Maritime History

Tasmania, being an island state, has a rich maritime history.

Prior to European occupation in 1803, Tasmania was home for millennia to the palawa Aboriginal people, belonging to nine distinct nations. The palawa were great seafarers and adventurers who were highly skilled navigators with a thorough knowledge of Tasmania’s waterways.

Tasmania’s first port was established, along with the European settlement, in Hobart in 1804. At the same time, in the north of the state, Tasmania’s first pilot station was established at Low Head to guide vessels safely into the Tamar River.

Over the ensuing years a number of regional marine boards and authorities were established, serving the needs of the European settlements that had sprung up around the state.

Historically, major commodities through the ports were whale oil, wool, timber, agricultural produce and wheat.

Being an island state, our waterways are vital trade routes with 99 % of all Tasmania’s freight transiting through our multi-port system. From a global viewpoint however, Tasmanian waters are also inherently treacherous. Events of the past serve as a solemn reminder to us all, with an estimated 1,000 ships recorded as wrecking around Tasmania’s coastline, 80 of which involved fatalities.

Major historical maritime incidents include the bulk carrier Iron Baron grounding against the Hebe Reef in 1995; the Lake Illawarra colliding with Hobart’s Tasman Bridge in 1975; and the Cataraqui wrecking off the King Island coast with 400 souls lost, in 1845.

Much of TasPorts’ work is not readily visible to the broader community. To ensure the continuation of safe maritime operations around our state, each year TasPorts manages over 4,500+ vessel traffic movements, provides 1,500+ piloted vessel movements, and our towage crews complete 1,400+ towage across our multi-port system.

For TasPorts, ensuring continual high standards for marine safety around the state is absolutely critical. It is what drives us and we continue to leave no stone unturned in our relentless pursuit of ensuring the very highest standards in maritime safety.

You can discover more about Tasmania’s fascinating and rich maritime history via the Maritime Museum of Tasmania.