Labour History

“Better than Nothing”: Eurasian Labour in New South Wales, 1853–54

Labour History (2013), 105, (1), 153–169.


In 1852 an English charitable society at Madras proposed to rescue Eurasians from poverty by sending them to New South Wales on the same terms as assisted emigrants from the United Kingdom. Squatters led by W. C. Wentworth would have preferred Indian coolies but Robert Towns considered Eurasians “better than nothing.” The colonial press warned that Eurasians would propagate “a mongrel and degenerate progeny,” thereby endangering the purity of the Anglo-Saxon race in Australia. Henry Parkes launched the movement for a White Australia when he told the Legislative Council in July 1854 that “the general and lasting interests of the Country” demanded the restriction of coloured immigration. Colonial reactions to Eurasian labour presaged the tension between national interests and aspirations on the one hand, and prejudice, ignorance, and irrational fears on the other, in the development of the White Australia policy during the second half of the nineteenth century.

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*The author would like to thank the two anonymous referees ofLabour Historyfor their comments and suggestions. Thanks are also due to the editor, Professor John Shields, for his support and encouragement, and his advice on turning the draft into a publishable article. Google Scholar

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Author details

Ohlsson, Tony