Request for help to identify Chinese dragon boat artefact found in NSW | Gwulo: Old Hong Kong

Request for help to identify Chinese dragon boat artefact found in NSW

Dear list members

I am writing to ask for your help to identify a Chinese artefact that was found at the port of Merimbula in southern NSW during my thesis on the coastal shipping industry, which may have been brought from Hong Kong by immigrants to Australia in the 19th century during the gold rushes.

Identification of the large ceramic artefact, found by divers at the Merimbula Wharf site during my MA research, would help me research Chinese immigrant culture in southern NSW in the second half of the 19th Century and first half of the 20th century.

The artefact’s design is of a sea-going wooden boat painted red riding on waves with a dragon’s head at the bow, and the deck is decorated with various traditional Chinese motifs including a Chinese chess board, fungi, lotus bulbs, and what appears to be the bases of eight robed figures standing or sitting around the games board.

The arrangement of these features appears to represent a traditional Chinese story “Eight Immortals Crossing the Sea” which is a familiar theme from the Taoist religion.

The artefact, recovered from the seafloor by divers, has been damaged with large parts of the top section with the ornamental figures broken off, however, the hull is largely intact. The dragon’s head has been recovered, but the figures, broken at their bases with only section of their robes remaining, are still missing.

The artefact could have been brought to the colony by Chinese immigrants during the gold rushes in southern NSW in the 1860s when miners disembarked at Merimbula on their way to goldfields, or by their descendants who later settled in the area. Possibly it was broken during a sea voyage from mainland China or Hong Kong to Merimbula  and discarded as being unrepairable.

Perhaps it had been intended for use in a joss house or a private home as a decorative object to display aspects of traditional Chinese culture.

Four Chinese names are listed in the Eden District section of the Yewen’s Directory of the Landholders of NSW, 1900.

There is a Thomas Ah Kin, postal address Merimbula Post Office, who was a maize grower. In addition, there is Charlie Ah Lum, Mr Ah Yap (no first name given) and Jimmie Ching Pong, all of the address Pambula Post Office.

Mr Ah Kin’s descendants still live in the Bega Valley Shire, and he came from Hong Kong, so any information about the family would be helpful.

Mr Ah Lum is listed as growing “other crops” in a “Chinese Garden”. Mr Ah Yap grew maize and potatoes as well as “other crops” and Mr Ching Pong grew oats and “other crops”.

Chinese involvement in market gardening in the Bega Valley was at its height between 1891 and 1901. Indeed, in 1901 about 67% of market gardeners were Chinese. (Golden threads : the Chinese in Regional NSW 1850-1950 by Janis Wilton, 2004.)

Anybody with information about the artefact should contact me at my home email address, and I will send them photos of the artefact and maps of the site to help them identify it.


Donald Kerr

Cultural Heritage Officer

Energy Queensland

Home email:


I recommend you add photos to your notes to help readers identify the item. Here's how to upload photos to the site:

Regards, David


although I can find references to your 2003 paper on line, there is no sign of pictures of the artefact in question; as David says, you will have to provide one to maximise your chances of a response. I will also be happy to share it to the Chinese Heritage Association of Australia Facebook page.

I should point out that Merimbula was not a port of entry for Cantonese gold-seekers at any time (Melbourne, Robe in South Australia, and Sydney were the only legal ones in the south east of Australia). Market gardeners and shopkeepers were more likely to travel overland, having walked from the main ports to the various goldfields - where, like most people, they failed to strike it rich; thus your artefact is much more likely to be post-goldrush.

Are you familiar with the works of the late Barry McGowan? They should be of assistance to you.


Brad Powe

Hello, Brad

Many thanks for your helpful comments. I have now uploaded all of the pictures of the artefact:

I agree that the artefact was probably brought to Merimbula after the gold rushes by Chinese settlers who established businesses in the Bega Valley at Bega, Wolumla, Merimbula and Pambula. However gold miners could have entered the port of Merimbula in the 1860s on their way to the goldfields at Kiandra. Before the wharf was built at Long Point, passengers were either ferried across the Merimbula bar into the lake on droghers or lighters from steamers moored in the bay, or taken ashore to a landing stage on the site where the wharf was later built and they then walked to the town through the bush as there was no road then. The Pambula River was also navigable for small ships a good way upstream then.



Hi There,

I am not convinced the items resembles a dragon boat.  As you mentioned, it looked like a piece of wood\tree trunk with decoration.  On your mentioning of there appeared to be eight figures and some sort of a chess board.......  I wonder......

There are legends about eight dieties, immortals over the dynasties.  I wonder if this is one of the decoration showing them.  Uncertain for me.  But you might like to read this wiki entry over.



I agree that this 'vessel' is not what we would conceive as a 'dragon boat'. Other illustrations of the 'Eight Immortals Crossing the Sea' feature them aboard an uprooted tree; this one I found on Pinterest appears to be a modern replica that closely mimics the lines of the Merimbula artefact -

The original caption (mostly keywords, and all capitalised in the source eBay advertisement) reads: "Golden boat with Eight Immortals Feng Shui Lucky Wealth Chinese Gods Dragon Boat". Something similar is apparently available via Alibaba -

I'll share the Merimbula photos to the CHAA FB page, and see if they get a response.

Regards, Brad