Ceremony on the Hobart Domain, 1910, showing strong allegiance to Britain (AOT,
Although all six Australian states can claim British colonial foundations, the British legacy to Tasmania is more enduring and more visible to the eye than in any mainland state. The key manifestations of such influence can be measured in terms of the ethnic origins of its population, its architectural heritage, its patterns of land use, and in the record of its social and political development. The enduring nature of British influence can be attributed largely to the absence of major booms in Tasmania's economy, thereby ensuring the stability of its Anglo–Celtic population base, and to the island state's relatively moist, cool temperate climate, encouraging mainland visitors to detect 'Britishness' in both the natural landscape and built environment, as well as in the supposed conservatism of its fused urban and rural cultures. The bid to remain British has been reflected also in the shaping of its political and social institutions. Indeed, according to one eminent historian: 'The history of Tasmania's occupation by Europeans is one of transplanted Britons clinging to and emulating the institutions of the colonizing authority'. Although the principal source of 'Britishness' is the objective fact of ethnic derivation, the shifting balance between a developing Australian national identity and residual loyalty to a shared imperial family of Britishers among Anglo–Celtic Tasmanians is also relevant, as are the perceptions of non-Tasmanians about the island state. Two key and related questions to be addressed are therefore: how British have Tasmanians felt themselves to be, and how British have third parties perceived Tasmanians and their environment to be? This short essay tries to inter-relate these two perspectives.
In its first century of European settlement Tasmania's population, apart from small, scattered indigenous tribes, was almost exclusively British. The descriptor 'Anglo–Celtic' embraces English, Irish, Scots or Welsh, and one must recall that Ireland remained part of the United Kingdom until 1922. A majority of these immigrants were English, but a significant minority, possibly 8 to 10 percent, were Scots (most of them free settlers) and some 20 percent Irish (approximately half of whom were convicts). About 35 percent of all immigrants arriving in Tasmania through the nineteenth century were from Ireland, with a heavy influx in the years 1840–53, and many immigrants from England were also ethnic Irish. Most Irish male immigrants were unskilled farm labourers, but as early as the 1820s there had already arrived a group of Anglo–Irish 'Ascendancy' families, Protestant and upper middle class. It is possible that by 1900 approximately 20 percent of Tasmania's population were of Irish background, though the percentage actually born in Ireland was lower than in any of the other five Australian colonies.
Although the total number of Scottish immigrants to Tasmania during the nineteenth century was relatively small, their economic and social influence was considerable. By 1830 more than one third of the settlers holding sizeable land holdings in Van Diemen's Land were Scots, and many others, mostly craftsmen and mechanics, followed in the period 1837–42, when more than a sixth of all emigrants to the eastern Australian colonies were Scots, while the 1850s witnessed an influx of highlanders to northern Tasmania, sponsored by their own countrymen.
Well before the close of the nineteenth century the overwhelming majority of Tasmanian residents were Australian-born, but more than 90 percent of those who were born overseas had immigrated from Britain or another part of the British Empire. The 1881 census indicated that only 25 percent of Tasmanians were British immigrants, nearly two-thirds of whom were born in England or Wales. Yet the island colony was 98 percent British in ethnic background. Tasmania was never a highly favoured destination for assisted British migration during the twentieth century, but the half century following the Second World War witnessed a small but steady stream of British professionals and their families, including a corps of state government-sponsored medical practitioners.
After 200 years of British settlement Tasmania could still claim the nation's highest proportion of citizens of Anglo–Celtic origin, possibly as high as 85 percent. This ethno-demographic picture contrasted markedly with that of other states, particularly Western Australia, which contained the largest proportion of British born residents but a much smaller percentage of British derivation, reflecting the western state's relative popularity as a destination for both British and Asian migrants during the latter part of the twentieth century. In summary then, on the evidence of statistics of ethnic derivation Tasmania could be considered more British than New Zealand (where the Anglo–Celtic majority has fallen below 75 percent) and more British than any of Canada's ten provinces except perhaps Newfoundland and Prince Edward Island.
It should be emphasised, however, that unlike the experience of several Anglo–Celtic immigrant communities in colonial North America, English, Irish, Scottish and Welsh immigrants in Australia did not cling to a distinctive sense of ethnic or cultural identity over a long period. In other words, a composite Anglo–Celtic self-identity had emerged by the eve of Australian federation, ensuring for at least the next half-century that Australian nationalism would remain comfortably accommodated within a wider loyalty to Empire and Commonwealth, expressed chiefly through allegiance to the British monarch.
