History of TASMAP and Mapping


TASMAP is the Tasmanian Government's base mapping arm managed by the Department of Primary Industries, Parks, Water and Environment. TASMAP produces a variety of topographic maps including a wide range of series maps, national park maps, tourist products, a comprehensive street atlas and a large range of other mapping products. TASMAP also captures and sells aerial photographs and is making available a range of historic charts managed by the Surveyor General of Tasmania. TASMAP has a long history of producing quality mapping products and has extensive experience in the mapping industry.

Brief history of map making in Tasmania

Since the beginning of recorded history, people have needed to measure and map the world around them. Ancient mapmakers used tools and instruments, which were simple, laborious and imprecise.

The pattern of discovery by western civilisations was prompted and funded by commercial trade. By the end of the 16th century the successive efforts of Spanish, Portuguese and Dutch trade had reached to Africa, the Americas and the Eastern Archipelago. Japanese and Chinese explorers reached widely into the Pacific and perhaps Indian Oceans but any information was kept within their civilisations. Records were either deliberately suppressed or lost.

Ancient classical geographers had theorised that a large continent must exist in the Southern Hemisphere to balance Europe, Asia and Africa in the Northern Hemisphere. This theoretical continent was referred to as 'Terra Australis Incognita', the 'Unknown South Land'. The possibility of the actual existence of this continent was hinted at early in the 17th century. 

In 1642, Abel Tasman was dispatched by the Dutch East India Company with two ships on a voyage of exploration to the south and east known shores. In November of that year he sighted the west coast of Tasmania near Macquarie Harbour. Proceeding south he skirted the southern coast of Tasmania and turned north-east until he was off the Forestier Peninsula, before heading for New Zealand. Some of the earliest mapping of Tasmania by Europeans came from this expedition.

By the middle of the 18th century, the cost to commercial trade of undertaking major voyages of exploration was becoming prohibitive. The sciences, under the name of Natural Philosophy, had advanced so far that scientific observation of sufficient accuracy to be useful for the advancement of knowledge, had to be undertaken by specialists. In the interests of scientific advancement, governments commenced providing the resources for such major undertakings.

The first major voyage of exploration for scientific investigation was the voyage by Lieutenant James Cook. The east coast of New Holland, called New South Wales by Cook, was sighted in 1770. He turned northward to survey the major part of the east coast of Australia. Notably he could not connect his survey to Tasman's where he departed the coast of Van Diemen's Land. The success of Cook's voyage in the advancement of science prompted other European powers, notably the French, to commission similar voyages of exploration.

Between 1772 and 1791 many English and French voyages of exploration of the south and east coasts of Tasmania added to the base of geographic knowledge.

The French expedition of 1792-1793 saw two scientific research ships under the command of Rear-Admiral Bruni d'Entrecasteaux, after being battered by storms in the Indian and Southern Oceans, sheltering in Recherche Bay. Hydrographers and geographers led by Beautemps-Beaupre surveyed and mapped in detail much of Tasmania's southeast coastline, discovering the Channel and the River Derwent. Their maps were highly praised by later navigators including Flinders and, during the Revolutionary Wars, were confiscated and copied by the British Admiralty. They were later published in the 'Atlas du voyage de Bruny-D'entrecasteaux' in 1807.

It had long been thought that a strait existed between the mainland and Van Diemen's Land. In 1798, after undertaking surveys in the Furneaux Group, Lieutenant Matthew Flinders sailed through Bass Strait thus proving its insularity. The west and south coasts of Van Diemen's Land were passed, and then he entered the Derwent Estuary, extensively surveying it to just upstream of Boyer. His 'A Voyage to Terra Australis' with the folio of 16 charts and 12 other plates was published just before his death in 1814.

In 1802, the French returned with another expedition of two ships under the command of Captain Nicolas Baudin. With the blessing of Napoleon, they were to 'chart the coast of the Great South Land, including Van Diemen's Land for research of all kinds and to increase the mass of human knowledge'. Most of the East Coast capes, points and islands charted by Louis de Freycinet of this expedition, have retained their French names, which are still used today.

Chart of Hobart Town, 1832

Chart of Hobart Town, 1832 (Purchase print)

Charles Grimes, the then Deputy Colonial Surveyor General was responsible for fully surveying King Island in 1802. It was on King Island that Grimes and his party encountered Captain Baudin's expedition.

