The Colony of Tasmania was the name given to the colonial government in control of Tasmania from 1856 until federation in 1901. Prior to 1856 the Colony of Tasmania was known as the Colony of Van Diemens Land.
In 1856 Tasmania was awarded administrative independence from the colony of New South Wales, which was operating as a self-governing colony under the 1850 Australian Colonies Government Act, and therefore had a Legislative Council made up of some elected and some appointed members.
In 1856 the Colony of Van Diemens Land celebrated the granting of self-government and changed its name to the Colony of Tasmania. Self-government meant significant changes to the way Tasmania was run and laws were made. Under self-government two houses (an upper house and a lower house) of parliament were formed and the Governor of the colony was required to act on the advice of a Premier and ministers. Prior to this, power was centralised in the Governors and there were no elected lower house of parliament.
There was a long push from many of the Tasmanian people for greater rights and liberties. Many of the colonists of Tasmania considered themselves to be British citizens, and expected to be treated accordingly. The de-centralisation of power away from the Governors to an elected parliament did cause some chaos to begin with, as the multitude of new parliamentarians responding to the needs of small portions of the community rather than a 'bigger picture' meant that legislation was difficult to pass. Some commentators believe the inability of the early parliamentarians to look beyond their own small 'patch' weakened the early Tasmanian economy.
The strict authoritarian governors of earlier times had according to Stefan Petrow (2005) generated a deep mistrust of state government, as such local governments played a much larger role in Tasmania than most of the other Australian colonies. The consequence of this decentralisation was mixed, some local governments excelled in delivering basic services to their constituents, while others failed to do so.
Tasmania's geographical isolation and relatively small size also influenced its politics and therefore government, making Tasmania's government eager for federation. Federation was looked to by many to provide a more militarily and economically secure future. Unfortunately the second of these hopes was not immediately met. Despite economic challenges the Colony of Tasmania went on to become the State Government of Tasmania and in the process served as a driving force behind Australian Federation.
Prepared by: Elizabeth Daniels
Created: 10 December 2014, Last modified: 26 May 2015