To the north of Arrowtown, on the banks of Bush Creek, is the partially restored and well interpreted Arrowtown Chinese Settlement. This is a mute reminder and tribute to the contribution made by the Chinese goldminers and business people to the region’s goldmining, cultural and business history.
Census figures for 1874 reveal that there were 3,564 Chinese in Otago. Often victims of discrimination they lived on the fringes of European settlements and in isolated gullies close to their mining claims. Chinese that died were either buried in graves in a Chinese section or just outside the cemetery.
By 1885, the Arrowtown settlement had grown to consist of about ten huts, a large social hall and at least two stores. There was also an extensive garden area. A range of construction techniques was used for the buildings, including mud brick, mortared stone, wood, corrugated iron, and canvas. Some buildings were thatched while others were roofed with corrugated iron.
At first the men lived together in communal huts, usually between two and six men to a house. It seems that the community centred around the large social hall, which was perhaps fifteen metres long, until it collapsed or was demolished in around 1900.
It seems that Ah Lum’s store (separately registered as an historic place) later took over this social function. It is unlikely if any women ever lived in the settlement; the first recorded arrival of a Chinese woman in New Zealand was not until 1873 and by 1896 there were only eleven throughout the country.