Posted by: Tasmaniana | May 12, 2010

site background information

Why a site listing world immigrants to VDL/Tasmania to 1900?

Tasmania has been populated by Aboriginal people since time immemorial. It was known internationally from the 1642 until 1853 as Van Diemen’s Land (VDL).  From 1853, with the cessation of convict transportation from the British Empire, it became known as Tasmania.

At the 1996 Census,  13,873 Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people registered as living in Tasmania (ABS 1301.6 – Tasmanian Year Book, 2000), and in 2010 just over 500,000 people were living in Tasmania with, according to Alexander (2010), more than 70% having [some] convict ancestry. This is not surprising, considering that more than 72,000 convicts were transported to VDL.

The ancestry of many Tasmanians also originates from beyond the British Isles. Some people, free arrivals and convicts of colour, were sentenced in or departed from the UK, yet this was not their original homeland. Knowledge of these forebears and record of their original country remains often elusively buried deep across many convict, arrival, newspaper, marriage and death records.

Immigrants or visitors from beyond Britain also began regularly arriving into Van Diemen’s Land waters from the early 1790s, even before the English officially began their colonisation from 1803.

Initially arriving on sealing, whaling and  trading ships; sailors, convicts,  servants, farmers, constables – people of all trades and walks of life came from all corners of the globe: Jamaica and the West Indies, Mauritius and Africa,  China, many Pacific islands, India, the United States and Canada, for starters.

Cassandra Pybus stated her research has “….uncovered at least 400 and maybe many, many more people of African descent who came here [VDL] in the Colonial period, about 300 or 350 people came as convicts and then there were all the crews on whaling ships…”. Ref: Four Corners – 26/08/2002: Quentin MCDERMOTT  interview with Dr Cassandra Pybus

These immigrants – husbands, wives, parents – are the ancestors of many contemporary Tasmanians and some subsequent mainland Australians. From many cultural backgrounds, they brought with them histories and experiences that were beyond the pale in terms of what was to nevertheless become an increasingly anglicised island.

Given Tasmania’s fraught history in terms of brutal treatment of Aboriginal people, and its convict ‘stain’, many families until recently chose to be amnesiac about this island’s colonial history – and hence their own origins and arrival stories. Knowledge of family farther than 3 generations past is usually a complete blank for many living Tasmanians.

This site is a place to add information as found in public records: archives, newspapers, births/deaths/marriages, etc, about any immigrants arriving into VDL/Tasmania up to 1900 from beyond the British Isles, or with heritage from outside the British Isles. This listing includes  Indigenous people from outside Tasmania, eg: Aboriginal people from mainland Australia and internationally, and people of uncertain ancestry from beyond England, Scotland, Wales or Ireland,  also individuals and families immigrating from elsewhere in the ‘Empire’, most commonly India and the West Indies, or forcibly brought as convicts from places including Canada and the Cape Colony.

Ideally this site will prove a useful  resource for people, perhaps mostly for those who believe they have heritage beyond Britain but haven’t yet figured out how or who – for example incoming ancestors from the places mentioned in the accompanying primary site  page listing immigrants.

Please post information, questions, answers and also corrections to assist and increase the number of people listed and content about what were no doubt complex lives in this colonial outpost, perhaps cohabitant-in-colour with displaced Tasmanian Aboriginal people.

The format for this site currently consists of four pages. The main page is adjacent – an alphabetic scrollable listing of immigrants by country of origin or ancestry. More individuals and details will be added when information from the public record and references are contributed in the ‘comments’ box at the bottom of the list.

This is currently a small starter list – but it already shows that people came from a wide number of places and cultures, and undertook a diverse range of activities, while resident in VDL/Tasmania.

The second page is also scrollable listing of longer stories about individual immigrants who arrived pre 1900 to VDL/Tasmania with ancestry beyond Britain. This information is also sourced from the public record (archives and publications). Posting titles of useful publications and archive sources and web links would also be much appreciated.

This site should ‘work’ – grow from public input. It aims to make public an otherwise predominantly microfilm-bound but significant component of this island’s story since colonisation.

Names or initials of researchers/contributors to this site will be listed below, to acknowledge the collaborative necessity and basis of this project. When you post or provide information for the first time, please also mention if your name / initials  can be acknowledged in this listing.

This site is reliant on the much appreciated efforts of  contributors who are referenced by their initials after their entries:

(DB) David Barlow
(RB) Rosemary Bray
(CB) Carol Brill
(GB) Geoff Brown
(JG) Julie Gough
(JH) Joan Holloway
(JK) Jan Koperberg
(GM) Gaylene McCooey
(PR) Peter Richardson
(RS) Ross Smith
(SS) Sally Steel
(TS) Trish Symonds  – mega contributor (many thanks)
(GW) Garry Wilson – sadly missed
(MY) Meryl Yost

Please reference this site’s URL ( when utilising information found within on any other website or in any presentation or published outcome.
Julie Gough, Tasmania



  1. Hi,
    I have an ancestor who was crew on a couple of different ships in 1881 and 1882 – the Marie Laure and the Natal Queen. I am wondering if he may have come to VDL on the Natal Queen or another ship. Does anyone know how I might look into this? His name was John Leary or John O’Leary.
    Thank you,

  2. I have just been made aware of this site and would like to help and may have others that can do so as well.

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