Van Diemen's Land

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Van Diemen's Land
British Crown Colony


Flag of Van Diemen's Land


Location of Van Diemen's Land
1828 map
Government Self-governing colony
 •  1825–1837 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 1856
Van Diemen's Land
Van Diemen's Land 1852.jpg
1852 map of Van Diemen's Land.
Location Southern Ocean
Coordinates 42°00′S 147°00′E / 42.000°S 147.000°E / -42.000; 147.000
Area 68,401 km2 (26,410 sq mi)
Highest elevation 1,614 m (5,295 ft)
Highest point Mount Ossa
Largest settlement Hobart Town
Population 40,000 (1855)
Pop. density 0.59 /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, now 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's 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 France to Louisiana).

Early colonization[edit]

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

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 in order 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 actually 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 own representative parliament, and the name of the island and colony was officially changed to Tasmania on 1 January 1856.[5][6]

Penal colony[edit]

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 75,000 convicts were transported to Van Diemen's Land, or about 40% of all convicts sent to Australia.[citation needed]

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 gold fields.

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.[7]


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."[8]

In 1856, Van Diemen's Land was renamed Tasmania, meaning that it technically still exists but under a different name. 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.[9]

Popular culture[edit]



  • "Van Diemen's Land" is the title of the second track from the rock band U2's album Rattle and Hum. The lyrics were written and sung by The Edge. The song is dedicated to a Fenian poet named John Boyle O'Reilly, who was deported to Australia because of his poetry.[10]
  • Van Diemen's Land is referenced in the song "The Helm of Ned Kelly" by the group Blackbird Raum on their third album titled "Under the Starling Host"
  • Van Diemen's Land is often mentioned in the works of Flogging Molly, such as in the song "Every Dog Has Its Day."
  • Steeleye Span does a rendition of the traditional folk song on their album They Called Her Babylon
  • The chorus to the English folk song "Maggie May" says "They've sent you to Van Diemen's cruel shore."
  • Shirley Collins and the Albion Country Band record a version of "Van Diemen's Land" in No Roses (1971)
  • Carla Bruni sings the poem 'If You Were Coming In The Fall', by Emily Dickinson on her album No Promises. The song includes a reference to Van Diemen's land "subtracting till my fingers dropped; into Van Diemen's Land".
  • "Van Diemen's island" is mentioned in the song "Highland" by The Elders on their album Pass it on Down
  • "Van Diemen's Land" is mentioned in the traditional folk songs "The Black Velvet Band", "The Gallant Poachers", "Van Diemen's Land", "The Wild Colonial Boy" and "Anderson's Coast", and the contemporary Irish folk song "Back Home in Derry" by Bobby Sands
  • "Van Diemen's island" is the title of a song by Steve Binetti
  • The chorus of "Emigrants" by Scots traditional music group Canterach includes the line: "Sent to the new worlds of America, Australia, and Van Diemen's Land".
  • Van Diemen's Land is referred to extensively in "Henry's Downfall" by folk singer Jim Moray
  • Van Diemen's Land is mentioned in the song 1788 by Australian band The Go Set
  • Van Diemen's Land is a song by Barbara Dickson and is the first track on the album Parcel of Rogues
  • The Scottish traditional song "The Braemar Poacher" is about a poacher that was caught and sent to Van Diemen's Land. A version of this song can be found on the album "Turas" of the Irish/Scottish trad band Shantalla.
  • The John Renbourn Group album Live In America (Flying Fish, 1982) includes a song entitled "Van Dieman's Land"
  • Van Diemen's Land is mentioned in the song "Australia" by comedy folk band Folk On.
  • Tom Russell sets Van Diemen's Land as the ship's destination in his song "Isaac Lewis" on the album "Modern Art".


