Van Diemen's Land was the
original name used by Europeans for the
island of Tasmania, now part of
Australia. The Dutch explorer Abel Tasman was
the first European to explore Tasmania.
He named the island
Anthoonij van Diemenslandt
in honour of
Anthony van Diemen
Governor-General of the Dutch
who had sent Tasman on his voyage of discovery in
the island was colonised by the British as a penal
colony with the name Van Diemen's Land, and became part of the
British colony of New South
In 1824, Van Diemen's Land became a colony
in its own right. In 1856 the colony was granted responsible self-government with its
own representative parliament, and the name of the island and
colony was changed to Tasmania.
From the 1830s to the abolition of penal transportation
(known simply as
"transportation") in 1853, Van Diemen's Land was the primary penal
colony in Australia. Following the suspension of transportation to
Wales, all transported convicts were sent to Van Diemen's
In total, some 75,000 convicts were transported to Van
Diemen's Land, or about 40% of all convicts sent to
Male convicts served their sentences as assigned labour to free
settlers or in gangs assigned to public works. Only the most
difficult convicts were sent to the Tasman Peninsula prison known as Port
Arthur, mostly re-offenders.
Female convicts were assigned as servants in free settler
households or sent to a female
(women's workhouse prison). There were five female
factories in Van Diemen's Land.
Convicts completing their sentences or earning their
ticket-of-leave often promptly left Van Diemen's Land. Many settled in the
new free colony of Victoria, to the disgust of the free settlers in towns such
Tensions sometimes ran high between the settlers and the
"Vandemonians" as they were termed, particularly during the
Victorian gold rush
when a flood
of settlers from Van Diemen's Land rushed to the Victorian gold
Complaints from Victorians about recently released convicts from
Van Diemen's Land re-offending in Victoria was one of the
contributing reasons for the eventual abolition of transportation
to Van Diemen's Land in 1853 .
used the term
They are (the Vandemonians) united in their declaration
that the cessation of the coming of convicts has been their
Eventually, in order to remove the unsavoury connotations with
crime associated with its name (and its homophonic connection to
"), in 1856 Van Diemen's Land was
in honour of Abel
Tasman. The last penal settlement in Tasmania at
Arthur finally closed in 1877.
The term is not used much, but in a review of a new book of the era
newspaper chose the title of the review as
- Van Diemen's Land is mentioned in the Irish and Australian folk song "The Wild Colonial
- Van Diemen's Land is often mentioned in the works of Flogging Molly, such as in the song "Every
Dog Has Its Day."
- Among the Irish folk songs that
mention Van Diemen's Land are "The
Black Velvet Band", "Back Home in
Derry", and "Van Diemen's Land".
- Van Diemen's Land is the subject of the Irish song, "Back Home
in Derry". The music was written to the tune of The Wreck of the Edmund
Fitzgerald by Gordon Lightfoot
and the lyrics by the famous Irish
Republican Bobby Sands. It is most
famously sung by the Irish bard Christy
- "Van Diemen's Land", also known as "The Gallant Poachers", is a traditional
Irish folk song
- Steeleye Span does a rendition of
the traditional folk song on their album They Called Her Babylon
- "Van Diemen's Land" is
the title of the second track from the rock band U2's album Rattle and
Hum. The lyrics were written and sung by The Edge. The song is dedicated to a Fenian poet
named John Boyle O'Reilly, who
was deported to Australia because of his poetry .
- The chorus to the English folk song "Maggie May" says "They've sent
you to Van Diemen's cruel shore."
- Shirley Collins and the Albion Country Band record a
version of "Van Diemen's Land" in No Roses
- Carla Bruni sings the poem 'If You
Were Coming In The Fall', by Emily
Dickinson on her album No Promises. The song
includes a reference to Van Diemen's land "subtracting till my
fingers dropped; into Van Diemen's Land".
