Tasmania, 1803 – 1836

After the departure of Baudin from Sydney it was discovered that there was an inclination on the part of the French to settle in some part of Australia. It was known that the inlet called Storm Bay, in the island then known as Van Diemen’s Land, had especially attracted their notice, its shores having been so green and leafy.

First Settlement

It was now known that Van Diemen’s Land was severed by a broad strait from the mainland, and the Governor at Sydney thought that if the French proposed to make a settlement anywhere they would be certain to appropriate this island, and deny that the English had any claim to it. He, therefore, prepared an expedition to proceed to Storm Bay and take possession of its shores. For that purpose he chose Lieutenant John Bowen, who had recently arrived as an officer of a ship of war, and appointed him commandant of the proposed settlement. The colonial ship called the Lady Nelson was chosen as the means of conveying him and eight soldiers, while a whaling ship called the Albion was chartered for the purpose of carrying twenty-four convicts and six free persons, who were to found the new colony. This was a very small number with which to occupy a large country; but Governor King thought that in the meantime they would be sufficient to assert a prior claim, and that the authorities in England could subsequently decide whether the settlement should be increased or withdrawn.

Mount Nelson near Hobart

Governor King saw also another object in founding this new colony. He had some most unruly convicts in Sydney, who were only a source of trouble and annoyance to all the rest. It seemed to him an advantage to be able to send these off to a place by themselves, under specially severe discipline. In September, 1803, the two ships sailed up Storm Bay and into the mouth of the river Derwent. Lieutenant Bowen caused them to anchor on the right side of the estuary, in a little bay called Risdon Cove. The people were soon on shore, and pitched their tents on a grassy hill a little back from the water. Bowen went out to survey the country, while the convicts set to work to build huts for themselves; a little village soon appeared, and in the long grass that surrounded it a few sheep and goats were pastured for the use of the rising colony. The place was named Hobart Town, after Lord Hobart, who was then Secretary of State for the Colonies. A month later Governor King sent forty-two convicts and fifteen soldiers to increase the strength of the settlement; and the little village was beginning to look populous, when, unexpectedly, there came a great accession from another source.

Colonel David Collins, Governor of South 1804 – 1810

During this same year, 1803, the British Government, moved by fears of a French occupation, had resolved to form a settlement on the shores of Port Phillip. Accordingly David Collins, who had been judge-advocate at Sydney, but had taken a trip to England, was chosen to be Lieutenant-Governor of the new colony, and was despatched with 307 convicts, 24 wives of convicts, 51 soldiers, and 13 free settlers, on board two ships, the Calcutta and the Ocean. Collins had made an effort to form a settlement at Port Phillip, on a sandy shore, near the site of Sorrento, but had grown disgusted with the place; and early in 1804 he carried off all the people, and resolved to abandon Port Phillip in favour of the Derwent. He landed at Risdon on the 15th February, and, after a short examination, came to the conclusion that the situation was unsuitable. Next day he went in search of a better place, and chose a little bay on the opposite side, some six miles nearer the mouth of the estuary, and thither the whole settlement was soon after removed. There, at the very foot of the lofty Mount Wellington, Hobart Town began to grow in its new situation. Houses were rapidly erected; most of them consisted of posts stuck in the ground, interwoven with twigs of wattle trees, and then daubed over with mud.

Colonel David Collins, 1896

The chimneys were built of stones and turf, and the roofs were thatched with grass. Whilst the new town was growing, a party of convicts and soldiers was still busy on the little farms at Risdon, and early in May they had a most unfortunate affray with the natives. A party of two or three hundred blacks, who were travelling southward, came suddenly in sight of the white men and their habitations. These were the first Europeans whom they had seen, and they became much excited at the strange spectacle. While they were shouting and gesticulating, the Englishmen thought they were preparing for an attack and fired upon them. The blacks fled and the white men pursued them, killing about thirty of the unfortunate natives. Thus was begun a long warfare, which ended only with the complete extinction of the native races.

Colonel William Patterson, Governor of North 1804 – 1808

Next year, 1804, the Sydney Government sent another party of convicts, under Colonel Patterson, to found a colony in the north of Tasmania. The position selected was near the entrance to Port Dalrymple; and here, for eight years, a small settlement continued to exist in an independent state, until, in 1812, it was placed under the charge of the Governor at Hobart Town.

