History of Tasmania and Van Dieman's Land

Tasmanian History from Aboriginals to Convicts in Van Dieman's Land

The history of Tasmania spans over thousands of years. The island was initially joined to mainland Australia. It broke away from the mainland continent at the end of the last ice age around ten thousand years ago. It was inhabited by Tasmanian Aborigines for thousands of years before it was discovered by Europeans. Tasmania was first settled as an Australian convicts settlement named Van Diemen's land.

tasmanian settlement

Tasmanian Aborigines

Tasmania was first inhabited by the Tasmanian Aborigines about 35,000 years ago. These people were separated from mainland Australia by rising sea levels at the end of the ice age about 10,000 years ago. There nine main ethnic groups of Tasmanian Aborigines that occupied the island (see map below).

The total Tasmanian Aborigines population was estimated at between 5000 - 10,000 people at the time of European settlement in 1803. However due to persecution and disease from the white settlers and Australian convicts the population dwindled to less than 300 by 1833. The entire Tasmanian Aboriginal population was then moved to Flinders Island where the population sadly continued to decrease. The last remaining full-blooded Tasmanian Aborigine is generally agreed to be Truganini who died in 1876.

Aborigines map

Australian Convicts

The European history of Tasmania is relatively recent and was initially colonized as a place to imprison Australian convicts shipped over from England's overcrowded prison system. Tasmania was first discovered by a Dutch explorer called Abel Tasman in 1642. He named the island Anthoonij van Diemenslandt, after his sponsor, the Governor of the Dutch East Indies Anthony van Diemen. This was initially how in the history of Tasmania the island became known as Van Diemen's Land.

The first settlement of Tasmania was made by the British at Risdon Cove in 1803 when a small party sent from the colony of Sydney were ordered to stop the French from claiming the island. A second settlement was established shortly afterwards in 1804 in Sullivan's Cove on the western side of the Derwent, where fresh water was more plentiful. The latter settlement became known as Hobart Town or Hobarton, later shortened to Hobart, after the British Colonial Secretary of the time, Lord Hobart. The settlement at Risdon was later abandoned.

The Australian convicts and settlers involved in the colonization of Tasmania were mostly convicts and their military guards and were set the difficult task of developing agriculture and other industries on this wild island. Numerous other Australian convicts settlements were made in Van Diemen's Land, including secondary prisons, such as the particularly harsh penal colonies at Port Arthur in the southeast and Macquarie Harbour on the West Coast.

Van Diemen's Land was proclaimed a separate colony from New South Wales, with its own judicial establishment and Legislative Council in 1825.

van diemen's land

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