Many Chinese emigrated from South China in the 19th century, and by 1866 a steady flow of Chinese miners, predominantly Poon Yue Cantonese, started arriving in the Otago goldfields.Although separated from their homes for years, they regularly sent back remittances to help their families and most hoped to return when they had made enough money.
The Lawrence Chinese Camp, one kilometre west (Alexandra side) of Lawrence was founded in 1867 to accommodate them. By 1883 there were 60 to 70 buildings housing about 125 people although more at times.
There were several shops, two Joss houses, boarding houses, an immigration barrack and various other buildings and businesses. The Chinese Empire Hotel was said to be one of the best wayside hotels in inland Otago and catered for European and Chinese clientele. The hotel still stands today, without the bar. Adjacent are the stables which accommodated the horses belonging to the hotel's patrons. In 2017 an original Joss House was moved back to the site and restored to its original position behind the hotel.
Archaeological Investigations were carried out at the Lawrence Chinese camp between 2003 and 2010. Originally the camp had been very basic with huts built out of boards, flattened kerosene tins and sugar bags but in the early 1880's the camp was formally surveyed and residents could then own their own section. The Chinese improved their sections with construction of houses and shops. The archaeological dig showed the camp was formally laid out with the houses and various businesses fronting a carefully formed and drained roadway.
The Lawrence Chinese Camp was purchased in 2003 by Dr James Ng with an aim to protect it as an heritage site. The Lawrence Chinese Camp Charitable Trust was established with Dr Ng as Chairperson. In late 2017 Adrienne Shaw, who is a descendant of the camp, was elected as Chairperson of the Trust to lead the camp into the next phase of its development.
The Trust has plans to develop the camp into a heritage tourism attraction.
Currently visitors are able to visit the camp, and obtain a snap shot of the history from bilingual signs. The Trust plans to celebrate Chinese New Year each year at the camp, offering Chinese style food, Chinese dancers, music and other themed attractions. If you would like further information, please go to our website.