British colonisation of Tasmania
For information concerning warfare with the aborigines of Australia, see Black War.
The British colonisation of Tasmania took place between 1803 and 1830. Tasmania was a British colony from 1856 until 1901, at which time it joined five other colonies to form the Commonwealth of Australia. By the end of the colonisation in 1830 the British Empire had annexed large parts of mainland Australia, and all of Tasmania.
First colonies 1803
The first British colonies on Tasmania appeared circa 1803. Small numbers of whalers and sealers set up communities along the Northern Coast and the Bass Strait islands. The whalers and sealers began to trade with the native aborigines along the North Coast. Most of the goods traded were seal skins, dogs and aboriginal women. Sporadic skirmishes over land and women occurred between the settlers and the aborigines, but few records of the conflict exist. In late 1803 to early 1804 colonisation of Tasmania began to formalise. The governor of New South Wales built military outposts along the River Derwent in southern Tasmania, and also on the Tamar River in the north to prevent French interests in the area. These outposts began to grow into small communities as new settlers and convicts came from Great Britain. Communities around Hobart and Launceston were established, which would eventually become the largest settlements on Tasmania, and railways connecting the towns were built. The early colonies on Tasmania constantly suffered from lack of food.
Agricultural expansion 1820 - 1830
By 1820, British authorities controlled around 15% of Tasmania stretching from Hobart to Launceston. Much of this land had been settled for farming, with colonists exporting grain to Great Britain and rearing cattle for local consumption. It was during this agricultural expansion that the population of colonists from 7,185 in 1821 to 24, 279 in 1830. During this time, the British authorities ceded rural land owned by the Crown to British colonists. 6,000 settlers received land along rivers on the Eastern Midland Plain between Hobart and Launceston under this scheme, many colonists also settled along the Meander River west of Launceston. These settlers reared sheep and exported wool and mutton to Northern England. The total number of sheep reared on Tasmania was around 1,000,000. Over time, the British acquired over 30% of Tasmanian land. The entire area became known as the Settled Districts. By 1823 the population of aboriginals was estimated at around 2,000. Tasmania had until 1803 been a country where humans lived but dogs didn't. Dogs were first introduced to Tasmania by British colonists who had established a penal settlement there. The introduction of the dog proved very important as they were used to hunt food, such as kangaroos. Aboriginals, convicts and settlers used the dogs as away to source food and used the fur for clothing and shoes. They also used the kangaroo meat and fur that was hunted by the dogs as produce to sell. This hunting culture slowed down the agricultural development process. James Boyce, ‘Canine Revolution: The Social and Environmental Impact of the Introduction of the Dog to Tasmania’, Environmental History Vol. 11, No. 1 (Jan., 2006).
Impact on the native population
It has been claimed by authors such as Jeremy Paxman and Niall Ferguson, that the British colonisation of Tasmania led to the genocide of the native aborigines of Tasmania. Although distantly related, they had been separate from the Australian Aborigines for around 8,000 years. It is unknown how many Aborigines were living on the island when the Dutch arrived in 1642 nor when James Cook landed in 1777 but when the British began their colonisation in 1803, there were perhaps seven to eight thousand left, many of whom were already dying from diseases thought to have been contracted from European sailors, explorers and seal hunters. In addition many had been left infertile by venereal disease but the introduction of technologically advanced, brutal convicts and less than sympathetic settlers contributed to their misery. Almost all of the 7000 native people were killed during a period of colonisation lasting around 27 years. By the end of Britain's colonisation in 1830, at least two families of Aborigines were living on the Island. By 1835 only one aboriginal family remained on the island. They were living in a white sealing village near the Bass Strait, hiding from British authorities.
- Paxman (2011) pp.165-166
- Ferguson (2003) pp109-111
- Ferguson, Niall (2003). Empire: How Britain Made the Modern World. London: Penguin Books. ISBN 0-7139-9615-3.
- Newman, Terry (2005). http://www.parliament.tas.gov.au/php/BecomingTasmania/BTAppend2.htm.
- Paxman, Jeremy. Empire: What ruling the world did to the British.