The Tasmanian Aborigines had well-established communities over the length of Tasmania thousands of years before the island was discovered by Europeans. Most of the oldest known settlements are in the northern half of the state.
In 1642, a Dutch explorer named Abel Tasman was the first European to sight Tasmania. He initially named the island Van Diemen's Land after his employer, but parliament changed the name to Tasmania in 1856.
The French were the next Europeans to visit Tasmania, in 1772, followed by the English one year later.
Although discovered by the `old world' in 1642, Tasmania was not settled by Europeans until the English arrived in 1803 and the island became part of the expanding British Empire.
By 1822, with the growth of city populations, gaols in Britain were overcrowded and the Crown began transporting convicts to Tasmania. Thus one of Tasmania's most important early functions was as a penal colony. The last convicts were sent to Tasmania in 1853.
The busiest years were the early 1840's, with a peak of 5,329 arrivals in 1842. The convict population exceeded 30,000 by the middle of that decade, representing 47% of the Tasmanian population.
After transportation ceased, this figure decreased rapidly to 1.7% in 1860, and the Port Arthur penal settlement closed in 1877.
Although the most famous convict site, Port Arthur was neither the first nor the only one. Others included Sarah Island near Strahan and on Maria Island. Conditions at the Sarah Island settlement were particularly harsh - convicts sometimes struck suicide pacts where one would kill the other and then be transported to Hobart to face the gallows.
Tasmania was once one of the most important whaling fleet homeports in the world; mining and agriculture also contributed to the early economy.