The Chinese huts at Bush Creek, circa 1890. Photo from the
Lakes District Museum Collection; REF: EL 1870
Arrowtown's Chinese heritage features in today's historic
photograph from the Lakes District Museum collection, showing
the huts and market gardens on the banks of Bush Creek, a
tributary of the Arrow River, at the western end of the town.
The photograph was taken about 1890, some 28 years after
Arrowtown was established as a gold-mining village.
The first Chinese - single men only - arrived in Arrowtown
about 1866 (the first Chinese women arrived in New Zealand in
1873) and gradually turned the Bush Creek settlement into the
hub for their numbers.
According to information listed on various websites, about 20
"comfortable sod huts", a large social hall and two stores
were at Bush Creek between 1870 and 1885, plus extensive
Getting definitive numbers on the Wakatipu's Chinese
population is difficult because of their transient nature.
The 1874 census figures show 3564 Chinese in Otago but
localised figures list the numbers at between 16 and 20
living in Arrowtown up to 1900.
However, about 300 were at Macetown in the early 1870s,
primarily in Scanians and Eight Mile Creek, while others
worked in the Shotover and Arrow gorges and for a Chinese
mining company working the Arrow Flat.
It is thought the Bush Creek huts were more of a retreat from
the harsh winters of heavy frosts and snowfalls.
Given the high numbers of Chinese who worked in the Wakatipu,
it is believed many returned to China with their wealth
gleaned from the goldfields, as fewer than 100 are buried in
Life was not always pleasant for some of those who stayed
here. According to the Arrowtown.org website, the passing
years were "cruel; eager young men became aged, gold became
scarce and fortunes changed for the worse".
Comparing their fate to that of the Chinese living in
Cromwell, the site quotes Chinese missionary the Rev
Alexander Don: "How they [Cromwell's Chinese] continue in
life year after year in those miserable little huts is a
marvel to me. The atmosphere must be just thick with disease
germs . . . most of the men are very old and infirm and they
live on from day to day, doing nothing, eating little and
sleeping much, without God and without hope."
The Bush Creek site was excavated in 1983 and some huts and a
store were restored.
There are also the remains of about 12 other buildings.
• The Lakes District Museum has an extensive display of
photos, artefacts and information on the settlement.