A largely forgotten history exists of extensive connections between Asia and Van Diemen’s Land (Tasmania) in the first half of the nineteenth century. Although it was a harsh and deadly place for Indigenous people and incarcerated convicts, Van Diemen’s Land offered opportunity for a growing society of merchants, farmers, bureaucrats, governors, judges, retired military men and their families. Asia was a lived presence in everyday life through the purchase and consumption of foodstuffs, clothing and furnishings from India and China. Cashed-up Vandemonians in the 1820s and 1830s could buy rice, silk, bamboo furniture and at least five different types of tea. Many colonial administrators had experience in Asia and brought Indian servants with them. Due to its climate, the island was touted as the perfect retirement destination for British military families retiring from India and other Asian postings. Asian ship crews were an everyday sight in port. Today, however, these past connections have been forgotten. Tasmania’s current turn to Asia as a key strategy for the state’s future economic prosperity appears to be something new. This article argues that revealing the heterogeneous past challenges contemporary views of historical Tasmania as isolated and monocultural and is essential in reshaping Tasmania’s imagined Asian future.
Asia, Tasmania, Tea, British empire, colonial trade