This page includes my grandfather's postcards from Tasmania - an island 150 miles to the south of Australia.

Tasmania aerial view as seen on Google Earth [1] Click image for enlarged view

I presume that at least some of the P&O liners coming from Britain called at Tasmania as there are quite a lot of postcards from there in the collection but I have been unable to find detailed timetables from that era. A P&O passenger guidebook from the beginning of the 20th century says: [5]

TASMANIA. — The Steamers of the Union Company of New Zealand leave Melbourne frequently for Hobart and Launceston, and one usually starts as soon as possible after the arrival of the P. & O. Mail Steamer. The usual services are tri-weekly to and from Launceston, weekly to Hobart.
P & O Guidebook for passengers - front cover. [5]

Brief History of Tasmania

I knew little of Tasmania before researching this page and assumed it to be a peaceful and rustic place based on the images on the postcards. That was before I learned of its awful history.

Tasmania is believed to have been inhabited by Aboriginal people for around 40,000 years before being colonised by the British. Originally connected to mainland Australia, it became an island about 8,000 years ago when sea levels rose resulting in the population being cut off from the rest of the world. Estimates of the population before the arrival of Europeans range from 3,000 to 15,000 Aboriginal people.

The first European known to have landed there was the Dutch explorer Abel Tasman who had been sent on a voyage of discovery by Anthony van Diemen, Governor-General of the Dutch East Indies. Tasman landed in 1642 and named the island in honour of his patron.

Captain James Cook landed there briefly in 1777, but it was not known that Tasmania was an island until circumnavigated by Captain Matthew Flinders in the sloop Norfolk in 1798-9. After this, a number of sealers and whalers settled there and some traded goods with the Aboriginal inhabitants, including animal skins and, allegedly, women. Most of the sealers had left by around 1810 having reduced the population of seals to non-commercial levels.

Like Fremantle in Western Australia, the British started settlements in the area to prevent it being claimed by the French during the Napoleonic Wars; the Spanish were also interested but didn't do anything about it. So, the British established a colony in 1803 as a penal settlement - originally part of the colony of New South Wales. The Aboriginal population soon reduced as a result of guerrilla wars and the introduction of diseases by the Europeans to which the Aboriginal people had no immunity. From the start of the colony, the treatment of the Aboriginal people was truly appalling, even by the standards of the day, but the story is too complex to record here. Most were removed to Flinders Island, in the Furneaux Group, off the north-east coast of Tasmania. There is a good account of their treatment on Wikipedia at this link: [8]

In 1825 the island became a separate colony known as Van Diemen's Land; the name was changed to Tasmania in 1856 after Abel Tasman - the first European to visit the island.

The map of Van Diemen's Land in the image below is from James Bischoff, 1832 who wrote a history of the island to that date [6]. Flinders Island, to which the Aboriginal people had been sent, is just north of the top right corner of the map.

James Bischoff's map of Tasmania of 1832: Click image for an enlarged view [6]

From the early 1800s to the end of 'transportation' of criminals from Britain in 1853, Van Diemen's Land was the main penal colony in Australia and is mentioned in 'Broadside' ballads of the time, particularly 'Young Henry the Poacher' - which appeared under various titles. It also featured in later songs including The Black Velvet Band, as recorded by many Folk Song Revival artists.

Young Henry The Poacher
"Young Henry the Poacher" - broadside ballad [6]

It is estimated that 73,000 convicts were sent to Tasmania; most were assigned to free settlers as workers to serve their sentences, but the most problematic were sent to a prison at Port Arthur - about 35 miles south-east of Hobart as the crow flies. Female convicts were put to work as servants or in factories and there was a separate prison for young offenders. Most convicts left the island on completion of their sentences and moved to the mainland but few returned to Britain.

Port Arthur Penitentiary
Port Arthur Penitentiary circa 1880 [9]

Transportation was a variation on 'banishment' or 'forced exile' - a practice going back the days of Ancient Greece. It was considered a way of getting rid of people who were considered undesirable - criminals, debtors, military prisoners, and political prisoners - in most cases permanently as they would not have the finances to return at the end of their sentence. Compared with the days of the 'Bloody Code' of the 18th and early 19th centuries, when 220 offences were punishable by death, transportation was considered relatively humane. Death sentences could be given for offences ranging from High Treason to smuggling, sexual offences, burglary, blackmail, theft and forgery. Women were less likely to be transported and would get off lightly by just being flogged.

Tasmania Postcards

Botanical Gardens Hobart

The unused postcard below, which has no publisher's name, shows a pond at the Royal Tasmanian Botanical Gardens - probably the Lily Pond. The gardens were established in 1818 and are the second-oldest botanical gardens in Australia; they lie alongside the River Derwent and next to the modern Tasman Bridge.

Botanical Gardens Hobart
Royal Tasmanian Botanical Gardens - date unknown. [38]

Huon Road

The unused postcard below, which has no publisher's name, shows somewhere along the Huon Road that leads from Hobart, through Fern Tree (see next postcard) to the Huon Valley, or simply the Huon. Huon was settled by British colonists in the 1820s and is now famed for growing apples. The first road was constructed in the late 1850s/early 1860s and was important in opening up the area for farming, resource exploitation and tourism. A new road was completed in 1869 and regular horse-drawn coach services from Hobart to Huon commenced; these were replaced by motor vehicles around 1910. It is a long and winding road, and it is not possible to determine the location shown in the image.

Huon Road
View along Huon Road [38]

Fern Tree Bower

The unused postcard below, which has no publisher's name, shows a path at Fern Tree Bower which is a few miles out of Hobart just off the Huon Road shown on the previous card. The area was a key part in the water supply system for Hobart built around 1861.

Fern Tree Bower Hobart
Fern Tree Bower Hobart- date unknown. [38]

In the 1880s and 1890s Fern Tree became a hub of tourism activity with the establishment of a hotel, accommodation houses, holiday homes and huts. The Fern Tree Bower became a popular spot for picnic parties attracted by the large ferns and trickling stream. Nearby Silver Falls also became a major attraction. Both became favourite scenic spots and were widely photographed and advertised in tourist brochures. A Tourist Guide of the early 1900s described Fern Tree Bower thus: [10]

Underneath a canopy of tall ferns are placed tables and seats for picnic parties; fireplaces are provided; and there are also shelter-sheds, likewise equipped with tables and seats. Altogether one could not imagine a more inviting spot for a picnic. To anyone who wants a cool and lovely resting-place for a few days, where the time can be spent in pedestrianism, or more soberly with a “booke and a shadie nook,” the Fern Tree cannot be surpassed in the States.

Fern Tree Huts

The unused postcard below, which has no publisher's name, shows one of the huts at Fern Tree referred to earlier.

Fern Tree Retreat Hut
Fern Tree Retreat Hut- date unknown. [38]

By the late 1920s, many of the early huts and shelter sheds had been destroyed by fire or had decayed.

River Derwent New Norfolk

The unused postcard below, which has no publisher's name, shows an idyllic scene on the River Derwent at New Norfolk. The nearby town, which was founded in the early 1800s was originally called Elizabeth Town. Between 1807 and 1808, about 163 people came to the area from Norfolk Island - a penal settlement which closed because it was too remote for shipping - being roughly equidistant from the northern tip of New Zealand, Australia and New Caledonia. The name of the town was changed to New Norfolk by the inhabitants in 1825 in remembrance of their previous home.

The area was an early tourist destination on Tasmania and remains so.

River Derwent New Norfolk
River Derwent New Norfolk [38]

Click on the link below to go to the page on Sydney - the final port of call in Australia on the main route from Tilbury.