Colonel William Paterson, 1799

Death Of Governor Collins

The colony at the latter place was meanwhile slowly establishing itself; and in 1808, when Bligh visited it after his expulsion from Sydney, he found the little township with quite a settled and comfortable appearance. In 1810 it lost its amiable and warm-hearted Governor. While calmly and cheerfully conversing with a friend, Mr. Collins fell back dead in his chair. He was a man of a good and kindly nature, a little vain and self-important, but earnest and upright, and possessed of very fair abilities. The distinguished part he played in the early colonisation of Australia will always render him a prominent person in our history.

Native man of Tasmania

Colonel Thomas Davey, Governor of Tasmania 1813 – 1817

It took some time for the news of the Governor’s death to reach England, and during the three years that elapsed before his successor could be sent out, the place was filled in turn by three gentlemen, named Lord Murray and Geils, till, in 1813, the new Governor  Davey, arrived. He had been a colonel of marines, and had shown himself a good soldier, but he had few of the qualities of a Governor. He was rough and excessively coarse in his manners, and utterly regardless of all decorum. He showed his defiance of all conventional rules by the manner of his entry. The day being warm, he took off his coat and waistcoat, and marched into the town in a costume more easy than dignified; he listened to the address of welcome with careless indifference, and throughout showed little respect either for himself or for the people he had come to govern.

Governor Davey’s proclamation to the Aborigines 1815

Yet, under his rule, the colony made progress. In his first year he opened the port to ordinary merchant ships; for, previously, as the town was a convict settlement of the most severe type, no free person was allowed to land without special permission. From this time commerce began to spring up; free settlers spread over the country, and cultivated it with such success that, in 1816, besides supplying all the necessities of their own community, they were able to export grain to Sydney.

New Norfolk

In 1807 the settlement of Norfolk Island had been abandoned by the British Government, on account of its expense, and the convicts, of whom many had there grown to be decent, orderly farmers, were brought to Tasmania. They formed a new settlement on the Derwent, about fifteen miles above Hobart Town, at a place which they called “New Norfolk,” in affectionate memory of their former island home.

New Norfolk


About this time the colony began to be greatly annoyed by bushrangers. From twenty to forty convicts generally escaped every year and betook themselves to the wild country around the central lakes of Tasmania. There, among the fastnesses of the western mountains, they led a desperate and daring life, sometimes living with the natives, whom they quickly taught all the wickedness they themselves knew. Their ordinary lives were wretchedly debased; and, in search of booty, or in revenge for fancied injuries, they often committed the most savage crimes. They treated their native companions like beasts, to be used for a while, and then shot or mangled when no longer wanted; and it is not surprising that the blacks soon became filled with intense hatred of all the white invaders of their land.

Bushrangers took the captives

Frequently the aboriginal tribes united to attack the lonely farm-house and murder all its inhabitants. Hence, every settler in the country districts was well supplied with arms, and taught all his household to use them; the walls were pierced here and there with holes, through which a musket might be directed in safety against an advancing enemy. The fear of bushrangers who might attack them for the sake of plunder, and of natives who might massacre them in revenge, kept the scattered settlers in constant terror and trouble.

 Colonel William Sorell, Governor of Tasmania 1817 – 1824

But in 1817, when Governor Davey grew tired of his position and resigned it, choosing rather to live an easy-going life on his estate near Hobart Town, than be troubled with the cares of office, Colonel Sorell, the new Governor, set himself with vigour to suppress these ruthless marauders. He was to some extent successful, and the young colony enjoyed an interval of peace. Farming was profitable, and the exports of wheat began to assume large dimensions. The best breeds of sheep were brought into the island, and Van Diemen’s Land wool, which at first had been despised in England, and used only for stuffing mattresses, grew into favour, and was bought by the manufacturers at high prices. Thus many of the settlers became wealthy, and the estates from which their wealth was derived began to have a correspondingly high value, so as to give the colony an assured prosperity which was certainly remarkable in the sixteenth year from its foundation. Another industry was added, which indirectly contributed to the wealth of Tasmania. The captain of a merchant vessel, on his way to Sydney, had seen a great shoal of whales off the south coast of Tasmania, and, along with the Governor of New South Wales, secretly formed a scheme to fit out a whaling expedition.

