The Tasman Peninsula is named after Dutch explorer Abel Tasman. At the time of first contact with Europeans, the area was the country of the Pydairrerme band of the Oyster Bay tribe. Their territory was what is now known as the Tasman and Forestier Peninsulas. A narrow “neck” of land joins these two peninsulas. There is no recorded evidence of any remaining Pydairrerme people on the Tasman Peninsula from the 1830s onwards, although remains of middens and stone artefacts remain in the landscape from this period.
The Tasman Peninsula convict history represents perhaps the best collection of British penal station remains in the world. This includes extant prison complexes, wharves, farms, tramways, quarries, mines, garden plots, constable stations, semaphore stations, cemeteries and other remains spread across the peninsula.
Governor George Arthur first proposed a penal settlement on the Tasman Peninsula in 1827. With its clear strategic and security possibilities, Arthur considered the site a ‘natural penitentiary’.
Besides its attributes as a ‘natural prison’ the Tasman Peninsula was rich in natural resources – including timber, stone, clay, lime and coal. The Peninsula was close enough to Hobart to allow for a viable settlement, and to develop industries for export within and beyond Van Diemen’s Land.
Port Arthur was also endowed with a protected harbour and freshwater stream. These were critical factors in the choice of site, both to ensure its viability, and to provide the capacity for large-scale convict employment.
In 1830 timber was cleared, building commenced and the first convicts arrived. Across Carnarvon Bay, at Point Puer, a boys’ penitentiary was established in 1834.
A line of guard dogs and lamps was stationed across the narrow land bridge at Eaglehawk Neck, which proved a virtually impenetrable barrier to escaping convicts.
In the 1840s, a network of probation stations was established throughout the Tasman Peninsula. This created a more productive labour force and transformed Port Arthur into a large scale and diverse industrial complex that stretched across the Tasman Peninsula.
A ‘convict railway’ powered by human effort was completed in 1836 and linked Norfolk Bay and Long Bay. The Saltwater River coal mines and Eaglehawk Neck were linked by roads. A wide network of signal stations was set up in the mid-1830s that connected the settlements and the Peninsula to Hobart.
By the mid-1840s there was a decline in transported convicts, the boys penitentiary at Point Puer closed in 1849 and in 1877 the Port Arthur penal settlement closed. A new township named Carnarvon was superimposed on the remains of the former penal settlement.
The site became a tourist centre and by 1880 tours of Port Arthur were operating. The former Commandant’s Residence became the Carnarvon Hotel. By 1892 Port Arthur had become an established port of call for tourists. In 1912 a local councillor estimated that 5000 tourists visited the town. (Today there is an estimated 280,000 annually visit the site.
Forestry, fishing and agriculture have been the dominant industries since the beginning of white settlement. Following the closure of the penal settlements, land around the peninsula was subdivided for farms and orchards and small rural settlements. Nubeena, Koonya, Taranna, Saltwater River, Premaydena & Eaglehawk Neck, grew out of the former probations stations. Fruit growing became one of the main industries, although most of the early orchardists were dependent on the timber industry in conjunction with vegetable and dairy products.
Small schools were opened in these settlements. In the late 19th century and the early part of the 20th century there were 8 local schools situated around the Peninsula including at Port Arthur, Saltwater River, Nubeena, Eaglehawk Neck, Oakwood, Taranna, Koonya, and Premaydena. By 1953 all of these had closed and the Nubeena Area School was opened in its current site (prior to this the Nubeena school had been situated in Judd Park and then moved to where the existing CWA hall is situated).
The first hospital on the Peninsula was situated in Nubeena, although this was only open for 12 months before being moved to Koonya in 1927. This remained the hospital until 1970. In 1971 the Country District Hospital opened in Nubeena and 10 years later became the Tasman Nursing Home, until in 2003 it became the Tasman Multi-Purpose Service and later renamed Tasman Community and Health Centre in 2010.
In the late 19th Century water transport was the marketing lifeline between the Peninsula, Hobart and elsewhere and jetties were erected at key locations. Some of the names of the river steamers were Taranna, Koonya, Nubeena and Cartela. A voyage when fully loaded with products and passengers may have taken between four and six hours to reach Hobart.
Fruit growing remained a viable industry in the region until the 1970s. By 1990 only three commercial orchards were left on the Peninsula. Today there has been a slight resurgence in fruit growing as a number of cherry and berry orchards have been established. Forestry and fishing remain dominant industries in the Tasman area.
Small scale poultry farming blossomed into an embryo battery-chicken industry in 1953. Contract growing was initiated and chicken sheds appeared on properties in all Peninsula districts. Today in addition to forestry and fishing the main industries include tourism, aquaculture, some niche market agriculture and health and community-services.