Van Diemen's Land

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Van Diemen's Land
British Crown Colony

Location of Van Diemen's Land
1828 map
Demonym Van Diemonian usually spelt Vandemonian
Government Self-governing colony
  1825–1830 George IV
  1830–1837 William IV
  1837–1856 Victoria
  1825–1836 Sir George Arthur first
  1855–1856 Henry Young last
  independence from the Colony of New South Wales 3 December 1825
  Name changed to Tasmania and self-rule1856
Today part of Australia
Van Diemen's Land
1852 map of Van Diemen's Land.
Location Southern Ocean
Coordinates 42°00′S147°00′E / 42.000°S 147.000°E / -42.000; 147.000
Area68,401 km2 (26,410 sq mi)
Highest elevation1,614 m (5,295 ft)
Highest point Mount Ossa
Largest settlement Hobart Town
Population40,000 (1855)
Pop. density0.59 /km2 (1.53 /sq mi)
Ethnic groups European Australians, Aboriginal Tasmanians

Van Diemen's Land was the original name used by most Europeans for the island of Tasmania, part of Australia. The name was changed from Van Diemen's Land to Tasmania in 1856.




The Dutch explorer Abel Tasman was the first European to land on the shores of Tasmania in 1642. Landing at Blackman Bay and later having the Dutch flag flown at North Bay, Tasman named the island Anthoonij van Diemenslandt, in honour of Anthony van Diemen, the Governor-General of the Dutch East Indies, who had sent Tasman on his voyage of discovery. Between 1772 and 1798, only the southeastern portion of the island was visited. Tasmania was not known to be an island until Matthew Flinders and George Bass circumnavigated it in the Norfolk in 1798–99.

Around 1784–85, Henri Peyroux de la Coudrenière, an army officer serving in Spanish Louisiana, wrote a "memoir on the advantages to be gained for the Spanish crown by the settlement of Van Dieman's Land". [1] After receiving no response from the Spanish government, Peyroux proposed it to the French government, as "Mémoire sur les avantages qui résulteraient d'une colonie puissante à la terre de Diémen". [2]

In January 1793, a French expedition under the command of Antoine Raymond Joseph de Bruni d'Entrecasteaux anchored in Recherche Bay and a period of five weeks was spent in that area, carrying out explorations into both natural history and geography. In 1802 and 1803, the French expedition commanded by Nicolas Baudin explored D'Entrecasteaux Channel and Maria Island and carried out charting of Bass Strait (Baudin had been associated, like Peyroux, with the resettlement of the Acadians from French Canada (from mostly what is now called the New Brunswick/Nova Scotia area to Louisiana).

Early colonisation

1663 map of Van Diemen's Land, showing the parts discovered by Tasman, including Storm Bay, Maria Island, and Schouten Island.

Sealers and whalers based themselves on Tasmania's islands from 1798 and in August 1803, New South Wales Governor Philip King sent Lieutenant John Bowen to establish a small military outpost on the eastern shore of the Derwent River to forestall any claims to the island arising from the activities of the French explorers.

Major-General Ralph Darling was appointed Governor of New South Wales in 1825, and in the same year he visited Hobart Town, and on 3 December proclaimed the establishment of the independent colony, of which he became governor for three days. [3]

The demonym for Van Diemen's Land was "Van Diemonian", though contemporaries used the spelling Vandemonian. [4]

In 1856, the colony was granted responsible self-government with its representative parliament, and the name of the island and colony was officially changed to Tasmania on 1 January 1856. [5] [6]

Penal colony

From the 1800s to the 1853 abolition of penal transportation (known simply as "transportation"), Van Diemen's Land was the primary penal colony in Australia. Following the suspension of transportation to New South Wales, all transported convicts were sent to Van Diemen's Land. In total, some 73,000 convicts were transported to Van Diemen's Land, or about 40% of all convicts sent to Australia. [7]

Male convicts served their sentences as assigned labour to free settlers or in gangs assigned to public works. Only the most difficult convicts (mostly re-offenders) were sent to the Tasman Peninsula prison known as Port Arthur. Female convicts were assigned as servants in free settler households or sent to a female factory (women's workhouse prison). There were five female factories in Van Diemen's Land.

Convicts completing their sentences or earning their ticket-of-leave often promptly left Van Diemen's Land. Many settled in the new free colony of Victoria, to the dismay of the free settlers in towns such as Melbourne.

On 6 August 1829, the brig Cyprus, a government-owned vessel used to transport goods, people, and convicts, set sail from Hobart Town for Macquarie Harbour Penal Station on a routine voyage carrying supplies and convicts. While the ship was becalmed in Recherche Bay, convicts allowed on deck attacked their guards and took control of the brig. The mutineers marooned officers, soldiers, and convicts who did not join the mutiny without supplies. The convicts then sailed the Cyprus to Canton, China, where they scuttled her and claimed to be castaways from another vessel. On the way, Cyprus visited Japan during the height of the period of severe Japanese restrictions on the entry of foreigners, the first Australian ship to do so.

Tensions sometimes ran high between the settlers and the "Vandemonians" as they were termed, particularly during the Victorian gold rush when a flood of settlers from Van Diemen's Land rushed to the Victorian goldfields.

Complaints from Victorians about recently released convicts from Van Diemen's Land re-offending in Victoria was one of the contributing reasons for the eventual abolition of transportation to Van Diemen's Land in 1853. [8]


Anthony Trollope used the term Vandemonian: "They are (the Vandemonians) united in their declaration that the cessation of the coming of convicts has been their ruin." [9]

In 1856, Van Diemen's Land was renamed Tasmania. This removed the unsavoury criminal connotations with the name Van Diemen's Land (and the "demon" connotation), while honouring Abel Tasman, the first European to find the island. The last penal settlement in Tasmania at Port Arthur closed in 1877. [10]




Australian winner of the Nobel Prize for Literature Patrick White's novel 'A Fringe of Leaves' places much of the novel's beginnings in Van Diemen's Land.

See also


  1. Ernest R. Liljegren, "Jacobinism in Spanish Louisiana, 1792–1797", Louisiana Historical Quarterly, 22, 1939, pp. 47–97, p.85.
  2. Paul Roussier, "Un projet de colonie française dans le Pacifique à la fin du XVIII siecle", La Revue du Pacifique, Année 6, No.1, 15 Janvier 1927, pp.726–733.; Robert J. King, "Henri Peyroux de la Coudrenière and his plan for a colony in Van Diemen's Land", Map Matters, Issue 31, June 2017, pp.2–6.
  3. "150th Anniversary of Australia". The Mercury . Hobart, Tasmania. 26 January 1938. p. 6. Retrieved 26 January 2012 via National Library of Australia.
  4. "Vandemonian – definition of Vandemonian by the Free Online Dictionary, Thesaurus and Encyclopedia". Retrieved 7 February 2013.
  5. Newman, Terry Becoming Tasmania. Companion Web Site (Parliament of Tasmania)
  6. About Van Diemen's Land
  7. Maxwell-Stewart, Hamish. "The state, convicts and longitudinal analysis." Australian Historical Studies 47, no. 3 (2016): 414-429.
  8. Fletcher, B. H. (1994). 1770–1850. In S. Bambrick (Ed.), The Cambridge encyclopedia of Australia (pp. 86–94). Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.
  9. quoted by Patsy Adam Smith p.248 of Smith, Patsy Adam and Woodberry, Joan (1977) Historic Tasmania Sketchbook Rigby ISBN   0-7270-0286-4
  10. Australian Government, National Heritage site. Port Arthur Historic Site


Media related to Van Diemen's Land at Wikimedia Commons