History of Hobart

Mother Earth Travel > Australia > Hobart > History

A handsome city flanked by the tranquil waters of the Derwent River, Hobart has a spectacular backdrop in Mt Wellington. Amongst the bustle of a modern city are National Trust, classified buildings, ensuring the preservation of much old-world charm and a palpable sense of history.

In 1642 Abel Tasman made landfall while seeking trading opportunities for the Dutch East India Company. He named the region Van Diemen's Land after a high-ranking official in the Company. Much later, this was changed to Tasmania in honour of the explorer.

Between 1772 and 1793 Bruni d'Entrecasteaux and Huon de Kermadec explored the coast naming the Huon River and Bruny Island, Captain Bligh, of mutiny on the Bounty fame, and Captain James Cook anchored in Adventure Bay, which can be seen from the Resolution Road. An explorer by the name of John Hayes named the Derwent River.

The original inhabitants of Tasmania had been indigenous to the island for more than 20,000 years when Europeans arrived. They greeted explorers with distant tolerance until it became evident that their land was under threat, and then retaliated. The Governor reacted in turn, with an order sanctioning forcible action. Permission was granted to local settlers to shoot Aborigines on sight. Sanctioned killing and programmes of relocation, combined with disease and the destruction of traditional hunting grounds, led to the tragic annihilation of the Aboriginal population. In this dark history, the last full-blooded Aborigine, Truganini, died in 1876.

In 1803, afraid of the interest the French were showing, a British party was sent to establish a colony. The settlement was to be called Hobart, named after Robert Hobart, the British Secretary of State for the Colonies. A site was chosen on the eastern bank of the river where the town of Risdon now stands. At the same time, Captain David Collins was sent to Port Phillip Bay in Victoria, but quickly decided that the place was unsuitable for settlement and pressed on to Van Diemen's Land, arriving in 1804. He immediately took charge and moved everybody to Sullivan's Cove, where he founded Hobart Town. The settlers were constantly under threat from starvation and raids by bushrangers. It was soon found that wheat thrived in the areas around Richmond and Sorell, and by 1817, excess produce was being exported to Sydney.

The worst criminals, repeat offenders and unmanageable prisoners were sent to penal settlements in Van Diemen's Land. It was the perfect penal colony, because a huge labour force was required to establish the settlement and inaccessibility and wildness ensured isolation and security. The worst of the worst were sent to Port Arthur Penal Settlement, established in 1830. Escape was virtually impossible as very few convicts could swim, and sharks were present in the surrounding waters. The narrow isthmus at Eaglehawk Neck was easily guarded by dogs and by strategically positioned military outposts, an example of which still stands at the Eaglehawk Neck Historic Site. Other sites steeped in incarceration history are the Richmond Gaol and Island Produce Building, originally used as a women's prison. It was not until 1853 that the transportation of convicts ceased.

From 1820 the township blossomed from a mixture of settlers' huts and rural land into an ordered and well-planned town. The area known as Queens Domain, which today includes the Botanic Gardens, was commissioned for the Governor. A number of mansions were built around this precinct, including Runnymede in New Town (circa 1836). New industries such as the Cascade Brewery (1824), with its "wedding cake" Victorian fa├žade were also established, and in 1837 Australia's oldest theatre, the Theatre Royal was built.

Battery Point
Named after the battery of guns built on the point in 1818, this historic precinct was originally farmland, but by 1850 the area developed into a mariners' village, with shipowners living side by side with sailors and artisans. In recent years historic homes in this area have been restored as tourist accommodation. The Gattonside Historic Bed and Breakfast (circa 1885) Harbour House, Battery Point Guest House and Ascot are prime examples. Quince Cottage on Arthur Circus is a lovingly restored mariners' cottage and the the Shipwright Arms is still used as a public house. Restaurants are also popular in the area, with Alexanders of Lenna exuding elegance and charm and Kelley's Seafood Restaurant housed in an old sailmakers' cottage.

In the colony a flourishing sea trade and ship building industry revolved around warehouses on Salamanca Place. These buildings, built between 1835 and 1860, represent the best sandstone Georgian warehouses remaining in Australia. A visit to galleries such as Salamanca Arts Centre, Handmark Gallery or Artasan, and fine dining institutions, such as Panache, give the visitor a view of the warehouses from the inside. Salamanca Market offers an equally impressive view of the exterior. The docklands have always been a Hobart focal point, originally used for trade, and are now the heart of the city's festivals and celebrations. Constitution Dock is the hub of the Sydney to Hobart Yacht Race festivities (first raced in 1945-1946) and is also a venue for the Hobart Summer Festival.

The twentieth century
The depression hit Tasmania hard, but a thriving mining industry made it bearable. Despite difficult economic times, new enterprises such as Cadbury's Chocolate Factory were established. In
1964 the Tasman Bridge was opened connecting both banks of the river and in 1973 Australia's first casino, Wrest Point, was built. The magnificent beauty of the south-west wilderness was added to the World Heritage List in 1983, making Tasmania the greenest Australian state with over 40% of its area devoted to parks. In 1995 the Aboriginal Land Act was passed, returning twelve significant sites back to the descendants of the original Aboriginal inhabitants.

A visitor to Hobart can expect to meet history face to face. It is there in the stones and mortar used to create it. Take a walk through Battery Point, visit Richmond or just wander the main streets to be transported to another time.