…how is it that an absentee owner across the world got this magnificent and empty country without having paid one glass bead?
The Van Diemen’s Land Company (VDL) was the brainchild of a group of well-connected individuals. Through a Royal Charter in 1825, they acquired 250,000 acres of the then-unexplored tip of Tasmania to produce fine wool on sheep farms. The Tranmere duly arrived at Circular Head with the personnel, livestock, supplies and equipment to create the township of Stanley.
The first flocks were grazed at Woolnorth on Cape Grim, a plateau of tussocky grass that was ideal – and also prime hunting land for the local Aborigines. When hunting parties began to take sheep, whites killed Aborigines in retaliation, and a vindictive cycle of killings began that culminated in 1827, with thirty unarmed Aborigines being killed by shepherds and their bodies thrown over the cliff (now euphemistically called “Suicide Bay”).
In the 1840s the company changed its emphasis from wool to the sale and lease of its land, a fifth of which it still owns. Although now controlled by New Zealand company Tasman Farms, which owns 98.4 percent of the shares, VDL remains registered on the London Stock Exchange and is the only company to operate under a Royal Charter. It also retains Woolnorth on Cape Grim, where the Baseline Air Pollution Station records the air, carried thousands of kilometres across the Great Southern Ocean, as the cleanest in the world. Woolnorth tours take in the colonial farm estate, Cape Grim and its 62-turbine windfarm and depart from Smithton (woolnorthtours.com.au).