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Van Diemen's Land

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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
Area 68,401 km2 (26,410 sq mi)
Elevation 1,614 m (5,295 ft)
Highest point Mount Ossa
United Kingdom
Largest city Hobart Town
Population 40,000 (as of 1855)
Ethnic groups Tasmanian Aborigines
1663 map of Van Diemen's Land, showing the areas discovered by Tasman, including Storm Bay, Maria Island and Schouten Island.

Van Diemen's Land was the name used by Europeans for the island of Tasmania. Tasmania is now a state of Australia. The Dutch explorer Abel Tasman was the first European to explore Tasmania. He named the island Anthoonij van Diemenslandt after Anthony van Diemen, the Governor-General of the Dutch East Indies. Van Diemen had sent Tasman to explore the area in 1642.

In 1803, the island was settled by the British as a penal colony. It was called Van Diemen's Land, and became part of the British colony of New South Wales. In 1824, Van Diemen's Land became an independent colony with George Arthur as the first Governor.[1] In 1856 Britain gave the colony the right to govern itself. It had its own parliament. The name of the island was changed to Tasmania.

Penal colony

From the 1830s to 1853, Van Diemen's Land was the main penal colony in Australia. When Britain stopped sending prisoners to New South Wales, all convicts were sent to Van Diemen's Land. About 75,000 convicts were sent to Van Diemen's Land. This is about 40% of all convicts sent to Australia.

Male convicts worked as servants or farm workers to free settlers, or in work groups on public works. Only the most difficult convicts were sent to the Tasman Peninsula prison known as Port Arthur. Convicts who did more crimes were also sent there. Female convicts worked as servants in free settler's houses or were sent to a female factory (women's workhouse prison). There were 5 female factories in Van Diemen's Land.

Convicts who had finished their time in prison or had been well behaved and given a ticket-of-leave often left Van Diemen's Land. Many went to the new free colony of Victoria. The free settlers in towns such as Melbourne did not like the ex-convicts coming to their town. During the Victorian gold rush a lot of settlers from Van Diemen's Land (called Vandemonians) went to the Victorian gold fields, such as Ballarat, or Bendigo.

Britain stopped sending convicts to Tasmania in 1853.

The name

Anthony Trollope used the word Vandemonian:[2] -

They are (the Vandemonians) united in their declaration that the cessation of the coming of convicts has been their ruin
(The Vandemonians agree that stopping the convicts from coming has made them poor)

Because the name Van Diemen's Land was seen to be tied up with convicts and it sounded like the word "demon", Van Diemen's Land was renamed in 1856. It was called Tasmania after Abel Tasman. The last penal settlement in Tasmania at Port Arthur finally closed in 1877.[3]

Popular culture


  • Van Diemen's Land is mentioned in the Australian folk song "The Wild Colonial Boy".
  • Van Diemen's Land is often mentioned in the music of Flogging Molly, such as in the song "Every Dog Has Its Day."
  • Irish folk songs that mention Van Diemen's Land are "The Black Velvet Band", "Back Home in Derry", and "Van Diemen's Land".
  • "Van Diemen's Land", also called "The Gallant Poachers", is a traditional English folk song, and also a traditional Scottish one as well.
  • Steeleye Span sings the traditional English folk song on their album They Called Her Babylon
  • "Van Diemen's Land" is the name of the second song from the rock band U2's album Rattle and Hum. The words were written and sung by The Edge. The song remembers a Fenian poet named John Boyle O'Reilly. He was sent to Australia because of his poetry.[4]
  • The chorus to the English folk song "Maggie May" says "They've sent you to Van Diemen's cruel shore."
  • Van Diemen's Land is mentioned in the Irish song, "Back home in Derry". The music was written by Canadian song writer Gordon Lightfoot and the words by the famous Irish Republican Bobby Sands. It is was sung by the Irish singer Christy Moore.
  • Shirley Collins and the Albion Country Band record a version of "Van Diemen's Land" on the album 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 mentions Van Diemen's land: "subtracting till my fingers dropped; into Van Diemen's Land".


Other pages


  1. Bereson, Itiel (2001). Building The Nation: From colonies to federation. Port Melbourne: Echidna Books. pp. 8. ISBN 1863912665 .
  2. quoted by Patsy Adam Smith p.248 of Smith, Patsy Adam and Woodberry, Joan (1977)Historic Tasmania Sketchbook Rigby ISBN 0-7270-0286-4
  3. Australian Government, National Heritage site. Port Arthur Historic Site
  4. From the liner notes on the U2 album "Rattle and Hum"


  • Alexander, Alison (editor) (2005)The Companion to Tasmanian History Centre for Tasmanian Historical Studies, University of Tasmania, Hobart. ISBN 1-86295-223-X.
  • 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.

Other websites