The discovery of gold in Victoria in 1851 brought several waves of immigration to Australian in the second half of the nineteenth century. Many came to Victoria from across the globe in the pursuit of gold, including around 42,000 Chinese migrants in the 1850s. Many settled permanently in Australia establishing a range of entrepreneurial businesses. The gold rush brought great economic prosperity to the colony of Victoria and the furniture trade flourished including that of Chinese cabinet-makers. Even so, many Chinese immigrants felt hostility from those in the furniture trade of European ancestry who accused them of plagiarism and for producing their work cheaply and therefore taking trade away from them.

This rare and intriguing armchair dates to the 1870s and is made of Australian timbers red cedar and blackwood. Its form is square, box-frame with squared arms and back, a style popular in China from the sixteenth to nineteenth centuries. The chair features distinctive Chinese design style including scrolls, bone inlay and carved motifs. It was probably made in Victoria by Chinese immigrants who had originally came to the colony in search of gold later working as cabinet-makers. It was originally part of a set including two cupboards in the same style.

Australian Curriculum Connections - Year 5

The reasons people migrated to Australia and the experiences and contributions of a particular migrant group within a colony(ACHASSK109)

The role that a significant individual or group played in shaping a colony (ACHASSK110)

Australian Curriculum Connections - Year 6

Stories of groups of people who migrated to Australia since Federation (including from ONE country of the Asia region) and reasons they migrated (ACHASSK136)

  • Chinese cabinet-maker, Victoria


    c 1870
    On display, Gallery 3

Artists and designers help us to see the world differently. Sometimes this is done by exposing the audience to different traditions and styles practiced elsewhere. Discuss the importance of travel for artists and designers throughout history. What impact has travel had on their art making? Investigate other artists who have been influenced by travel, to support your statement.

Create a timeline of Australian History highlighting some reasons people migrated to Australia in the 1850s, 1900s compared to 1940s and 50s. Why do you think people migrate today?

This armchair features distinctive Chinese design style including scrolls, bone inlay and carved motifs but these design elements are combined with Australian timbers. Design a new chair that captures the place where you live.

The Gallery’s Learning programs are supported by the Department for Education.

This education resource has been developed and written in collaboration with Rebecca Evans, Curator of Decorative Arts and Kylie Neagle, Education Coordinator