Anti-Chinese Riots: When Brisbane Streets Erupted in Racial Violence

Anti-Chinese Riots: When Brisbane Streets Erupted in Racial Violence


These days we think of a larrikin as a
bit of a scallywag. But in the late 1880s larrikins were working-class men and women. They were hell raisers, and no strangers to violence and civil disobedience. In the late 1880s Queensland papers are running hot with anti-Chinese sentiment, so it is no surprise that by 1888 both political parties in the North Brisbane election were campaigning on a ticket of anti-Chinese legislation. Sitting member Sir Samuel Griffith
and Opposition Leader Thomas McIlwraith were both very vocal about ousting the Chinese from Brisbane. Their words inflamed passions and it didn’t take much for the larrikins to latch on to the pervading xenophobia. Feelings were high on election day the 5th of May and free drinks were flowing for McIlwrath’s supporters down and the rough-and-ready streets of Frog Hollow, known to locals as Chinatown. An argument between a larrikin and a Chinese storekeeper escalated into a four-hour riot. Over 2,000 people rampaged up and down Mary and Albert streets and into Fortitude Valley, smashing every Chinese shop front and pillaging Chinese shops, homes and boarding houses. Any Chinese people unlucky enough to be on the street were chased and harassed. The police stood by and did nothing. When later questioned, Police Inspector Lewis argued that he had not issued orders to charge the rioters as the majority of people in the
street were respectable citizens and would probably have been injured. After the riot, Chinese shopkeepers banded together to seek compensation for damages. They petitioned the Governor with lists of goods and damage done. The government refused compensation.

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