tingha, Oban and Emmaville. Chinese parties moved from the Rocky River goldfield to the northern tin fields taking with them the temple furnishings and artefacts. Amongst those who moved from Rocky River to Tingha was storekeeper  鄭尚 Chin Ah Song, who had been on the Rocky River goldfield for 14 years. Chin Ah Song moved in 1874 to Tingha where he operated a store for the next 29 years.[12]

With thanks to Malcolm Oakes for sharing his research on Chin Ah Song.


[1] Callum Clayton-Dixon, Surviving New England : A history of Aboriginal resistance & resilience through the first forty years of the colonial apocalypse, Armidale, NSW : Newara Aboriginal Corporation, 2020.

[2] See Maxine Darnell, “Indentured Chinese Labourers and Employers Identified, New South Wales, 1828-1856“, Melbourne: La Trobe University, Humanities and Social Sciences Asian Studies Program.

[3] Ken McQueen, “Rivers of Gold and Tin: Alluvial Mining in the New England Region” Proceedings of the 24th Australasian Mining History Conference, Cromwell New Zealand, 2018: Accessed on Research Gate, 2 June 2021.

[4] D. F. Mackay, “The Rocky River Goldfield, 1851-1867 “, Masters thesis, University of Melbourne, 1953; Maxine Darnell, “Indentured Chinese Labourers and Employers Identified, New South Wales, 1828-1856 “.

[5] “New England Gold Fields”, The Armidale Express and New England General Advertiser, 10 July 1858, 2, accessed 12 July 2021,

[6] “The Chinese and the Diggers at the Rocky River”, Sydney Morning Herald, 17 July 1861, 2, accessed 12 July 2021,; “Rocky River”, SMH, 16 September 1861, 2, accessed 12 July 2021,

[7] SANSW, NRS 7933, Letters Received [ Department of Lands]. Petition from the Chinese Miners at the Rocky River Goldfield, 1866 [Enclosure to letter no. 66/2953 in 5/3703B] Chinese scroll and English translation.

[8] See Juanita Kwok, “The Chinese in Bathurst: Recovering Forgotten Histories”, PhD thesis, 2019, 144.

[9] “The Northern Goldfields”, The Armidale Express and New England General Advertiser, 15 August 1863, 2, accessed 12 July 2021,

[10] “Sudden Death of a Chinaman”, Sydney Mail, 9 June 1866, 3, accessed 12 July 2021,

[11] “Opening of a Chinese Joss House at Rocky River”, The Singleton Argus and Upper Hunter General Advocate, 4 February 1880, 2, accessed 12 July 2021,

[12] National Archives Australia, SP42/1, B1906/4822, “Young Kee Tibbits and Chin Ah Song” 1903, Statutory Declaration, p. 9.