The enduring British influence on Tasmania's built environment can be explained by two factors. The first is the rapid construction of many substantial public buildings and private homesteads during the nineteenth century from the 1830s onwards, assisted by access to convict labour, and the second is the preservation of much of this architectural heritage by Tasmania's unspectacular growth rate during the late nineteenth century and most of the twentieth century. The architectural style was Georgian until the 1850s, when Victorian Gothic and to a lesser extent Italianate styles supplanted it, with the Gothic style being later modified by local climatic conditions to accommodate verandahs. This architectural heritage was better preserved in Tasmania than in New South Wales, or indeed any of the other Australian colonies. Most architects and craftsmen in at least the first fifty years of European settlement were convicts or ex-convicts, and according to JM Freeland, the historian of Australian architecture, buildings tended to be erected more solidly and carefully than in the other eastern colonies. In his words: 'The yearning to create another England in the antipodes lay strongly in the hearts of all those whom England had cast out'. Accordingly, the central business districts of both Hobart and Launceston retained a higher ratio of handsome public buildings from the colonial era than any other major metropolitan or provincial city, while substantial coaching inns appeared along the main Hobart–Launceston road, 'classically disposed, in imitation of English country houses'.
In a climate well suited to northern hemisphere deciduous trees and conifers, early settlers eagerly sought to replicate English patterns of land use and plant cultivation. Thus parks and gardens were planted out with oak, ash, elm, birch, cedars, spruce and larch, lanes and hedgerows with hawthorn or poplars, and river banks with willow. It clearly took more than a century for Tasmanians to lament the introduction of English gorse and blackberry, and even that ever-adaptable settler, Louisa Anne Meredith, celebrated for her British readers the vistas of gorse spread across the island's cultivated farmlands.
It was not merely cultivation and habitation which pronounced the Britishness of Tasmania. While much, perhaps most, of the state's eucalypt forest and woodland is unmistakably Australian in its visual impact, vast tracts of the Tasmanian highlands and wilderness areas were seen to be reminiscent of the Scottish highlands. Painters were strongly attracted to the Vandemonian landscape, but for the first half-century 'it was shaped in the painter's eye with English assumptions and techniques'. John Glover's happy depictions of eucalyptus woodland probably represented a transition phase in the abandonment of those assumptions and techniques.
British imperial administration obviously prolonged direct British influence on the machinery of colonial government, though this was consistent with the experience of all other Australian colonies. But when self-government arrived in 1855 it was a bicameral legislature with a powerful and undemocratic 'upper house' which was sought by the Tasmanian political and social establishment, replicating in miniature the home parliament at Westminster, including the rules and procedures ordained by Sir John Erskine May. A century later Britain's House of Lords had been stripped of much of its power, but Tasmania's Legislative Council, though by now elected on a wider franchise, had lost none of its veto power over the 'popular' Assembly or its immunity from forcible dissolution, and was frequently dubbed the most powerful second chamber in the British Commonwealth.
States continued to be imported from Britain long after the Tasmanian premier was accorded the right to nominate the appointee to the secretary of state, and premiers on both sides of politics were fully acquiescent in the quasi-colonial constitutional status which characterised the six Australian states until passage of the Australia Acts in 1986. British governors had lent dignity and sophistication to provincial society in a small outpost of Empire and helped sustain a fervent loyalty to the Crown, especially during the era of high imperialism. And they helped sustain a fervent loyalty to Britain during two world wars in the twentieth century. Tasmania's first Australian-born governor did not take office until 1973.
Britishness was sustained in colonial church life during the nineteenth century and well into the twentieth, most self-consciously by the Anglicans and Presbyterians, many of whose clergy were British born and educated. In accordance with British practice, the appointment of the colony's first Anglican bishop by letters patent in 1842 had the legal effect of elevating Hobart, as the diocesan seat, to city status, and for the next 121 years all but one of Bishop Nixon's successors were British-born. Adherence to the English Book of Common Prayer was sustained in Anglican worship into the twenty-first century, possibly more dutifully than in England itself. Tasmania was not spared the sectarian tensions between Catholic and Protestant that racked Australian society during the nineteenth and early twentieth centuries, and these were not eased by the cultivation of a strong Irish sub-culture, 'a phenomenon imposed by the clergy from above, rather than a natural growth from below', and which flourished from the 1880s to the 1930s.
