The first Europeans in Tasmania - Abel Tasman

Abel Tasman's expedition, with the ships Heemskirk and Zeehaen, were the first Europeans to visit Tasmania, sighting the west coast November 24, 1642. They followed the coast eastward, and attempted to anchor in Storm Bay, but bad weather forced them on. They continued on around the Tasman Peninsula and into North Bay, anchoring north-west of Cape Frederick Hendrick on the 1st of December. They were relieved to have finally found a good harbour, with Tasman's journal recording:

“therefore we are thankful to Almighty God with grateful hearts”

During the 3 days they remained at anchor, members of the crew, led by Pilot-Major Fancoys Jacobsz Visscher searched the shoreline for fresh water and edible plants, finding little of either. They saw smoke and signs of human habitation, but did not make any contact with Aboriginal people. On December 3rd, the ship's carpenter Pieter Jacobsz hoisted the Dutch flag on Bangor's shore in Tasman Bay, before the expedition sailed north, naming Maria and Schouten Islands, then heading eastward towards New Zealand. The shores of the Forestier Peninsula were the only place that Tasman landed during the entire 1642 voyage. Today, the shoreline of Bangor remains largely undisturbed, and looks very similar to that explored by Tasman in 1642.

Tasman Monument 1923

Image: Unveiling of the Tasman Monument, Tasman Bay, Bangor, 1923. Built by the Royal Society of Tasmania to commemorate Abel Tasman's landing on the Forestier Peninsula in 1642.

Early explorers of Bangor - Marion du Fresne & Baudin

Bangor's shores were visited again by Europeans on the 7th March 1772, when Marc-Joseph Marion du Fresne landed on Two Mile Beach, North Bay, with the two ships the Marquis de Castries and Mascarin. They made the first contact between Aborigines and Europeans, which was friendly at first, but after a misunderstanding the French were attacked with stones and spears. They retaliated with musket fire, wounding several Aborigines and killing at least one. Marion's expedition stayed for 6 days searching for water and timber for masts. Following Marion, several other explorers visited the area including Tobias Ferneaux (March 1773), John Henery Cox (July 1789) and Bruni D'Entrecasteaux (Feb 1793).

In February 1802, a French scientific party, under the command of Nicholas Baudin, were the first Europeans to extensively explore the Forestier Peninsula. They anchored their ships Geographe and Naturaliste in Mercury Passage, north of Marion Bay, and charted the coast north and south for many miles. The naturalist from the expedition Peron, along with artists Lesueur and Petit, made detailed observations and drawings of the Aboriginal People and sea life.

By the time permanent settlement was established at Hobart in 1803, south east Tasmania, including Bangor, was one of the most intensively studied areas of the new world.

Tasmanian Aborigines

We acknowledge the Pydairrerme people as the Traditional Custodians of this region, including the land on which Bangor now sits. We pay respect to the Aboriginal community today, and to its Elders past and present.

We recognise a history of truth, which acknowledges the impacts of colonisation upon Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people, and stand for a future that profoundly respects their stories, culture, language and history.

Members of the Pydairrerme Band of the Oyster Bay tribe of Tasmanian Aborigines were the original inhabitants of the Forestier Peninsula. They spent the winter months on the coast, living predominantly on shell fish harvested from the shallow waters close to the shore. During spring and summer, their annual migration usually saw them move up the east coast then into the midlands and further west to the central highlands.

The first contact between Tasmanian Aborigines and Europeans occurred on Two Mile Beach during the exploration of North Bay by Marion Du Fresne (1772), and this encounter began with a peaceful exchange of gifts. Unfortunately it did not end well, with the two groups clashing and at least one Aborigine being killed.

This race of hunters and food gatherers had subsisted in Tasmania for over 35,000 years prior to the arrival of Europeans. They had a well developed cultural and social structure which utilised natural food sources in a sustainable manner. They used fire to manage the bush, promoting grass growth which favoured the wallabies and other marsupials they hunted. The massive decline in their numbers within three decades of European settlement is testament to the impact of people with a disregard for the natural environment and a lack of appreciation of sustainable existence.

At Bangor the numerous shell middens along the coast and artefact scatters on sandy banks are a reminder of the traditional lifestyle of Tasmanian Aborigines. Of the material used to make stone tools, some was transported from as far away as East Risdon, on the Derwent River, but commonly came from Marion Bay, St Peters Pass, Lake Leake and Mt Connection.

