Australia in the 1800s

New settlements in Van Diemen's Land

The main motivation for the British to settle in Van Diemen's Land between 1803 and 1804 was fear of the French colonising part of the island. Britain and France were at war and this fear was increased by the presence in the Pacific of two French ship, Le Geographe and Le Naturaliste, under the command of Captain Nicolas Baudin (1754–1803). The role of these ships was to map and chart the southern coasts of the land mass known as New Holland including Van Diemen's Land. In answer to this threat, the British decided to set up new settlements at strategic locations on the island.

Lieutenant John Bowen (1780–1827), established the first non-Indigenous colony at Risdon Cove on the Derwent River in the second half of 1803. Risdon Cove, later renamed Hobart, was also the site of the first conflict between the local Aboriginal peoples and the newly arrived British soldiers and settlers. Bowen's orders included the instruction that should any foreign ship land or attempt to form a settlement, he should immediately protect the sovereignty of the land for Britain. However, Bowen and his band of soldiers, sailors, settlers and convicts abandoned the site in 1804 because they believed the soil was poor and water scarce, and the group moved to a lower section of the Derwent River.

On 4 January 1803 Lieutenant Colonel David Collins (1756–1810) was commissioned by the governor of New South Wales to establish a new colony at Port Phillip. Arriving there he declared that the site at Port Phillip was unsuitable and he proceeded to the Derwent River where John Bowen had previously established a base. After reaching the Derwent River in 1804, Collins disapproved of the location and soon chose and named Sullivan Cove as a better harbour and the site for Hobart Town. Later that year, Lieutenant Colonel William Paterson (1755–1810) was ordered from Sydney to occupy the northern part of Van Diemen's Land at Port Dalrymple (later renamed Launceston).

In May 1804 Lieutenant Moore, who was acting commander of Risdon Cove, ordered troops to fire on a group of local Moomairremener people. There were about 300 men, women and children herding kangaroos into the water. This hunting style was common in this part of the country. The kangaroos were a good source of food and the skins were important clothing to protect them from the cold winters. Moore believed the Indigenous people were attacking and so ordered the killings. At the time three deaths were reported, but years later it was believed to be 50 and later still it was said to be hundreds killed. This was the start of much violence between the colonisers and Indigenous people across Van Diemen's Land.


A snapshot of 1808

  • January
    • The governor, Captain William Bligh, was deposed and placed under house arrest.

  • May
    • Thomas Livingstone Mitchell became surveyor-general following the death of John Oxley.

  • September
    • The first medical diploma in the colony was issued to William Redfern.

  • October
    • The colonial office in London announced the recall of the New South Wales Corps to England.

  • November
    • The Cascades Female Factory for women convicts opened in Hobart Town.


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