English settlers in early colonial Tasmania lost little time in creating opportunities to pursue their traditional sporting and other recreational interests. The first English regattas were organised in 1827 and were compared favourably by the local media with those in Britain, while cricket clubs appeared in both Hobart and Launceston during the early 1830s. Golf was introduced to Van Diemen's Land in the early 1820s, fittingly in the Scottish rural environment of Bothwell, and in the 1860s royal tennis made its appearance, with Hobart continuing to host one of only two Australian clubs into the twenty-first century. Gentrified Midlands grazing families introduced the fox hunt during the second half of the nineteenth century, but Tasmanians were never much enamoured of upper-class blood sports, and hunt clubs had faded away a century later.
Not surprisingly, British influence on the shaping of Tasmania's education system in the nineteenth century was considerable. In addition to the senior Anglican clergy, notably Archdeacon Hutchins and Bishop Nixon, Thomas Arnold, son of the titanic Rugby headmaster and advocate of public school reform, helped raise the standard of primary and secondary education as chief inspector of schools before resuming a career in England. Prior to the University of Tasmania's establishment in 1890 enrolment at a British university was the goal of those sons of affluent Tasmanian families with professional aspirations and a solid secondary education behind them, and much of the school and university curriculum continued to be of English derivation or Anglo-focused well into the twentieth century, especially in the humanities.
But what of the overall quality of Britain's early contribution to its antipodean colony? Despite the earnestness of British colonists' intentions to preserve their British heritage, the quality of personnel despatched by London to administer Van Diemen's Land during the first fifty years was quite mixed. Even as cautious an historian of the period as AGL Shaw concludes that only three of the six governors were 'efficient', while most of the lawyers, including judges, were 'a poor lot'. A majority of the Anglican clergy seem to have been unworthy of their calling and medical officers were often incompetent, corrupt or both.
Several English writers, travellers and parliamentarians displayed an interest in the fortunes of Tasmania during the second half of the nineteenth century, and their appetite would have been whetted in part by the dramas and debates surrounding two dominant public issues – convictism and the desolate fate of Tasmania's indigenous population. British scientists were also fascinated by the island's flora and fauna, and several members of the Tasmanian branch of the Royal Society (reportedly the first established outside Britain ) reported their research findings to London. Louisa Anne Meredith's My Home in Tasmania was published in London in 1852, and her Bush Friends in Tasmania followed in 1891. And these titles were by no means the only published reminiscences or propaganda to enlighten the curious imperialist at home.
Of the British visitors who reported their own experiences in Tasmania, Sir Charles Dilke, a republican member of the House of Commons, was unimpressed in the mid-1860s, finding 'the people indolent', attributable, he believed, to the legacy of convictism. The novelist Anthony Trollope, on the other hand, was enchanted by what he found in 1871, declaring the island to be 'more English than England' and that he would gladly pitch his tent there. But a visiting Frenchman two decades later, Paul Blouet, did not warm to the colony's Britishness, and asked 'how is it possible that a land so privileged by nature comes to be inhabited by such an uninteresting population?' He found Tasmanians too 'ordinary, bourgeois, provincial and peaceful'.
For how long did Anglo–Celtic Tasmanians consider themselves British? Like most Australians, they were encouraged to identify themselves as British by official rhetoric and by their legal status as British subjects for much of the twentieth century. Even the adoption of an Australian citizenship and nationality act in 1948 did not affect their 'subject' status, and an opinion poll taken at the time revealed that most Australians saw no need for a nationality act. This somewhat exclusionary and imperially focused approach to nationality and citizenship would influence how Anglo–Celtic Australians viewed their political rights and obligations. In the words of one serious critic, Alastair Davidson: 'citizenship was conceptualised in relation to British culture and ethnicity, not in terms of the rights and responsibilities of citizens of the state'. Although Australians were encouraged from 1953 onwards to understand that the monarchy was divisible and to distinguish between an Australian Crown and a British Crown, with the monarch formally recognised as Queen of Australia, legislation to abandon the status of 'British subject' was not passed until 1984. Furthermore, with all states continuing to accept governors appointed via the agency of the British Secretary of State until 1986, the British connexion remained a constitutional reality.
Three twentieth-century wars tested Australians' loyalty to their British heritage. During the Boer War (1899–1902) and the Great War (1914–18) Australian imperialist sentiment was fiercely expressive, in no state more so than Tasmania. The recruitment of a Tasmanian contingent for the South African war was accompanied by public derision of the newly established Labor Party as 'anti-British', a Union Jack Society was formed by imperialist Tasmanian ladies, and the island became the chief supplier of jam to the British military. News of the relief of Mafeking seems to have aroused more public celebration than proclamation of the new Commonwealth.
