The Aboriginal population of Tasmania became separated from the mainland some 12,000 years ago when the sea level rose, flooding the Bassian Plains. Archaeological excavations of the earliest known occupation site in Tasmania, at Warreen Cave in the Maxwell River valley of the south-west, have provided evidence of Aboriginal presence at least 35,000 years ago. This discovery means that the Tasmanian Aborigines were the most southerly peoples in the world during the Pleistocene era.
The complexity of changes in the social, cultural and territorial structures of the Tasmanian Aborigines over time is largely unknown. It is evident from the ethnographic and archaeological record, however, that at about 4,000 years ago the Aborigines dropped scale fish from their diet and increased their consumption of land mammals, such as kangaroos and wallabies. At about this time they also stopped using bone tools, and refined their making of stone tool implements.
Canoes were crafted during the last 2,000 years and used to exploit the seal colonies of the west and south-east coasts. The archaeological evidence indicates that the Aboriginal population of Tasmania had been expanding, at least territorially, from 4,000-3,000 years ago until the British invaded their lands in 1803. The use of fire to open up forested areas may have played a major role in this expansion.
At the time of British colonisation the Aborigines were formed into nine tribes, each of which had between six to fifteen ‘bands’. The population is thought to have been in the range of 4,000 to 10,000. As a predominantly nomadic people, their movements followed the seasonal changes in food supply, such as shellfish, seabirds, wallaby and a variety of vegetable foods.
The first European visitors to Tasmania came in search of new trading and commercial opportunities. They made important observations on the Tasmanian landscape, its unique flora and fauna, as well as the native inhabitants. Initially, they found little reason to induce them to stay.
Abel Jansz Tasman of the Dutch East India Company, in command of the Heemskerck and Zeehaen, becomes the first European to sight the Tasmanian mainland. He names it ‘Van Diemen’s Land’ in honour of Antony van Diemen, Governor General of the East India Co.
French explorer, Capt. Marion du Fresne of the Mascarin and Marquis de Castries, sights Van Diemen’s Land. The following day a party goes ashore, one Aborigine is shot and killed, others wounded.
Capt. Tobias Furneaux in the Adventure sights Van Diemen’s Land. Furneaux had become separated from Capt. James Cook’s Resolution during a British expedition of the Southern Ocean.
Capt. James Cook anchors the Resolution in Adventure Bay on his third southern expedition.
The first official European settlement in Australia begins at Sydney Cove, New South Wales (NSW).
Capt. William Bligh of the Bounty anchors in Adventure Bay en route from Britain to Tahiti.
Englishman Capt. John Henry Cox is off South West Cape in the Mercury. He later notices seals in Oyster Bay.
Capt. William Bligh of the Providence and Assistant sights Van Diemen’s Land, and the following day anchors in Adventure Bay. He names Table Mountain (now Mt Wellington).
Bruni D’Entrecasteaux (Recherche) with Capt. Huon de Kermadec (Esperance) sights Van Diemen’s Land during their search for La Perouse’s expedition. A survey is made of D’Entrecasteaux Channel.
D’Entrecasteaux (accompanied by naturalist Jacques-Julien Houton de Labillardiere) returns to Van Diemen’s Land, and charts the River Derwent (which he calls Riviere du Nord).
John Hayes, of the British East India Co., in command of the Duke of Clarence and Duchess, enters and names the River Derwent, unaware of D’Entrecasteaux’s previous visits.
The merchant vessel, Sydney Cove, wrecked in the Furneaux Group, Bass Strait.
Sealing operations by Charles Bishop (Nautilus) commence at Kent Bay, Cape Barren Island.
George Bass and Matthew Flinders begin a circumnavigation of Van Diemen’s Land in the sloop Norfolk, proving that it is an island.
Frenchman Nicholas Baudin of the Geographe and Naturaliste anchors off Bruny Island, before exploring the south-east and east coasts of Tasmania.