Colonel William Sorell

But his crew also had seen the whales, and soon made the fact widely known; so that, by the time the captain’s party was ready to sail, there were several other whaling vessels on the point of starting. They were all successful, and very soon a large number of ships was engaged in whale fishing. Now, as Hobart Town was the nearest port, the whalers found that it saved time to go thither with their oil, and to buy their provisions and refit their ships there; so that the trade and importance of the little city received a very material impetus in this way. Much of the progress was due to the sensible management of Governor Sorell, who spared no effort to reform the convicts, as well as to elevate and refine the free settlers. Hence it was with great regret that the colonists saw his term of office expire in 1824. They petitioned the English Government to allow him to stay for another six years; and when the reply was given that this could not be done, as Colonel Sorell was required elsewhere, they presented him with a handsome testimonial, and settled on him an income of £500 a year from their own revenues.

Colonel Sir George Arthur,  Governor of Tasmania 1824 – 1836

After Colonel Sorell had left, bushranging became as troublesome as ever. Governor Arthur arrived in 1824, and found the colony fast relapsing into its former unsettled state. He learnt that, shortly before, some thirteen or fourteen convicts had succeeded in escaping from the penal settlement in an open boat, and had landed on a lonely part of the coast. They were joined by a great crowd of concealed convicts, and, under the leadership of Crawford and Brady, formed a dangerous horde of robbers, who, for years, kept the whole colony in terror. For a while they plundered without hindrance, till a party of about a dozen attacked the house of an old gentleman named Taylor, who had the courage to fight and defeat them. With his three sons, his carpenter, and his servant, he fired upon the advancing ruffians, whilst his daughters rapidly reloaded the muskets. The robbers retreated, leaving their leader—Crawford—and two or three others, who had been wounded, to be captured by Mr. Taylor and sent to Hobart Town, where they were executed. Brady then became chief leader of the band, and though his encounter with Mr. Taylor had taken away all his ardour for fighting, he contrived to plunder and annoy for a long time. Deep in the woods, along the silent banks of the Shannon, the outlaws lived securely; for, even when the soldiers ventured to penetrate into these lonely regions, the outlaws could easily escape to the rugged mountain sides, where they could hide or defend themselves.

Governor Sir George Arthur

Governor Arthur’s task was not an easy one, for Brady could command a powerful force, and his was not the only one of the kind; the result was that, for a long time, the country was unsettled and trade was paralysed. Seeing no other course open, Governor Arthur offered a pardon and a free passage home to those who surrendered. So many were thus induced to submit peaceably that, at length, Brady was almost alone; and whilst he wandered in a secluded valley, without followers, he was surprised by John Batman, who, several years after, assisted in the settlement of Victoria. Brady surrendered and was executed; the bushrangers, by degrees, disappeared, and the colonists once more breathed freely.


Hitherto Tasmania had only been a dependency of New South Wales, but in 1825 it was made a separate colony, with a Supreme Court of its own. In 1829 it received its first legislative body, fifteen gentlemen being appointed to consult with the Governor and make laws for the colony. For some years after, the history of Tasmania is simply an account of quiet industry and steady progress. Hobart Town, by degrees, grew to be a fine city, with handsome buildings and well kept streets. The country districts were fenced in and well tilled, good roads and bridges were made, and everything looked smiling and prosperous. The only serious difficulty was the want of coin for the ordinary purposes of trade. So great was the scarcity of gold and silver money that pieces of paper, with promises to pay a certain sum—perhaps a sixpence or a shilling—were largely used in the colony, in place of the money itself.

The Black War 1828–1832 in which the black aboriginals of Tasmania were reduced from about five thousand to less than seventy five

At the request of Governor Arthur, coins to the value of a hundred thousand pounds were sent out from England for the use of the colonists. Governor Arthur’s period of office expired in 1836, and he left the colony, greatly to the regret of the colonists, who subscribed £1,500 to present him with a testimonial. He was succeeded by Sir John Franklin, the famous voyager, whose history will be related in a subsequent chapter.