Maria Island is a mountainous island off the east coast of Tasmania. The entire island is a national park. Maria Island National Park has a total area of 115.50 km², which includes a marine area of 18.78 km² off the island's northwest coast. The island is about 20 km in length from north to south and, at its widest, is about 13 km west to east. At its closest point (Point Lesueur), the island lies four kilometres off the east coast of Tasmania. Tasmanians pronounce the name , as did the early British settlers but the original pronunciation was . The island was named in 1642 by Dutch explorer Abel Tasman after Maria van Diemen (née van Aelst), wife of Anthony van Diemen, the Governor-General of the Dutch East Indies in Batavia. The island was known as Maria's Isle in the early 19th century.
Maria Island has a rich history. Before the colonial era, Aboriginal people of the Tyreddeme band of the Oyster Bay tribe journeyed regularly to the island and much evidence of their presence remains, particularly around the bays on either side of the island's isthmus. In 1802 the French expedition led by Nicolas Baudin encountered the Aboriginal people of Maria Island, as did the whalers of the early 19th century. René Maugé, the zoologist on Baudin's expedition, was buried on Point Maugé on south Maria Island.
For two periods during the first half of the 19th century, Maria Island hosted convict settlements. The island's first convict era was between 1825 and 1832 and its second - the probation station era - between 1842 and 1851. Among those held during the second era was the Irish nationalist leader William Smith O'Brien, exiled for his part in the Young Irelander Rebellion of 1848. His cottage still exists in the nearby former penal colony Port Arthur to where he was deported after his time on Maria Island. He was later transferred to New Norfolk on the Derwent River upstream of Hobart.
Three structures from the first convict era remain in the Darlington area: the Commissariat Store built in 1825 and presently used as the park's reception and visitor centre; the convict penitentiary, completed in 1828 and now used to accommodate visitors rather than detain them; and the convict-built dam on Bernacchis Creek, which still provides Darlington's water.
Industry and farming
From the 1880s, the Italian entrepreneur Diego Bernacchi set up island enterprises including silk and wine production and a cement factory, quarrying limestone deposits at the Fossil Cliffs for the raw material. At the height of its fortunes in the early 20th century, Darlington had hundreds of residents and several hotels. By 1929 all of these ventures had failed for a number of reasons including the Great Depression, poor quality limestone and competition from mainland producers, who were not burdened with high costs of transportation. For a period of 40 years until the late 1960s the island was dominated by farming. The South Island was farmed by John Robey, a South African, with his wife Hilda. Robeys Farm is located on the west side of the south island, and although essentially complete in a "just walked away" fashion as late as the early 1980s, the location has since been extensively vandalized, and the farmhouse further damaged by weather and neglect by the Parks and Wildlife Service.
Eventually the State resumed all of the island's freehold land and established the national park, which was proclaimed in 1972 and extended in 1991 to include part of the surrounding sea.