23 October, 2021

Lawrence Chinese Camp Reunion

Teresa Chan

I attended the reunion of the descendants of the Lawrence Chinese Camp held over the Labour weekend.

It was most unusual to attend an event celebrating Chinese heritage where I was the only Chinese looking person attending.

The descendants of the Lawrence Chinese Camp gathered from all around NZ to celebrate their Chinese heritage. It was a moving experience for me to witness how proud the descendants are of their Chinese ancestry, even though they may have only one Chinese ancestor who lived 3 or 4 generations ago!

Day 1 of the Reunion was held at Hope & Sons Funeral Services due to Covid Level 2 restrictions, with the following up of Speakers:

Sean Brosnahan, Curator, Toitu Settlers Museum - Why Chinese gold miners came to NZ.
Adrienne Shaw—spoke about those who lived at the Chinese Camp, naming the families and their descendants.
Julia Bradshaw, Senior Curator, Human History at Canterbury Museum—spoke about Chinese and European mixed marriages in Otago in the late 1800’s and early 1900’s.
Tracey Leckie, a Chooque descendant - described the first mixed marriage of the Chooque family.
Donna Jenkins (nee Seque) - talked about the Nesbitt sisters who married older Chinese men.
Nigel Murphy, Researcher and Historian – summarised racist legislation which targeted Chinese in New Zealand.
Alan McCord - gave a humourous talk on the commonality of many families with prostitute mothers.

At the end of Day 1 we had a lovely reunion dinner at Golden Harvest where the descendants reconnected and shared memory.

Day 2 was held at Lawrence, firstly with the unveiling of different restored headstones at the Lawrence Cemetery. There was also the unveiling of the new memorial kiosk at the Chinese section of the Cemetery. In addition, the Sam Chew Lain’s Tomb had been significantly restored and has been accepted for consideration for Category 1 Heritage status. (The outcome should be known by late 2022). The restored Tomb was unveiled to the descendants.

I wish to pay tribute to the amazing work which was completed by Adrienne Shaw who single handedly raised funds and completed all of the restoration project at the Lawrence Cemetery.

After lunch on Day 2, the first Chinese ANZAC memorial in all of Australasia was unveiled at the Lawrence Chinese Camp. The names of 16 Chinese ANZAC’s served in World War 1, World War 2, and later had been inscribed onto the memorial. Again, Adrienne Shaw had raised the funding and arranged for the erection of the memorial.

Adrienne has also organised the Whole reunion as well as compiled periodic newsletters to keep the Lawrence Chinese Camp Descendants Group informed.

Our Association has provided support to Adrienne by being the recipient organisation for her fundraising efforts for the Sam Chew Lain tomb restoration.

If the Lawrence Chinese miners were alive today, I have little doubt they would look upon their with pride and joy. We would be pleased to support the Lawrence Chinese Camp community with any other endeavors.