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Van Diemen's Land / Tasmania

This island, separated from the south coast of Australia by the Bass Strait, was the primary penal colony for much of the 19th century history of transportation to Australia. Around 40% of those transported to Australia landed here.

The island was first discovered by the Dutch explorer, Abel Tasman, in 1642. Tasman named the island after Anthony Van Diemen, the governor general of the Dutch East Indies. In the early 19th century, the governor of the British penal colony on New South Wales ordered that another penal colony be established in the island.

Van Diemen’s Land gained a particularly fearsome reputation for harsh treatment of prisoners; Van Diemen’s Land convicts gaining their freedom often left the island for the free colony of Victoria in the sought of Australia – free settlers here disliked and feared the ex-convicts. Penal transportation to Van Diemen’s Land was abolished in 1853. In 1856 the island was granted self-government, and the name was officially changed to Tasmania.


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1837 map of Van Diemen's Land or Tasmania
1837 Dower Map of Van Dieman's Land. Licensed under Public Domain via Wikimedia Commons.