Lawrence Chinese Camp Reunion

This past Labour Weekend, over 80 descendants of the Chinese Camp at Lawrence met up for a weekend reunion to connect and learn about their ancestors. 

Adrienne Shaw seated with reunion panels
Adrienne Shaw. Credit: Donna Renfrewexpand/collapse
The Lawrence Chinese Camp

was established during the Otago gold rush of the 1860s after the Otago Provincial Government had issued an invitation to Chinese gold miners to pick over the tailings. The Lawrence Town Council banned Chinese miners from living or working in the township, so the Chinese were forced to occupy a piece of swampy land nearby. The camp grew to 120 residents at its peak, and included many children, resulting from ‘mixed marriages’. They established homes, shops, a slaughterhouse, Joss House, a hotel, boarding houses and gambling dens. 

Event organiser, Adrienne Shaw, a descendent of the Chow Tie family, is thrilled there has been so much interest in the event. ‘’I’ve been very involved in researching the Chinese men and their families and restoring the Sam Chew Lain Tomb headstones and memorials. Eighteen months ago, I decided to organise a 2021 camp reunion to bring together the wider group of descendants and reconnect them with their ancestral home.” 

The first day featured a wonderful line of up speakers in Dunedin: Sean Brosnahan from Toitū Museum, Julia Bradshaw from Canterbury Museum, Nigel Murphy, a historian of the Chinese Poll Tax, as well as various family members.  

On the Sunday, the group visited the Lawrence Cemetery to hear about recent archaeological work on the Chinese graves, inspect the recently restored tomb, and unveil the new headstones and memorials. A Chinese Memorial Kiosk has been erected to inform visitors to the Cemetery about its rich history. The Chinese Anzac Memorial was unveiled later in the afternoon. 

Adrienne said the weekend was a chance for all the family members to meet each other, many for the first time.  

For North Island guests who are unable to attend, a video link was provided.

- Rosemary Baird