Port Arthur cricket team, c 1860 (ALMFA, SLT)

Soon after European invasion of Van Diemen's Land, hunting became popular and by the 1820s it was said to be the most popular sport in the island. Kangaroos were the chief quarry until the 1840s, when James Cox established deer at his estate, Clarendon. During the convict period, almost all other sports were played for wagers, horseracing exciting the most interest. It was carried on at the first racecourse, at Cornelian Bay (1813), and at private estates. Lt-Governor Sorell disapproved of racing and suppressed it in Hobart, but it continued in Launceston and some country centres including Ross, where the Tasmanian Turf Club held its first meeting in 1827. During the 1840s three-day meetings were held annually at a new track in New Town (1831) and at Mowbray (Launceston), as well as one-day affairs in at least ten country districts.

Hunting was extremely popular among wealthier citizens. The local hunt club meets at New Norfolk in the 1860s. Note at least one woman rider (AOT, PH30/1/2078)

Boat racing started at much the same time as horse racing, with early rowing contests between 'currency' crews and crews from visiting ships, and by the 1830s sailing races and multiple-event regattas. The colony's first sailing club, the Tamar Yacht Club, was formed in 1837. The following year, Lt-Governor Franklin initiated the Hobart Town Regatta, Tasmania's first gazetted public holiday. By the end of the 1840s seven Tasmanian towns held annual regattas, and boat races in response to public challenges were common.

'Pedestrianism' or athletic contests were also popular from the 1810s, again always carried out for bets. These events could be running races, walking races, jumping competitions or bizarre activities such as picking up rows of stones. Other sports enjoyed by the lower orders included skittles and quoits, which were offered at most pubs. Bare knuckle fighting, though illegal, commonly drew large crowds. Cock fighting and dog fighting were also popular, despite many attempts to stamp them out.

In contrast to blood sports were 'manly sports', chiefly cricket, which was played informally from 1814. The first organised game (military v civilians) took place in 1825 in Hobart. The favourite spot for matches in Hobart was the Paddock, now the site of the ABC centre. In the 1830s the Hobart Town and Derwent Cricket Clubs were formed, as were clubs in several southern villages such as Richmond and Sorell. In the north, cricket was played in Launceston, Campbell Town, Ross and on the Entally estate. North won the first North v South match in 1850, and Tasmania the first match against Victoria the following year.

Football was played by some convict road gangs in the 1840s and at sports days over the next decade. The first teams formed in the 1860s. They played under a variety of codes until 1879, when most clubs agreed to play under a local version of Victorian Rules. The first Victorian clubs arrived in 1881, and football's popularity began to rival that of cricket. The senior sport enjoyed a Golden Age at the end of the nineteenth century, with players like Charles Eady, Kenny Burn and Edward Windsor, but Tasmania rarely triumphed against the mainland colonies and was not included in cricket's Sheffield Shield competition, initiated in 1892.

Cycling came to Tasmania in the 1860s, with the first club formed in 1870. Cycle races were a feature of most athletic sports days, with the first cycle sports day held in Launceston in 1883. Road and track races were common, given a huge boost at the end of the decade by the new safety bicycle. By now women were much more involved in sport, playing recently arrived games such as croquet, lawn tennis, golf and netball as well as cricket. Some women also bushwalked and cycled, although not competitively.

Women taking part in sport, at least in some way (AOT, PH30/1/4240)

During the late nineteenth century Tasmania's sporting community was obsessed by the issue of amateurism, which was adopted as a philosophy by most middle-class sporting clubs, notably the Tasmanian Amateur Athletic Association (1902). In 1908 this body founded the Tasmanian Amateur Sports Federation, which most sporting bodies joined, thereby agreeing that their members would not compete in any sport for cash or 'useful prizes'. Attitudes towards amateurism divided the sporting community. This led to great bitterness in the rowing fraternity, which was also deeply divided by north-south parochialism. Despite this, Tasmanian oarsmen achieved a fine reputation, a Tasmanian crew winning the interstate eight-oared race three times between 1906 and 1914. The state's leading sculler, Cecil McVilly, became Tasmania's first Olympian in 1912.

The First World War had a devastating impact on sport and recovery was slow. Nevertheless, many new sportsgrounds were built during the interwar period, including the York Park (Launceston) and North Hobart ovals, and many more people played a wider variety of sports than before the war. Soccer, hockey and lacrosse became established. Trout fishing achieved an international reputation. Bushwalking was encouraged by the first national parks. Yet governments provided no financial assistance to any sport other than target shooting, which was subsidised for political reasons from 1863.

Sports funding improved during the Second World War, when the National Fitness Council was established throughout Australia. In the post-war years, the Tasmanian branch facilitated the introduction and development of many sports including volleyball, softball and badminton. It also set up sports rosters, encouraged youth sports and conducted training in 'adventure sports' such as bushwalking, climbing and canoeing. The first major post-war sporting initiative was the Sydney–Hobart yacht race in 1945, which boosted Tasmania's already strong reputation for yacht racing. Tasmania was also highly competitive in woodchopping and badminton. Significant funding was provided for sport, with important facilities built, particularly indoor sports centres throughout the state and Olympic-standard pools in Launceston, Hobart and elsewhere. During the 1970s, private initiatives led to the creation of the international-standard Longford, Baskerville and Symmons Plains motor racing circuits. A negative post-war trend was the increased tendency of Victoria to 'poach' young Tasmanian athletes – particularly footballers.

When the federal government dissolved the National Fitness Council in 1974, the Tasmanian government created a Division of Recreation. This body has existed ever since under a number of different names, and in 2004 was known as Sport and Recreation Tasmania. In 1974 it was given (and still has) the responsibility for disbursing sports grants for coaching, travel, equipment, minor capital works and the employment of administrative staff. This has led to increased professionalism among sporting bodies. The professional approach was furthered when the Tasmanian Institute of Sport was set up in 1985 to cater for the development of elite athletes. These initiatives have paid dividends: Tasmania is always well represented in Australian squads at Olympic and Commonwealth games; the state's cricket team has been included in the Sheffield Shield competition since 1977–78; and international championships in many high profile sports are regularly held at Tasmanian venues.

Further reading: D Young, Sporting Island, Hobart, 2005.

David Young