Feature Article - Tasmanian trade until 1842
Tasmania’s first recorded trading activity occurred in 1808 when a cargo of sugar arrived at the colony from Bengal. Exports began in 1812 when the Cyclops sailed for Sydney with a cargo of locally grown wheat. In June 1813 ports were opened to commerce and trading began in Van Diemen’s Land. Twenty-thousand bushels of wheat was exported to Sydney in 1817. In 1819 wheat to the value of £4,000 was exported and in 1820, 43,917 pounds (19,962 kg) of salted meat, which was produced at the settlement of Hobart, was exported to Sydney.
During the 1820s the economy of the colony was becoming diversified even though it still remained very basic. Imports arrived from Britain, India, Mauritius and Batavia while exports were shipped to Britain and Sydney. In 1822 goods exported consisted of wheat, oil, whalefins, seal and kangaroo skins, logs of pine and beefwood, salt, wool, horses and hides. In 1823 exports consisted of wheat, barley, potatoes, oil, whalebone, seal and kangaroo skins, cedar logs, pine logs, wool and tallow. In the Statistical Returns of Van Diemen’s Land 1835-38, compiled from official records in the Colonial Secretary’s office, it was recorded ‘that the imports for the three years have increased 20 per cent, and the very pleasing fact that the exports for the same period have increased at the astonishing rate of 81 per cent, or from £320,679 in 1835 to £581,475 in 1838.’
The most prominent import into Van Diemen’s Land during the early years of settlement was livestock. By 1837, two years after the settlement of Port Phillip, livestock had become the major export line and, with wool, it dominated export trade.
During the 1840s exports dropped due to a slump in the price of the colony’s staple commodity, wool. There was also a decline in the export of oil and whalebone, which were main export commodity items. The largest increase in trade occurred with the British colonies during this period.
In 1842 the value of imports into Van Diemen’s Land was a high £21 per head compared with only £2 10s per head in Britain. The value of exports for the same year was £10 per head for Van Diemen’s Land compared with only £2 per head for Great Britain and Ireland.
As the colony developed and progressed, the export of locally produced commodities became increasingly important to the economy of the Tasmania. By 1880 the value of exports had exceeded the value of imports.