The cliffs on the way to Bishop and Clerk
A Rich History
The story of Maria Island is dominated by the sea: from the rise and fall of the sea that created the island and left a legacy of sea creatures fossilised in its cliffs, to the history of its human occupation. As you cross to the island you follow in the wake of Aboriginal tribes who for thousands of years made regular canoe crossings to the island they knew as TOARRA-MARRA-MONAH.
The present name dates from 1642, when Abel Tasman sighted it from the sea and named it in honour of Maria Van Diemen, the wife of the governor of Batavia. Mercury Passage is named after an English vessel whose crew landed on the island in July 1789 and met with Aborigines living there. In 1802 a French expedition led by Captain Baudin explored and charted the island extensively. Many features of the island still bear French names. The English settlement of Van Diemens Land a year later was hastened by this interest shown by the French.
By 1825 Maria had become a penal settlement. Just as quickly convicts were making their escape across the water. One unlucky group drifted across the channel on a raft only to walk ashore into the arms of two lost police constables! The island was soon infamous for the number of escapes and was known among convicts as a place of ease. By 1832 the convict settlement was abandoned in favour of Port Arthur. From 1842 it was used as a convict probation station, but by 1850 this mainly agricultural station was also abandoned. However this was not the end of settlement here. To discover the full, rich history of the island, see the Maria Island section within our Visitor's Guide to Historic Places.
You will also soon notice the special nature of the wildlife on this island. Since the late 1960s Maria has become a kind of Noah's Ark, as a number of threatened species have been introduced here in a bid to protect their kind. The very things that made the island a convict settlement, now make it an ideal refuge for plant and animal species that are elsewhere under threat. So alongside native pademelons which occurred on the island naturally, are Forester kangaroos and Bennetts wallabies which have been introduced to the island. Cape Barren geese and Tasmanian native hens have also been introduced.
The endangered forty spotted pardalote is a famous local bird found here in good numbers, along with the white gum (Eucalyptus viminalis) that is essential to its survival.
Some of the waters around Maria Island are a Marine Nature Reserve. This recognises the special nature of the marine life to be found here, including visiting seals and whales. While there is no fishing permitted in most of this reserve, wading, snorkelling and scuba diving offer the rewards of experiencing marine life at close quarters. Some of the fish are as readily observed as the wildlife around Darlington.
Devils on Maria
Tasmanian devil numbers state-wide have declined dramatically due to the Facial Tumour Disease. Maria Island was chosen as a site for captive breeding and 15 Tasmanian Devils were introduced to the Island in 2012 (Maria Island had previously been devil-free).