Wednesday, 16 December 2009

Casey Cardinia and the Boxer Uprising

Do you have an ancestor who served in China during the Boxer Uprising? This is a little know part of our history and we have a book great book in the Reference Collection at the Narre Warren Library called The Australian Illustrated Encyclopaedia of the Boxer Uprising, 1899-1901, by Justin Corfield. (Published by Slouch Hat Publications in 2001). The book includes maps, photographs, details of the major players and groups involved and for family historians, the biographical details on all the Australians who served in the Boxer Uprising.

What was the Boxer Uprising? Western Countries, especially France, Germany, Britain and the United States controlled most of the trade between China and the West at the end of the nineteenth century. Merchants from these countries also demanded land, the right to build railways and ‘extra territorial rights’ where they were subject only to the laws of their own county and not Chinese law. As a result, many Chinese joined anti European Secret Societies, including the violent I-ho-ch'uan (the Righteous and Harmonious Fists) who were named the Boxers by Western media. In 1899, the Boxers and other militant Societies combined in a Campaign against the Westerners, including merchants, Missionaries and westernised Chinese. In 1900 this uprising became more wide spread and nine Western nations responded by sending in warships and Armed forces. Though Australian troops were largely involved in the Boer War in South Africa, the Australian Colonies sent Naval Contingents to China to support Britain. One hundred and ninety seven came from Victoria, two hundred and sixty three from New South Wales and one hundred and three from South Australia. The first Australian contingents left at the end of July in 1900. Many of the Australians were too late to take part in battle and instead had a role in restoring civil order, and they left China in March 1901 to return to Australia. No Australian was killed by enemy hand, although six died of illness or injury.

Now, as this is a blog on the history of the Casey Cardinia region I have found a Casey Cardinia link in the book. Joseph Hughes, who was born in 1861, was part of the Victorian contingent. He married Elizabeth McDonald and their first two children were born in Collingwood and Carlton, in 1889 and 1892. Their third child, Joseph, was born at Koo-Wee-Rup in 1894 and their fourth child, Neil, was born at Bunyip South (later called Iona) in 1896. By the time Joseph embarked for China on July 30, 1900 he was living at Surrey Hills. In the 1890s, Australia was in a Depression, with up to thirty percent unemployment. Unemployment benefits were generally linked to Public Works schemes. By March 1893 the basic drainage of the Koo-Wee-Rup Swamp was complete. As a consequence of these two events, the Public Works Department, and Chief Engineer Carlo Catani, established the Village Settlement Scheme on the Koo-Wee-Rup Swamp. The aim of the Village Settlement was to stop people drifting to the City, allow them to receive an income and become self sufficient on their small farms. Under this Scheme, men could obtain employment with the Public Works Department, if they were married, registered as unemployed and accept a block of land of twenty acres (8 hectares). They had to work for wages for two weeks and undertake improvements on their block on the alternate two weeks. By August 1893, 265 men were employed by the Public Works Department.

Was Joseph Hughes one of these settlers? Certainly the time frame fits. He was also a married man with children, so he fitted the demographic of the Village Settler. Two of his children were born in Village Settlements, which were at Koo-Wee-Rup, Five Mile, Yallock, Vervale and Iona. By 1899 the Village Settlement Scheme was abandoned, and at least one third of the settlers had left the area, including Joseph who was in Surrey Hills in 1900. The most common reasons for leaving were the fact that 20 acres was not a sufficient size of land to support a family, there was no alternative employment and many settlers had no previous farming experience, including Joseph Hughes, whose occupation is listed in the book as a painter. So I like to feel that Casey Cardinia has some small connection to the Boxer Uprising.

If you think one of your ancestors took part in the Boxer Uprising, then this book is worth a read. For more information on the drainage of the Koo-Wee-Rup Swamp, then read From Swampland to Farmland : a history of the Koo-Wee-Rup Flood Protection District by David Roberts. (Published by Rural Water Commission in 1985). For more information on Australia's involvement with the Boxer Unrising, visit the Australian War Memorial website at

No comments: