View of Bellerive, about 1920 (Tasmaniana Library, SLT)

Clarence was for thousands of years home to Aborigines, and was in 1803 the site of the first European settlement under Bowen. This failed, but from 1808 ex-convicts and others set up small farms at Clarence Plains and Bellerive, where town centres grew. Some small settlers flourished, and farms became larger as wealthier free settlers arrived, with settlement extending to South Arm, Sandford and Cambridge. The lack of a permanent water supply and problems of transport across the River Derwent meant urban growth was limited. First rowing and sailing boats, then steam vessels, provided an erratic and sometimes dangerous service, until from 1863 the O'May brothers set up a stable and safer business, though crossing the river still meant delay and extra expense. Clarence gained municipal government in 1860.

Agriculture was assisted by the growth of the fruit industry from the 1880s, with apples and apricots widely grown. From the 1880s commuter suburbs to Hobart developed at Bellerive and Lindisfarne, and in 1911 the population was 2482. Community life flourished with churches, clubs and sports teams. Soldiers were supported in the First World War, and though there was suffering in the 1930s Depression, the establishment of Hobart's main airport at Cambridge (1935) and the promise of a bridge across the Derwent and, at last, a water supply, offered a modern future. This was interrupted by the Second World War, in which Clarence housed a major defence establishment at Fort Direction, and by shortages of labour and materials after the war.

After the opening of the Hobart bridge (1943) and a water supply (from the early 1950s), Clarence boomed. Bellerive and Lindisfarne in particular grew with many houses built by private developers and the Housing Department, and the population increased from 5000 in 1947, to 40,000 in 1974. Despite municipal efforts there were no major industries and most wage-earners worked in Hobart, even more so as agriculture declined. Progress was encouraged by the larger Tasman Bridge (1964), but after the Tasman Bridge collapse of 1975, immediate disaster ensued, as Clarence was cut off from Hobart. The long-term effect was beneficial, as many shops, offices, clubs, entertainment and other facilities developed on the eastern shore.

After the bridge was reopened in 1977, Clarence forged ahead, becoming a city in 1988, and growing after merging with Richmond in 1993. Primary industries revived with vineyards, oyster farming and other activities; tourism grew especially in Richmond and around Clarence's many beaches; secondary industries were set up; Clarence obtained a world-class cricket ground with the redevelopment of the Bellerive Oval; and commuters moved further afield, living all over Clarence from South Arm to Richmond. By 2004 the population was almost 50,000.

Further reading: A Alexander, The eastern shore, Rosny Park, 2003.

Alison Alexander