When located, Aboriginal archaeological sites are included on the register held by Aboriginal Heritage Tasmania. Sites are managed to prevent disturbance and for future study. These sites are important to the present day Aboriginal community because they provide a tangible link to their past.

Bangor and Whaling

The whaling industry played a large part in the colony's prosperity for the first 50 years of European settlement in Tasmania. The whaling industry was at its height in the 1830's when Hobart was a prominent international port.

The southern right whale was easy prey, frequenting the estuaries and sheltered bays of east and southeastern Tasmania for mating and breeding during the winter months, returning to the plankton-rich Antarctic waters in summer.

The whalers were strong and tenacious, manoeuvering small boats into close range to harpoon whales weighing up to 90 tonne. Not only was harpooning the whales dangerous, but the task of towing the carcass back to shore in boats 6-7 meters long with 6-8 rowers was exhausting.

Once on shore the blubber was collected and boiled in huge cauldrons, weighing in the vicinity of half a tonne, to extract the oil. Ten tonnes of oil, worth £24/10/0 per tonne and half a tonne of whale-bone (baleen) worth £22/0/0 per ton could be extracted from a single whale.

The high cliffs of Bangor's shoreline provided excellent lookouts for spotting the whales. Captain James Kelly, renowned for his circumnavigation of Tasmania in a long boat with a crew of convicts, owned and operated a whaling station at Lagoon Bay from 1838 until 1842.

Dr Imlay, landholder and farmer at Lagoon Bay was Kelly's main rival. Other illegal stations were also dotted along Bangor's coast. Escaped prisoners from Port Arthur were known to have become associated with the whaling gangs and boats were stolen by convicts to get to the mainland. Moves were made to close the stations because of the problems with the convicts, but after much debate they decided instead to station a constable at Hyatt's Beach.

Development of Bangor

Development at Bangor began in the early 1800s. Prior to the construction of the Denison Canal at Dunalley in 1904, boats on their way from Hobart to settlements on the east coast were hauled across East Bay Neck on wooden rollers. This shortened the trip by many miles, bypassing the often treacherous waters around the Tasman Peninsula.

When the penal settlement at Port Arthur was established in 1830, it became imperative that food be supplied to the settlement. Areas of arable land, including parts of Bangor, were quickly taken up and cleared for sowing grass and crops.

John Spotswood was the first landholder on what is now Bangor, owning land at East Bay Neck. At Lagoon Bay, Alexander Imlay, who had a gang of assigned convicts, supplied beef to Port Arthur and was also involved in whaling.

In 1890, Thomas Dunbabin purchased 2000 acres of land at the western end of what is now known as Bangor. In 1899, he also acquired land at Lagoon Bay. Thomas's holdings were consolidated by his sons William and Murdoch, who purchased adjoining land as it came up for sale in the early 1900s. Besides running sheep in the bush, the sale of furs from possums and wallabies was a lucrative pursuit at Bangor.

Bangor's forests have a long history of harvest. In the 1920s, a mill was established at the mouth of the Blackman Rivulet, sourcing timber from State forest to the south. A light railway was built to transport the logs. It was a large mill employing up to 20 men, who lived on site, many with their families. The business didn't survive the 1930's depression and the mill was eventually burnt down.

In the 1950s, William's sons Bill, Bob and Tom began to clear bush areas and sow pasture on arable parts of the property, allowing an increase in the number of sheep and cattle. Forested areas provided timber for building and fencing, and saw logs were harvested and milled using small bush mills.

In 1968, Tom purchased his brothers' interest in Bangor, and also the adjoining property known as Colaba. He greatly improved the quality of Bangor's wool clip, selecting superfine Saxon merino sheep. Hereford beef cattle, able to utilise native pastures particularly well, were also introduced as a major enterprise. Pasture improvement continued in the 1970s and 80s, with Tom's sons Thomas and Andrew helping to run the property.

Today, Bangor is managed by Matthew and his wife Vanessa. Matthew and Vanessa have three children, Henry, William and Amy who are the fourth generation of Dunbabin's to be raised at Bangor.

Farming at Bangor today is based around wool, beef and lamb production, utilising high stocking rates on areas of sown pasture. Extensive areas of native vegetation are lightly grazed by sheep and cattle, with the protection and sustainability of this special environment forming the core of the management philosophy and practice here at Bangor. Over 2,100 ha of Bangor's native forests are perpetual nature conservation reserves. Current developments include irrigation to grow crops and fatten livestock, as well as Bangor's vineyard which poduces premium cool-climate wine.