History of the Derwent

Marieville Esplanade in Battery Point 1900

In 1793 British Captain John Hayes entered the estuary and named it the River Derwent - which means 'clear water'. This name held despite the French expedition led by D'Entrecasteaux, which had explored and named the area la Riviere du Nord just two months before.

Prior to the exploration and naming by the British and French, Aboriginal Tasmanians lived around the Derwent estuary for at least 6000 years. There were two language groups - the Mouheneenaa on the western shore, and the Moumairrmenair on the eastern. The River Derwent had a number of names including Raagapyarranne and Nibbalin.

Following settlement at Sullivans Cove in 1804, the British began to make their mark on the estuary. The first ferry crossing was established in 1814 and 24 years later the first Tasmanian built vessel set sail for London laden with colonial produce.

The environmental toll of the initial exploitation of the estuary was brought to a head in 1856 when the last whale was seen and harpooned, bringing the previously thriving whaling industry to an end. It took almost 100 years for whales to begin to return.

Big industry arrived in the estuary in 1917 with the establishment of an electrolytic zinc smelter at Risdon, and in 1941 a paper mill was opened up the river at Boyer.

In 1975 the population of the estuary was shaken by the collapse of the Tasman Bridge following a collision by the ship named the Lake Illawarra. Twelve people died and transportation across the Derwent was cut.

Today over 200,000 people, 41% of Tasmania's population live around the estuary. Numerous cultural heritage sites line the foreshore.

Photo: Tasmanian Archive and Heritage Office PH7/1/31

Juvenile Spotted Handfish (Brachionichyths hirsutus)

Restoring and promoting the Derwent estuary