British Colonisation of Tasmania

September 07, 2018

On 7 September 1803, the island of Tasmania (then known as Van Diemen's Land) was settled as a small penal colony and military outpost by the British Empire at Risdon Cove on the east shore of the Derwent River estuary.

(Find out more about Tasmania's development in the More Details section below)

A year after the Tasmanian constitution was passed in 1854, to make a break with its penal colonial past, Van Diemen's Land was granted permission to changed its name to Tasmania. The fledgling state became a fully self-governing, democratic colony of the British Empire in 1856 upon the first sitting of its newly elected (bi-cameral) Parliament.

Tasmania became one of the six States of the newly Federated nation of  Australia in 1901. In keeping with the Federation agreement, Tasmania has retained equal representation in the Senate of Federal Parliament - currently 12 seats, the same as New South Wales and the other four mainland States.

By Federation in 1901, Tasmania – whose motto is “Fertility and Faithfulness” – had around 5% of Australia’s total population which contrasts with around 2% today.

Celebrate the British colonisation of Tasmania (near Hobart on the Derwent) by:

  • getting into the spirit of Tassie by donning the colours dark green, red and gold, or enjoying a Tasmanian-made Cascade or Boags beer, a Tasmanian single-malt whisky, some King Island Dairy produce or looking for Tasmanian seafood at your local fish market
  • [if you are in or near Hobart] visiting sites commemorating Tassie’s colonial history such as the Port Arthur Historic Site, Runnymede House, Government House and Parliament House
  • [if you live outside of Tassie]  planning a visit to the “Apple Isle” or “Island of Inspiration” to enjoy its hospitality, art, wilderness and history - or considering a trip to Sydney Harbour to watch the start of the famous Sydney-to-Hobart yacht race
  • listening to a song on Tassie, life there or one of its towns, and/or
  • sharing this Action Plan post on social media with family, friends, Tasmanians and those proud of our Australian history.

More Details

The Risdon Cove colony was later abandoned for the more favourable settlement of Sullivans Cove, five kilometres south on the western shore of the Derwent, which became known as Hobart Town or Hobarton (later shortened to Hobart), primarily due to its better access to fresh water. Hobart was named after Lord Robert Hobart, then British Colonial Secretary, a British Tory politician and fourth Earl of Buckinghamshire.

Other early colonies on the island included Port Dalrymple on the Tamar River and the harsh penal colonies at Port Arthur and Macquarie Harbour (west coast).

Besides being a remote place to imprison convicts, the van Diemen's Land colony prevented the then rampant Napoleonic French Empire and its numerous south-Pacific explorers from laying claim to the island or setting up a base there.

In 1825, this island and territory of the then super-colony of New South Wales was proclaimed a separate colony under its common name of Van Diemen’s Land (3 December).

In 1830, aided by several decades of a steady influx of free settlers, Van Diemen’s Land contained around one-third of Australia’s settler population, half of Australia’s cultivated land and half of our exports.

Around 75,000 convicts were settled in (or transported to) Tasmania over the ensuing 50 years (67,000 from British and Irish ports) until 1853. In fact, around four in ten convicts transported to Australia were sent to van Diemen's Land. 


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