Lawrence Chinese Camp

116 Lawrence-Beaumont Highway (State Highway 8), LAWRENCE

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The site of the Lawrence Chinese Camp is a vital part of the history of Chinese miners in Otago. It housed around 500 Chinese miners, and their associated businesses at its peak, and was an essentially Chinese community in a largely European world. It represents the important gold mining period in the history of New Zealand and the culturally distinct Chinese experience within that. Archaeologically-speaking it is still relatively undisturbed and could provide an excellent place to discover and interpret this under-represented aspect of the Chinese past in New Zealand. Throughout 1866 there was a small steady flow of Chinese hopefuls entering Otago in pursuit of gold. By 1867 around 1200 Chinese miners were established on the goldfields. By 1870 there were 100-300 Chinese in each of the townships of Arrowtown, Naseby, Macraes, Lawrence, Waipori, Nevis, and Bannockburn. In Lawrence the town council passed a by-law in 1867 limiting Chinese shops and dwellings to ‘Chinaman Flat’, a swampy area of land 1.2 kilometres north of the town. By making such a law Lawrence was copying by-laws passed in Victoria, although it was the only Otago town to do so. Historian James Ng describes Lawrence Chinese Camp as a ‘conglomeration of huts, stores, gambling dens, a hotel, lodging houses and a public hall or Joss House.’ By 1883 there were 60-70 residents in the camp. The Chinese miners established their own community institutions, including what Europeans called a ‘Joss House.’ An interpretation panel at the Lawrence Chinese Camp notes that the ‘New Zealand Chinese called a joss house a ‘public hall’, because it had a front room for meetings, and at least one smaller back room which had an altar to departed spirits. The front room also served pre-terminally ill patients. This important nursing function was probably the reason why the Poon-Fah Joss House was rebuilt, since the period had many aging Chinese miners. From 2005, a series of four areal archaeological excavations provided detail about the foundations of some buildings and structures such as drains and road alignments, and revealed some artefacts for analysis. In 2007, a geophysical survey showed that there were potential structures and features not shown on earlier survey plans. The earliest joss house at the Chinese camp had two panels with Chinese characters. One says: ‘People talking and laughing as kinsmen’, the other says: ‘People coming and going are all close friends.’ The first house was known as the Naam-Shun Joss House and was built in 1869. A second joss house was also located within the camp, but its location has not yet been verified. The current building, the Poon-Fah Joss House was built around 1899. By the close of the 1920s, only a few elderly men resided at the camp. It was officially abandoned in 1945 and most of the remaining buildings demolished. In 1947, Poon-Fah Joss House was relocated to 12 Maryport Street in Lawrence as a holiday house for its Dunedin owners. The Poon Fah Joss House was returned to its original site in late 2016. In 2017, the Lawrence Chinese Camp remains a significant reminder of the lives of Chinese gold miners in Otago.

Lawrence Chinese Camp, Lawrence, with the Joss House in the foreground and the Chinese Empire Hotel to the rear | Heather Bauchop | 28/02/2017 | Heritage New Zealand
Lawrence Chinese Camp, Lawrence. Chinese Empire Hotel (c.1884). Image courtesy of | PhilBee NZ - Phil Braithwaite | 28/10/2015 | Phil Braithwaite
Lawrence Chinese Camp, Lawrence, from the adjacent cycle trail, showing interpretation panel | Heather Bauchop | 05/11/2017 | Heritage New Zealand



List Entry Information


Detailed List Entry



List Entry Status

Historic Place Category 1


Private/No Public Access

List Number


Date Entered

9th September 2003

Date of Effect

3rd March 2019

City/District Council

Clutha District


Otago Region

Extent of List Entry

Extent includes the land described as Secs 20, 28, 30-53 Blk XX Tuapeka SD (RT 779160), part of the land described as Sec 82 Block XX Tuapeka East SD (RT OT6C/692), Otago Land District and the place known as Lawrence Chinese Camp thereon. The List entry includes the former Chinese Empire Hotel and stables, Poon-Fah Joss House and roads bounded by these land parcels. (Refer to map in Appendix 1 of the List entry report for further information.)

Legal description

Secs 20, 28, 30-53 Blk XX Tuapeka SD (RT 779160) and Sec 82 Block XX Tuapeka East SD (RT OT6C/692), Otago Land District

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