University of Tasmania
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Profitable and unprofitable acres : patterns of European expansion across Van Diemen's Land, 1803-35

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posted on 2023-05-27, 08:59 authored by Imogen WegmanImogen Wegman
This thesis uses Historic Geographic Information Systems (HGIS) to uncover the continuing and new patterns of land use in colonial Van Diemen's Land to 1835. In 1817 free settlers were frst encouraged to emigrate to the colony of Van Diemen's Land. They brought with them substantial assets, as well as ideals of British agriculture, and the following years saw a massive transformation of the island's landscape. By the 1820s many visitors assumed these new agriculturalists were aspiring to recreate Britain, and praised what they saw as the early stages of this. They dismissed the work of the former convicts on their much smaller grants, and ignored the thousands of years of land management conducted by the Tasmanian Aboriginal people. In fact, as much as the settlers sought to reshape the landscape, they themselves were reshaped by it. Their aspirations were only possible because of the work of their predecessors. By placing land grants and sales data into an HGIS, this thesis reconstructs the sequence of European settlement in three regions of the island: New Norfolk, Bothwell and through the Midlands. These case studies are used to argue the existence of two primary European settlement patterns. The frst is riverine intensive, a pattern based on European and settler-colonial precedent. The domain of emancipist grantees, the name refects the signifcance of waterways in shaping the early colony. This pattern gave way to the open extensive in the early-1820s, as the colony's economy shifted to fne wool exports and the settlers required larger acreages. This thesis argues that both of these patterns were reliant on the Aboriginal mosaic patterns, as the settlers were drawn to areas kept clear with fre-stick farming. Settlers in the open extensive stage were particularly drawn to the large 'plains', and their land-use represented a drastic departure from accepted British methods. Nonetheless, the riverine intensive settlers also benefted from cleared lands. By combining the settlement pattern parameters with environmental data and settlement sequences, this thesis argues that it is possible to uncover details of the pre-European landscape that were not recorded before it was irrevocably altered by the arrival of large-scale pastoral pursuits. Connecting land records to colonial survey charts also enables this thesis to measure the extent to which acreages were over- or under-measured. Using these fndings, it analyses allegations of corruptions that were frequently levelled against the colonial surveyors. Their work is critiqued within the context of surveyor work-load, changing settler and governmental priorities, and the rise of the Black War.


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