Tasmania: History

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Tasmania History

Tasmania has probably been inhabited for some 68,000 years, when people crossed the land bridge that then connected Tasmania's Flinders Island to Victoria on mainland Australia. Tasmanian Aborigines developed physically and culturally into a distinctive population, even though they shared many traits with mainland Aborigines. Early Tasmanians were hunters and gatherers, who managed the environment carefully. They moved around the island, harvesting seasonal food and using fire to maintain grasslands, which supported an abundance of wallabies and kangaroos, whilst coastal tribes relied on the sea for much of their diet.

By the time European settlers invaded, there were probably between four to six thousand indigenous people, grouped into nine tribes, each of which consisted of eight or nine bands. Tasmania was discovered by Europeans in 1642, when Abel Tasman the Dutch explorer sailed past its west coast. He named the island Van Diemen’s Land, after the governor of Batavia. However, it was not until 1772 that a French expedition landed on Tasmania's east coast.

By 1803 Lieutenant John Bowen of the British Royal Navy established the first settlement at Risdon Cove on the eastern shore of the River Derwent, in south-eastern Tasmania. This moved only a year later to a better site lay across the river, which eventually became known as Hobart. The new island settlement was incorporated into the territory of New South Wales, but by 1825 Van Diemen’s Land (Tasmania) became a colony in its own right. Soon after this in 1830, the British authorities initiated a notorious plan to round up the Aboriginal population, which was called the Black Line. However, some colonists were more favourably disposed towards the Aborigines, including George Augustus Robinson, who started a mission to protect them and to settle them on Flinders Island. Both plans failed miserably. By 1842, Hobart had grown sufficiently to become a city.

The transportation of convicts to Tasmania reached its peak at this time, with 5,329 arriving in that year. By 1854 the Van Diemen’s Land's Houses Parliament had been established, and shortly after, the island's name changed to Tasmania. The same year saw the appointment of the first Governor. As the 19th century progressed, the transportation of convicts declined and by 1877 the penal settlement at Port Arthur had closed. In 1901 Tasmania became a state within the Commonwealth of Australia. Tasmania's recent history has been characterised by the development of hydro-electric power, industrialisation and the struggle to preserve the island's wildernesses and natural beauty.