MARIA ISLAND HISTORY
4 DISTINCT ERAS
Maria Island was firstly inhabited by the local aboriginal band, the Tyreddeme people. There is evidence of their occupation, dating back 30,000 years.
Abel Tasman was the first European to sight and map Maria Island in 1642. More recently, explorers Cox in 1789 and Baudin in 1802 visited Maria Island. Both explorers noted interaction with the local aboriginal residents.
1st Convict Era – 1825 – 1832
When Tasmania was colonised in 1803 it was named Van Diemen’s Land. After colonisation, Maria Island soon attracted whalers and sealers. In 1825 this industry gave way to a Penal Colony.
There were 2 distinct Convict Eras, 1825 – 1832 & 1842 – 1850. The 1st era encountered problems, including shortages of supplies, insolence and convicts escaping, despite the guards best efforts. These problems led to the closing down of the settlement in 1832 and also due to the success of Port Arthur.
2nd Convict Era – 1842 – 1850
In the early 1840’s the number of convicts arriving in Van Diemen’s land increased significantly, and the Penal Colony on Maria Island was re-opened and up running by 1842.
This second Penal settlement was also abandoned in 1850 thus making way for farmers and industrial entrepreneurs.
1st Industrial Era 1884 – 1896
There was intermittent land leasing from 1852 – 1883 and farmers worked the land much like the convicts did, by grazing sheep and growing crops.
In 1884 an Italian, Diego Bernacchi saw the potential of wine making and silk production on Maria Island and took up a controversial lease on the island under certain conditions.
Bernacchi also added cement production, agriculture, fishing and timber getting to his initial industries. Darlington, Maria Island soon became a bustling township of over 250 residents.
Bernacchi’s many projects met difficulties and floundered. His company’s assets were seized, and he abandoned Maria Island in 1895.
2nd Industrial Era 1920 – 1930
In 1920, Bernacchi returned to Maria Island with financial backing to exploit the islands deposits of limestone for cement production.
Substantial construction works were undertaken and production commenced. However, over time the purity of the Limestone diminished which led to financial issues, then the Great Depression was the final blow!
Darlington was abandoned once again and returned to pasture land until leases were acquired by the Tasmanian Government and a Wildlife Reserve was proclaimed in 1972. Darlington, Maria Island now has the status of a World Heritage Convict Site. In 2013 healthy Tasmanian Devils were released onto Maria Island, where they will be protected from the deadly facial tumour disease that is ravaging the species elsewhere in the state. The program is now in its 7th year, and we are happy to say that the program has been very successful with breading and re-establishing disease free populations back into the National Parks and wilderness areas of our state.