Tasmania, the only Australian state on an island separated by the Bass strait from Australia,
was known by its former name Van Diemen’s land until 1856.
The name change to Tasmania removed the unsavoury criminal connotations with Van Diemen’s Land while honouring Abel Tasman, the first European to find the island.
However, the story began way earlier at the end of the most recent ice age, about 10’000 years ago. This was the time when Tasmania is believed to have joined the Australian mainland. Unfortunately, not much is known of the island’s human history until the British started to colonise the island in the 19th century.
What we know is that the first reported sighting is dated back to the 24th November 1642 by the Dutch explorer Abel Tasman. He named the island Anthoonij van Diemenslandt, the sponsor of this voyage and the governor of the Dutch East Indies.
The first settlement by the British was Risdon Cove, a few kilometres north of Hobart Town at the Derwent River in 1803. A year later, in 1804, Sullivan’s Cove was established, which later became the name Hobart Town. Today, an information booth tells facts and stories of the arrivals in Tassie.
Most of the early settlers were convicts and their military guards. Several convict settlements have been established, including Port Arthur in the south and Sarah Island on Tasmania’s west coast. The resistance from the local aborigines was very strong, so that more troops had to be deployed to the state and drive the aboriginal people into captivity on nearby islands.
The Tasmanian convict period lasted from 1803 until 1839, when the last prison has been closed. Over 70,000 men, women and children were transported to Van Diemens Land in the early 1800s. And many of the places and features they built are still standing today.