Organized Panel Session
In 1857 a scandal erupted when customs officials and soldiers boarded two ships in Sydney Harbour and seized close to 4,000 ounces of gold from 37 Chinese miners under a new Gold Duty Act. A special committee was formed, recording extensive testimony from the miners on their life stories and intimate relationships within their home villages; the miners were refusing to return home until their gold was returned as many were carrying gold for up to twenty people from their villages and they feared retribution. I use this case to show how emerging customs laws during the gold rush era designed to stop gold smuggling were racialised, and how these laws became entwined with debates over the regulation and surveillance of Chinese bodies. These debates revolved around the following questions: 1) whether or not Chinese miners leaving NSW during the gold rushes were guilty of the organized smuggling of gold 2) whether or not Chinese miners in NSW were ‘free’ or ‘forced,’ arriving of their own ‘free will’, or through forms of coercion. In trying to govern Chinese mobility and economic activity at this time, I’ll explore how white law makers broadened the scale of their vision of ‘forced labour’ and ‘forced migration’ to include other parts of globe, and with what effects. At the heart of this debate was the ways in which western judicial practice in the 19th century was shaped by the ‘coolie’ trade as metaphor.