George Frankland's 'Hobart Town', 1827, shows migrants arriving (ALMFA, SLT)

Migration to Tasmania began with the Aboriginal people who came at least 35,000 years ago. European migration began in 1803, with only a few free settlers arriving with Bowen and in 1804 with Collins. Several hundred Norfolk Islanders arrived 1808–14, but even so the proportion of free settlers was small.

The situation changed rapidly after the end of the Napoleonic Wars in 1815. A post-war depression was added to a Britain already struggling with a massive population increase and job losses following the Industrial Revolution and changes in farming practice. Van Diemen's Land therefore attracted an increasing number of settlers, many of them ex-soldiers. The population increased from 1915 in 1816, to over 5000 in 1820, and to 24,000 ten years later. The number was boosted by the immigration of families of previously transported convicts.

The system of land grants, whereby people were given an acre for each pound of cash or goods brought to the colony, was replaced in 1831 by the Bounty system. The government now helped pay the passage money for needed migrants, such as men with special skills and single women aged fifteen to thirty. Even during the 1840s Depression, the government continued to help skilled men migrate.

Migration was always a two-way process, with many Tasmanians leaving in the 1830s and 1840s to settle in the new colonies of Port Phillip (Victoria) and South Australia, but it was the huge exodus of workers to the 1850s mainland gold rushes which led Van Diemen's Land to introduce new Bounty regulations. These helped pay the passage for suitable migrants, in return for working for two years for an employer. Between 1851 and 1860, 16,636 assisted migrants came, many settling in newer areas in the north. Immigration societies appointed agents to select suitable settlers from Britain.

The 1850s also saw the first large groups of migrants not from Britain or Ireland, with the arrival in 1855 of six shiploads of German migrants. In the 1870s many Chinese came to Tasmania to work in the tin and gold mines. Another interesting group were English army officers from India; 385 had arrived by 1891.

In the 1860s, to keep migrants in the colony, the government allowed them to have small grants of land, mostly in the north. Between 1886 and 1910 the Tasmanian government gave no support for migrants, but some settlers continued to arrive. They were still overwhelmingly Anglo–Celtic; in the early 1900s only 2.5 percent of Tasmanians were not born in Britain or Australia.

Following the First World War, another post-war depression in Britain led that country to subsidise migration, while Australia's increased tariffs were an incentive for British industries to start local branches. Many migrants worked in new factories such as Patons and Baldwins (later Coats Patons), Kelsall and Kemp and Cadbury. There were also special schemes such as the Female Domestic Scheme and the Farm Boy Learners Scheme, while the government helped British ex-soldiers go on the land. These schemes were not particularly successful and many migrants returned home.

The Second World War strengthened feeling that Australia needed more people to secure its safety as well as skilled workers for industry. Many British settlers came out under the £10 passage scheme, whereby they had to stay in Australia for two years. For the first time commonwealth government schemes encouraged migrants from continental Europe; unlike Britons, if they received assistance these migrants were forced to work for two years wherever they were sent. Thousands of migrants from all over Europe came to Tasmania over the next twenty years, the greatest number of free migrants ever in such a short time. The former Brighton army camp re-opened as hostel accommodation for new arrivals. The first large non-British group were 798 Polish soldiers who arrived in uniform in 194748. Another large grouping were the Dutch, who overtook Germans as the biggest group with a non-English speaking background. Many new arrivals worked on hydro-electric schemes and in industries such as the aluminium smelter at Bell Bay, the Electrolytic Zinc Works at Risdon and in forestry and mining, and so played a vital part in the state's economy. The arrival of such large numbers of people from different cultures had a remarkable impact on Tasmanian society. A somewhat inward-looking culture became exposed to different foods, customs and skills. Tasmania's current vibrant artistic community and its burgeoning coffee culture owe much to these arrivals.

However, since the 1970s migration to Tasmania has slowed. Only a small proportion of Australia's Asian migrants come the extra distance to the island state. Many who do come, move on to other states to get work and be with others from their country of origin. Whereas nearly a third of all Australians are born overseas, in Tasmania the figure is only ten percent, and by far the largest group is of European origin. In an attempt to increase the number of migrants the state accepts more refugees and humanitarian migrants, which make up about one in five arrivals.

Further reading: I Pearce & C Cowling, Guide to the public records of Tasmania: free immigration, Hobart, 1975; M Roe, Australia, Britain and migration, 1915–1940, Cambridge, 1995; F Crowley, ' Immigration into Tasmania from the United Kingdom, 1860–1919', THRAPP 3/6, 1954; E O' Brien, 'Tasmania transformed or transportation revisited?', MHum thesis, UT, 1993.

Jill Cassidy