Van Diemen's Land

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Van Diemen’s Land (VDL) was the name given to what is now the Australian island state of Tasmania from its discovery by the Dutch navigator, Abel Tasman in 1642 until 1855/6 when the current name was instituted, along with self-government.

Tasman notated the full name of his employer, the Governor of the Dutch East Indies, in his journals and, in the Dutch cartographer, Pieter Goos’ map of the world published in the 1660s, the southern portion of the land charted by Tasman is still described as “Anthoni Van Diemens Landt”. It was assumed that it was part of the mainland of New Holland.

As far as is known, VDL was not visited by Europeans for 130 years after Tasman. In 1772, Capt. Marion de Fresne of France visited the south-east corner , had an altercation with the natives and immediately left for New Zealand (where he died in a rather more serious altercation with the Maoris.) He has the distinction of being the first European to make contact with the Tasmanian Aborigines as well as giving his name to a beach fringed bay on the east coast – Marion Bay.

Then, during the next 31 years - the time it took for colonisation to begin – eleven separate expeditions visited VDL. All of them were French or English. Some just glanced at the place, some are commemorated in place names – one; the voyage by Bass and Flinders in 1798/9; proved once and for all that VDl was an island. Another - the last before settlement - the travels of the naturalists and cartographers, Nicolas Thomas Baudin (1754-1803) and Louis-Claude Desaulses De Freycinet (1779-1842) were the first genuinely scientific survey – especially of the local flora and fauna - of the island; which has species of plants and animals found nowhere else in the world.

By this time the “Anthoni” had been dropped. In a Dutch map of the world published in the 1650s it had been reduced to “Ant.” A French map dated 1752 mentions “Terra de Diemen.” James Cook wrote “Van Diemen’s Land” in 1777.

Fears that French interest in the area might be more than scientific had some bearing on the British decision to establish permanent settlement. (Baudin was actually present on King Island when British possession was claimed in 1802 during a British expedition to the island specifically for that purpose.)

In September 1803, naval Lieut. John Bowen with 49 people and livestock and provisions to last through the coming summer, landed at Risdon Cove on the eastern shore of the Derwent River. The following February, (1804) after an unsuccessful attempt to settle Port Phillip (in modern Victoria,) Lieut-Governor David Collins set up camp at Sullivans Cove across the river from Bowen. It was a far better site, more defensible and with better access to permanent fresh water. Bowen’s settlement was abandoned in its favour. The area is now the Port of Hobart and the modern city grew from this settlement.

In November of 1804 settlement of the north of the island began. Exactly where took a year or two to decide – Port Dalrymple on the western shore at the mouth of the Tamar River was the first site. Within the year they had moved a little up-river to the site of the present George Town. Then, in 1806 they moved to what would become the modern city of Launceston. An overland route between the northern and southern settlements would be surveyed by 1807.

All three of these ventures can be described as “penal colonies” as convicts made up a fair proportion of the participants.

The colonial and post-colonial history of the island will be described under “Tasmania” – a term that began gaining currency during the 1820s and became impossible to refute during the very few years between the abolition of the convict system and the establishment of Responsible Government in 1856. Your average “Vandemonian” was eager to put as much ground between themselves and the stigma of the convict era as possible.