Immigration Societies (Colonial)

A result of immigration: a group of immigrants who arrived in 1855 photographed in 1905 (ALMFA, SLT)

Immigration Societies in colonial times aimed to recruit free labour for Tasmania, either because it was feared that convict transportation would cease and labour would be insufficient; or as a moral improvement on convict labourers; or to increase the percentage of women. The British government's Colonial Land and Emigration Commission was responsible for recruiting free migrants, particularly single women, during the 1830s. When it was assumed that convict transportation was to cease in 1839, Tasmanian agents recruited bounty immigrants (where the government helped pay for the passage), but these migrants were swamped by the influx of convicts under the probation scheme, and many were forced to move to the mainland.

Transportation did cease in 1853, and the St Andrew's Immigration Society and the Launceston Immigration Aid Society were formed to recruit labourers not only as an alternative to convict labour but with the expectation that a superior type of migrant could improve the moral status of 'the lower classes'. Employing recruiting agents, the societies were responsible for importing some 3000 immigrants between 1855 and 1862, from Scotland and the eastern counties of England. At the same time, other agents recruited in Germany and Wales, individual landowners arranged to import labourers, and settlers, both convict and free immigrants of earlier periods, nominated their friends and relations as bounty immigrants. Although contemporary comments suggested that some of these migrants used Tasmania as a stepping stone to the mainland or New Zealand, family research is revealing that many became successful Tasmanian settlers.

Kevin Green