M609 | Chinese Gold Washers on the Fraser River, BC, ca. 1864
Chinese Gold Washers on the Fraser River, BC, ca. 1864
William George Richardson Hind
About 1864, 19th century
13.8 x 22.8 cm
Gift of Mr. David Ross McCord
© McCord Museum
Keywords: Figure (1339) , Figure (1339) , Painting (2229) , painting (2227)
Keys to History
In 1858, the first gold rush took place south of the Fraser River in the Colony of British Columbia. The second gold rush got underway two years later, north of the river in the Cariboo district.
Chinese workers often surveyed lands abandoned by the gold seekers. One of the two Chinese miners seen here in the foreground gathers specks of gold using a hand implement, known as a riddle. His fellow worker places rocks and sand on the perforated plate at the top of the riddle. A water screening process traps large pieces of gold on the plate while smaller pieces pass through to the bottom of the riddle. This rudimentary technique was used alongside sluicing - a more common practice north of the Fraser River. Sluicing required relatively sophisticated equipment such as wooden chutes, constructed on riverbanks for access to running water during gold washing.
Roughly 4,000 Chinese miners, nearly all men, came through California or via direct route from Hong Kong and China. Most came from poor rural families in Guangdong province, bounded by the sea. At the time, China's struggle with overpopulation and land shortages was driving many of its people into exile.
Those with few resources could still seek gold in shallow-water sand and gravel bars. Typically, an area was abandoned after the most reachable gold had been harvested and no gravel was left on the stream beds. Chinese and native people were among those who stayed behind on the same bars and beaches, persistent in their search for gold.
Chinese people who stayed in the Colony after the gold rush found work in several locations. Some worked in Victoria as domestics, shopkeepers and launderers while others worked in Nanaimo as coal miners. Still others worked in the new salmon canning industry and on the building of the Canadian Pacific Railway.
In the summer of 1860, almost 4,000 people of Chinese origin lived in the Colony of British Columbia. As the gold rush drew to a close in 1866, their numbers were approximately 1,700. New waves of Chinese immigrants would follow, particularly throughout the 1880s.
Artist William George Richardson Hind (1833-1889) painted this canvas while in the Cariboo district in 1864. The second gold rush (1860-1865) was nearing its end. From an historical perspective, Hind's portraits of the miners from this area rank among the most interesting of his career.