Tasmania, the Name

In 1642 Abel Janszoon Tasman named his 'first sighted land' after his Dutch superior Anthony Van Diemen. While Tasman missed meeting any Aborigines, they knew their land as 'Trowunna', 'Trowenna' or 'Loetrouwitter'.

Despite the official name of Van Diemen's Land, usage of the alternative 'Tasmania' gradually grew. In 180304 naturalist Robert Brown, visiting the island, named a plant Tasmannia lanceolata. London-based mapmakers Laurie and Whittle's An Elegant Imperial Sheet Atlas (1808) included a map with both names, Van Diemen's Land and Tasmania, the first appearance of 'Tasmania' discovered in print. Usage proliferated in the 1820s. In 1823 Godwin's Emigrant's Guide to Van Diemen's Land, more properly called Tasmania was published in London, and before leaving England that year, Peter Degraves, later of Cascade Brewery fame, minted sixpenny, shilling and half-crown tokens that carried the name 'Tasmania', a kangaroo and '1823' on the obverse, and his sawmill's name on the reverse. Several local vessels, clubs, newspapers and literary and scientific journals adopted the name, for example, the Tasmanian Turf Club in 1826. Thomas Kent, a 'mischievous' colonial entrepreneur, in 1824 claimed coinage of 'Tasmania', but this was clearly inaccurate.

The Bishopric of Tasmania was proclaimed in 1842, and anti-transportationists welcomed the name Tasmania to help counter the 'evil reputation' attached to convict Van Diemen's Land. In 1854, a year after the cessation of transportation, William Sharland MLC sponsored the renaming through a parliamentary petition to Queen Victoria, who signed her agreement in 1855. The new name was gazetted locally in November, with a Designation of the Colony Act in December. Arriving with self-government, the new name became effective on 1 January 1856, and the next day 'Tasmania' celebrated its renaming at a Grand Tasmanian Regatta.

Further reading: T Newman, Becoming Tasmania, forthcoming publication.

Terry Newman