Tasmanians voted strongly in favour of conscription during the First World War and by 1919, according to Lloyd Robson: 'Loyalty to England and the Empire was never so high and implacable opposition never so great towards anyone who thought the war not right and spoke in favour of anything un-British'. Despite serious disagreement between prime ministers Churchill and Curtin about the deployment of Australian troops prior to the fall of Singapore, Australia was unconditionally identified with Britain in its prosecution of the World War (1939–45), and as ardent a nationalist as the external affairs minister, HV Evatt, proclaimed after the cessation of hostilities that it was Australia's responsibility to establish and safeguard 'British democracy' in the South Pacific. The late 1940s and 1950s witnessed an upsurge of romantic idealism about the 'British' Commonwealth, reinforced by the coronation of a young Queen in 1953. Tasmanians donated proportionately more than their mainland compatriots to the collectors of funds for a new Churchill Fellowship scheme, and the Union Jack was frequently flown on Hobart's public buildings well into the 1960s. In 2004 the Oxford-based literature scholar, Peter Conrad, recalled the British focus of his own Tasmanian schooldays in the late 1950s and early 1960s: 'At school, Tasmania was explained to us as a small lost England.' If Conrad's experience was commonplace it would have been extremely rare from the 1970s onwards.
Although Tasmanians continued to be conscious of their British origins and, for the most part, retained pride in the shared monarchy through most of the twentieth century, it does not follow that citizens of the United Kingdom remained knowledgeable about, or sustained an equal degree of interest in, things Tasmanian. Through the period of imperial preference in international trade Tasmanian apple imports to Britain helped give the island a public profile, and Tasmania's agency-general in London, opened in1886, had become a familiar landmark on The Strand to many Londoners, but a reduction in bilateral trade from the late 1960s, accentuated by Britain's admission to the European Economic Community shortly afterwards, served to weaken British familiarity with the island 'south of Australia' (with some Britons apparently confused about its political status). Whereas in 1900, 26 percent of Tasmania's exports were destined for the United Kingdom market, a century later Britain took little more than 1 percent. Within the European Union Denmark, Spain and Germany were more valuable markets! Nor did closure of the Tasmanian Agent-General's office in 1981 as an economy measure help raise Tasmania's profile in Britain. All other states retained theirs.
At the end of Tasmania's second century of British settlement, the state's continued identification with Britain was reflected in part by its relatively strong commitment to retention of the monarchy. At the 1999 referendum nearly 60 percent of voters rejected the republic formula on offer, the second highest negative vote of the Australian states, and only one of Tasmania's five federal electorates, Denison, recorded a 'Yes' vote. Young middle-class Tasmanians, many of them no doubt republican in sympathy, continued to see London as their principal northern hemisphere destination as they planned their first extended overseas holiday or work experience, and Britain continued to supply a sizeable share of the overseas news reported in Tasmania's print media and of the drama and documentary programs carried on its television channels.
By now the visitor traffic flow was less one-way than in the past. Australia, including Tasmania, had become a popular destination for British back-packers, many of them on short-term work permits; there had developed a steady flow of visiting British writers, performing artists or sports teams to the island state; and the growing popularity of Hobart and Launceston as international conference venues was enabling many representatives of British industry or the professions to become acquainted with Tasmania. 30,000 Britons visited Tasmania in 2003, while in August 2004 some forty British parliamentarians voiced their protest at the continuance of old-growth logging in Tasmanian forests. By now, notwithstanding the United Kingdom's preoccupation with Europe, there seemed every prospect of a lively and ongoing interest among Britons in the distant island community which reflects so much of their own imperial heritage.
JM Freeland, Architecture in Australia: a history, Melbourn: FW Cheshire,1968.
AL Greiner and TG Jordan-Bychkov, Anglo–Celtic Australia: colonial immigration and cultural regionalism, Santa F: Centre for American Places, 2002.
David Macmillan, Scotland and Australia, 1788–1850: emigration, commerce and investment, Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1967.
Patrick O'Farrell, The Irish in Australia, Kensington: University of New South Wales Press, 1986.
Geoffrey Partington, The Australian nation: its British and Irish roots, Melbourne: Australian Scholarly Publishing, 1994.
Lloyd Robson, A history of Tasmania volume 1, Melbourne: Oxford University Press, 1983.
Lloyd Robson, 'Damnosa Haereditas? Tasmania's British inheritance in the later nineteenth century', and AGL Shaw, 'The British contributions – 1803–1855', in Michael Roe (ed), The flow of culture: Tasmanian studies, Canberra: Australian Academy of the Humanities, 1987.