- "Van Diemen's island" is mentioned in the song "Highland]" by
The Elders on their album Pass it on Down
- "Van Diemen's island" is the title of a song by Steve Binetti
- Van Diemen's Land is mentioned in the song, "Black Velvet Band"
by Dropkick Murphys
- The chorus of "Emigrants" by Scots traditional music group
Canterach includes the line: "Sent to the new worlds of America,
Australia, and Van Diemen's Land".
- Van Diemen's Land is referred to extensively in "Henry's
Downfall" by folk singer Jim Moray
- Van Diemen's Land is the setting of Gould's Book of Fish: A Novel in Twelve
Fish by Richard Flanagan
(published 2002), which tells the story of a man who is transported
to the island, and runs afoul of the local (and rather insane)
- Brendan Whiting's book
Victims of Tyranny, gives an account of the lives of the
Irish rebels, the Fitzgerald convict brothers who were sent to help
open up the north of Van Diemen's Land in 1805, under the
leadership of the explorer Colonel William Paterson.
Cormac McCarthy's novel Blood Meridian, one of the characters in
the Glanton Gang of scalpers in 1850s
Mexico is a "Vandiemenlander" named Bathcat.
Wales he later went to Australia to hunt aborigines, and
eventually came to Mexico, where he used those skills on the
- Van Diemen's Land is mentioned in Edgar Allan Poe's book Narrative of
Pym. The main character stops at this island on his way to
the South Pole.
Diemen's Land is mentioned in Umberto
Eco's novel "The Island
of the Day Before" ("L'isola del giorno prima", 1994),
a story about a 17th century Italian nobleman trapped at an island
at the International Date Line.
- Van Diemen's Land is mentioned in Emily Dickinson's "If You Were Coming in the
- From "The Potato Factory" by Bryce
Courtenay (1995): "... subtracting till my fingers dropped;
into Van Diemen's Land." This is a quote from Emily
Dickinson's Poem "If You Were Coming In The Fall".
- In Gulliver's Travels by Jonathan Swift (1726), the
country of Lilliput is described as being “to the north-west of Van
Dieman's Land” [sic].
- In the novel The Convicts by Iain Lawrence, young Tom
Tin is sent to Van Diemen's Land on charges of murder
- Van Dieman's Land is mentioned in James De Mille's A Strange
Manuscript Found in a Copper Cylinder. The manuscript
spoken of in the title has been written by British sailor who lost
his way after conveying convicts to Van Dieman's Land.
- In the novel The Terror by Dan
Simmons (2007). In this novel about the ill fated exploration
by HMS Erebus and
HMS Terror to discover
the Northwest Passage. The ships
left England in May 1846 and were never heard from again, although
since then much has been discovered about the fate of the 129
officers and crew. References are made to Van Diemen's Land during
the chapters devoted to Francis
Dieman's Land is mentioned in Peter Carey's book, True History of the Kelly
Gang, as a place the Kelly parents suffered on their way
to the Colony of
- Van Dieman's Land is the setting of the novel English Passengers by Matthew Kneale (2000), which tells the story
of 3 eccentric English men who in 1857 set sail for the island in
search of the Garden of Eden. The story runs parallel with the
narrative of a young Tasmanian who tells the struggle of the
indigenous population and the desperate battle against the invading
- Christopher Koch's novel : "Out of Ireland" describes life as a
convict in Van Diemen's Land.
- Richard Butler's novel "The Men That God
Forgot" (1977) is based on the historical events of 10 convicts who
escape from Van Dieman's Land to Valdivia, Chile in
- Alexander, Alison (editor) (2005)The Companion to Tasmanian
HistoryCentre for Tasmanian Historical Studies, University
of Tasmania, Hobart. ISBN 186295223X.
- Robson, L.L. (1983) A history of Tasmania. Volume
1. Van Diemen's Land from the earliest times to
1855Melbourne, Oxford University Press. ISBN 0195543645.
- Robson, L.L. (1991) A history of Tasmania. Volume
II. Colony and state from 1856 to the 1980s
Melbourne, Oxford University Press. ISBN 0195530314.