  • In Gulliver's Travels by Jonathan Swift (1726), the country of Lilliput is described as being “to the north-west of Van Dieman's Land” [sic].
  • Van Diemen's Land is the setting for Richard Flanagan's novel Wanting (2008).
  • Van Diemen's Land is the setting of Gould's Book of Fish: A Novel in Twelve Fish by Richard Flanagan (published 2002), which tells the story of a man who is transported to the island, and runs afoul of the local (and rather insane) authorities.
  • Brendan Whiting's book Victims of Tyranny, gives an account of the lives of the Irish rebels, the Fitzgerald convict brothers who were sent to help open up the north of Van Diemen's Land in 1805, under the leadership of the explorer Colonel William Paterson.
  • In Cormac McCarthy's novel Blood Meridian, one of the characters in the Glanton Gang of scalpers in 1850s Mexico is a "Vandiemenlander" named Bathcat. Born in Wales he later went to Australia to hunt aborigines, and eventually came to Mexico, where he used those skills on the Apaches.
  • Van Diemen's Land is mentioned in Edgar Allan Poe's book Narrative of A. Gordon Pym. The main character stops at this island on his way to the South Pole.
  • Van Diemen's Land is mentioned in Umberto Eco's novel The Island of the Day Before (L'isola del giorno prima, 1994), a story about a 17th-century Italian nobleman trapped at an island at the International Date Line.
  • Van Diemen's Land is mentioned in Emily Dickinson's "If You Were Coming in the Fall".
  • From The Potato Factory by Bryce Courtenay (1995), "... subtracting till my fingers dropped; into Van Diemen's Land." This is a quote from Emily Dickinson's Poem "If You Were Coming In The Fall". Two of the main characters in Cortenay's novel are transported Van Diemen's Land as convicts and another travels there, where around half of the novel takes place.
  • In the novel The Convicts by Iain Lawrence, young Tom Tin is sent to Van Diemen's Land on charges of murder.
  • Van Diemen's Land is mentioned in James De Mille's A Strange Manuscript Found in a Copper Cylinder. The manuscript spoken of in the title has been written by a British sailor who lost his way after conveying convicts to Van Dieman's Land.
  • In the novel The Terror by Dan Simmons (2007). In this novel about the ill-fated exploration by HMS Erebus and HMS Terror to discover the Northwest Passage. The ships left England in May 1846 and were never heard from again, although since then much has been discovered about the fate of the 129 officers and crew. References are made to Van Diemen's Land during the chapters devoted to Francis Crozier.
  • Van Diemen's Land is mentioned in Peter Carey's book, True History of the Kelly Gang, as a place the Kelly parents suffered on their way to the Colony of Victoria.
  • Van Diemen's Land is the setting of the novel English Passengers by Matthew Kneale (2000), which tells the story of three eccentric Englishmen who in 1857 set sail for the island in search of the Garden of Eden. The story runs parallel with the narrative of a young Tasmanian who tells the struggle of the indigenous population and the desperate battle against the invading British colonists.
  • Christopher Koch's novel Out of Ireland describes life as a convict in Van Diemen's Land.
  • Richard Butler's novel The Men That God Forgot (1977) is based on the historical events of ten convicts who escaped from Van Diemen's Land to Valdivia, Chile in 1833.
  • Marcus Clarke used historical events as the basis for his fictional For the Term of His Natural Life (1870), the story of a gentleman, falsely convicted of murder, who is transported to Van Diemen's Land.
  • Julian Stockwin's nautical fiction series, The Kydd Series, includes the book Command (2006) in which Thomas Kydd takes a ship to Van Diemen's Land, at the behest of then governor of New South Wales, Philip Gidley King, for the purpose of preventing French explorers from establishing a French settlement on the island.
  • In Charles Dickens's novel "The Life and Adventures of Martin Chuzzlewit" the character of Augustus leaves a note addressed to his betrothed to the effect that he has sailed away to Van Diemen's Land, "Ere this reaches you, the undersigned will be—if not a corpse—on the way to Van Dieman's Land".
  • Kevin G Dyer's novel Dark Night In Van Diemen's Land tells the story of a young couple transported to the Port Arthur penal settlement.
  • In Terry Pratchett's Dodger, Solomon mentions Van Diemen's Land as being the furthest you can go from London, "it being on the other side of world", in a conversation with Dodger.
  • In David Mitchell's novel The Thousand Autumns of Jacob De Zoet refers in Chapter 16 to "peoples who do not acquire these machines of power are, at best, subjugated, like the Indians. At worst, like the natives of Van Diemen's Land, they are exterminated."
  • Mentioned in William Golding's novel Rites of Passage (winner of the Man Booker Prize in 1980) as the destination of a mediocre English clergyman, the Rev. Robert James Colley, who is both comic and tragic.
  • In J.W. Clennett's graphic novel, The Diemenois, an alternate history describes how France had colonised 'West Van Diemen' during the 19th century and how Napoleon Bonaparte faked his death and fled to the colony's capital, Baudin (where modern-day Stanley is located).

See also[edit]


  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.[1]
  3. ^ "150th Anniversary of Australia". The Mercury (Hobart, Tas. : 1860 – 1954). Hobart, Tas.: National Library of Australia. 26 January 1938. p. 6. Retrieved 26 January 2012. 
  4. ^ "Vandemonian – definition of Vandemonian by the Free Online Dictionary, Thesaurus and Encyclopedia". Retrieved 2013-02-07. 
  5. ^ Newman, Terry Becoming Tasmania. Companion Web Site (Parliament of Tasmania)
  6. ^ About Van Diemen's Land
  7. ^ Fletcher, B. H. (1994). 1770–1850. In S. Bambrick (Ed.), The Cambridge encyclopedia of Australia (pp. 86–94). Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.
  8. ^ quoted by Patsy Adam Smith p.248 of Smith, Patsy Adam and Woodberry, Joan (1977)Historic Tasmania Sketchbook Rigby ISBN 0-7270-0286-4
  9. ^ Australian Government, National Heritage site. Port Arthur Historic Site
  10. ^ From the liner notes on the U2 album "Rattle and Hum"


  • Alexandra, Rieck (editor) (2005) The Companion to Tasmanian History Centre for Tasmanian Historical Studies, University of Tasmania, Hobart. ISBN 1-86295-223-X.
  • Boyce, James (2008), Van Diemen's Land. Black Inc., Melbourne. ISBN 978-1-86395-413-6.
  • Robson, L.L. (1983) A history of Tasmania. Volume 1. Van Diemen's Land from the earliest times to 1855 Melbourne, Oxford University Press. ISBN 0-19-554364-5.
  • Robson, L.L. (1991) A history of Tasmania. Volume II. Colony and state from 1856 to the 1980s Melbourne, Oxford University Press. ISBN 0-19-553031-4.

External links[edit]