Free immigration to Tasmania 1803-1946


A summary of part of the Guide on records relating to free immigration

People were not encouraged to immigrate to Tasmania prior to 1820. They needed a letter of recommendation from the Secretary of State unless they were a convict or involved in the penal system. Some people could not land in Van Diemen’s Land because they did not have these papers.

The “Adamant” was the first migrant, or non-convict ship to Van Diemen’s Land, followed by:

After 1820 many more people started arriving as land became available. People brought letters of recommendation from the Home authorities which entitled them to land. The convict system allowed for the assignment of convicts to free settlers as labourers. Lieut.-Governor Arthur encouraged the immigration of people with capital, who could support the convict penal system by making use of convict labour. Land policy favoured wealthy settlers who could take responsibility for a number of convicts.

The Colonial Government encouraged retired military officers to immigrate. Until 1831 they received land grants in return for some local military service.

Sometimes poorer people came out as servants. The Van Diemen’s Land Company paid for farmers to immigrate. Like servants, these farmers had to pay back their fare by working for the company.

Government sponsored immigration 1831-1837

In 1831 the British government started to encourage immigration by poorer Britons due to unemployment problems in the UK.  There were two schemes:

Money from land sales was used to pay for the schemes.

The government trialled large-scale family emigration.  Their arrival glutted the labour market so most could not find work. The Colonial Government suspended assisted immigration until there was a better scheme.

Chelsea pensioner immigrants also became a burden on the Colonial Government. They came out to Van Diemen’s Land in the years 1832-3 on the ships Science, Cleopatra, Waterloo, Wellington, Manfield and Adelaide.  These retired soldiers had free passage to the colonies but few resources when they arrived.

In 1837 Lieut.-Governor Franklin suspended assisted immigration to Van Diemen’s Land, save for a few single female domestics, because:

In 1835 Governor Arthur asked that labourer immigration stop as labourers displaced convicts in assignment.  Van Diemen’s Land was primarily a convict colony. Arthur wanted the immigration of wealthy people who could employ convicts.

Immigration boards and committees

When the convict assignment system stopped in 1840, the colonists realised they had a labour-shortage problem.  Although the British Government was not in favour, the colonial government liked the Bounty System and were willing to vote £60 000 towards immigration costs in 1841.

From 1813-1842, 795 assisted immigrants cost the Colonial Government about £12,000.

In 1848 the British Government voted £30,000 to be used for immigration to the penal colonies.  This was primarily to send out the wives and families of convicts. Part of this money was used to bring out the families of military pensioners who themselves worked their way out as guards on convict ships.  The men though had trouble finding land or employment.

In 1851 the Colonial Land and Emigration Commission sent out two shiploads of Irish female immigrants. These women easily found work. 

The discovery of gold on the mainland affected Van Diemen’s Land. Lots of men left to try their luck on the goldfields.

In the following decades various committees and boards managed and encouraged immigration. Despite this, the number of assisted immigrants dropped. In 1866 only 53 migrants arrived.  Despite efforts to publicize Tasmania, only about 700 persons arrived from 1866 to 1882. 

New regulation in 1882 promoted immigration and almost 2,000 arrived between 1883 and 1885.


Assisted immigration to Tasmania largely ceased in 1886, apart from relatives of previous assisted immigrants. In 1890 last three immigrants with government assistance arrived.

Immigrants were still wanted but there was insufficient funding.  People often also left to go to the mainland soon after they arrived, so the cost was not justified

In the late 19th century, the government focused on curbing immigration by coloured people.  Similar to other eastern Australian states,  Tasmania passed a Chinese Immigration Restriction Act in 1887.  This imposed a poll tax of £10 a head on each Chinese person entering the state.  In 1896 the Chinese Immigration Restriction Act extended to Afghans, Hindus and Syrians. In 1898 an Immigration Restriction Act effectively barred any person felt to be unsuitable from entering the states.  In 1901 the new federal government took control of the immigration of coloured people.  

During the early twentieth century British immigration was encouraged but Tasmania was losing population to other states, due to:

The nomination scheme

From 1911 people living in Tasmania could nominate a relative or friend in the United Kingdom as an immigrant.  Nominators promised to house and employ, or find employment for, their nominees, and it was felt that ties of family or friendship would hold arrivals in the state.

Other immigration schemes included:

Immigration from 1911-1925 was run by the Agricultural Department, as immigrants tended to be settled on the land.   Control of immigration moved to the Industrial Department in 1925 as this changed.  

In 1920 The Federal Government took full financial responsibility for immigration, overall control in the selection of migrants, and responsibility for migrant transport. States still had responsibility for migrants when they arrived. In 1946 the Commonwealth Government took complete control of immigration. Records of immigration were still kept by the Tasmanian Government, but control of immigration policy was at an end.​