Names of Tasmania

Map of Tasmania

Naming Tasmania

The first reported sighting of Tasmania by an European was on 24th November 1642 by the Dutch explorer Abel Tasman who named the island Anthoonij van Diemenslandt, after his sponsor, the Governor of the Dutch East Indies, Anthonie Van Diemen. The name was later shortened to Van Diemens Land by the British. The first settlement was by the British at Risdon Cove on the eastern bank of the Derwent estuary in 1803, by a small party sent from Sydney, under Lt. John Bowen.

Anthonie Van Diemen
Anthonie Van Diemen

Another Van Diemens Land settlement was established by Lieut. David Collins 5 km to the south in 1804 in Sullivan's Cove on the western side of the Derwent, where fresh water was more plentiful. The latter settlement became known as Hobart Town or Hobarton, later shortened to Hobart, after the British Colonial Secretary of the time, Lord Hobart.

The settlement at Risdon was later abandoned. Van Diemens Land was proclaimed a separate colony from New South Wales, with its own judicial establishment and Legislative Council, on 3rd December 1825. The name of Van Diemen's Land officially changed to Tasmania upon the granting of responsible self-government in 1856. The name honours the first recorded European to discover Tasmania, Abel Tasman.

Abel Tasman
Abel Tasman

Every Name Tells A Story

The names of rivers, coastal features, districts and their streets tell a lot about the history of a place. Australia has plenty of unusual place names, but when it comes to the strange, quirky and sometimes downright rude (by modern meaning of words), Tasmania has it all over the other states.

The reason for that is that much of Tasmania was pioneered by Scottish and Irish migrants. There's nothing unusual about that, except that the ones Tasmania inherited all seem to have had a rather strange sense of humour when it came to naming places. As expected, they splashed plenty of Irish and Scottish place names about, but then they threw some rather colourful, whimsical, odd-ball names into Tasmania's nomenclature pot for good measure. Names like Nowhere Else, Flowerpot and Butchers Bottom. Not to be outdone, others followed their lead with such beauties as Half Woody Hill, Eggs and Bacon Bay, Boobs Flat, Look-In Lookout and Snug. No doubt these names made a lot of sense at the time, but they leave us today scratching our heads and wondering, "what on earth were they thinking!".

The high count of names, particulary around the coast, honouring members of the British parliament, aristocracy, military and royal family leave no doubt that Tasmania started life as a British colony. The lesser number of Dutch and French names indicate they, also, came and saw, but weren't sufficiently enthused by what they found to come back and conquer, as the British did.

If an Australian town has a George, Frederick, William, Campbell, Elizabeth or Macquarie Street, or a combination of them - and plenty in Tasmania do - it's a sure sign that the colonial governor, Lachlan Macquarie, had something to do with its founding. Macquarie jumped at every opportunity that came his way to butter up British royalty and aristocracy by dropping their names across the countryside.

But if you think Macquarie was generous with their names, he went totally overboard with his own. Unlike any Governor before or after him, Macquarie was the one Governor who made sure his name wouldn't be forgotten by giving it, or that of his wife, Elizabeth (nee Campbell), to some town, street or geographical feature just about every time he set foot out of his front door. Macquarie has more places named after him that anyone else - over 100 places across Australia bear his name.

The Origins of Tasmania's Place Names

Note: these are not difinitive lists nor is it possible to guarantee their total accuracy. Why places received their names was not always recorded, so there is plenty of guesswork involved in preparing lists such as these. Updating and expanding these lists is an ongoing project, so please feel free to email us if you have a contrubution to make.