Disputes between adjoining landowners had increased during the 1820s, due to the piecemeal manner in which successive tracts of land had been measured. James Sprent, an Assistant Surveyor was tasked with commencing a trigonometric survey of Tasmania. This survey was the basis of an accurate general map of the whole Island. This settled existing disputes and prevented further anomalies from occurring. He also charted the land granted to the Van Diemen's Land Company and prepared large-scale detailed survey plans of Hobart Town. In 1857 he was appointed Surveyor General and was able to oversee the production of his 1859 'Map of Tasmania'. It is a fine example of late 19th century cartography and remains to this day as an historical reference.

At the beginning of the 20th century, no accurate topographical maps of Tasmania existed. World War 1 provoked limited activity in this field and a contoured map of the area between Hobart and Kingston was prepared for Defence purposes, but it was not made available to the general public. Prior to this, the only maps or charts available were small-scale maps of the whole State or the cadastral or county charts at a scale of 40 chains to 1 inch. Such charts, while compiled from actual surveys, were not controlled by state triangulation and as a result compilation errors tended to accumulate over distance. Very little cognisance was taken of topographic detail and no contours were shown.

Following World War 1, aerial photography was employed for mapping, with a photomap of Launceston being produced in 1922, the first of its kind in Australia.

By the 1920s, the growing population of Tasmania and the requirement for natural resources led to the exploration by government departments into the wilderness, looking for minerals and good timber. This saw the continuing exploration and development of mines in the west, harnessing the energy of the rivers by the Hydro-Electric Commission, and the need to map forest resources. This required dedicated mapping and survey skills.

Colonel Lane, working both with the Forestry Department and the Army, developed methods for correcting scale and accurately mapping contours, terrain features and forest types from aerial photographs. Together with some field reconnaissance, this work resulted in the compilation of divisional maps at a scale of 2 miles to 1 inch. These maps were the best general topographical maps available up to that time.

The outbreak of World War II made Australia realise that it did not have suitable topographic maps available and highlighted the critical importance of maps to government. As a result emergency mapping organisations were set up in each State. In Tasmania this was managed within the Lands and Surveys Department. Four 1 mile to 1 inch maps were produced, three without contours and one (Buckland) with 50 foot contour intervals. Prior to these maps, several sheets covering the State were also compiled at a scale of 4 miles to 1 inch using county charts and forestry maps supplemented by detailed field checks. Both series were published in 4 colours but were never released to the general public, as they were for defence purposes only.

Before the end of World War II steps were taken to implement a national mapping program and the post-war years saw the establishment of the Division of National Mapping in Canberra and the creation of mapping organisations in all States. A National Mapping Council was formed, bringing together all States and including the Army, Navy and the Commonwealth Survey Department. Through this Council, standard map specifications were developed.

By 1950 the first complete aerial photographic survey of Tasmania was completed, with the then Premier Eric Reece announcing that "Tasmania is the only State which has undertaken its own aerial survey, and the results have been recognised by the Mapping Council of Australia as outstanding".

Tasmania commenced its mapping program by producing a trial series at a scale of 1:15,840 in the Longford-Cressy area. The Hydro-Electric Commission undertook surveys for dam construction and to meet this demand, maps were commenced at a scale of 1:63,360. The scale was too small and was quickly altered to 1:31,680. The Mines Department extended mapping to include the western parts of Tasmania. This mapping was made possible by the use of aerial photography and imported stereoplotters. The Lands and Surveys Department commenced an on-going program of aerial photography in 1946, initially using interstate contractors. Within a short period the Department acquired its own cameras and utilised local aircraft, which provided the State with significant benefits in terms of managing its own aerial survey capture programs. Those benefits are still continuing today.

Hobart and Suburbs 1948 Street Atlas

1948 Street Atlas Cover

The first street atlas covering Hobart and Suburbs was produced in 1948. This atlas was the first in a succession of editions, the latest being the current comprehensive statewide street directory covering all major urban areas in Tasmania.

Kingston 1948 Atlas Page

Kingston map from the 1948 atlas

In 1953 the Nomenclature Board of Tasmania was established. It provided regulation of the assignment of geographic place names for mapping and for dealing with duplicated or similar names that caused confusion.

When the Commonwealth adopted the 1:100,000 scale, Tasmania, due to its comprehensive aerial survey program and mapping capability, entered into an agreement both to compile and print all the maps for Tasmania in the national series. Tasmania continued to produce this series through to 2015 when the series was replaced with the 1:50,000 topographic series. Complete small scale coverage for Tasmania is provided at a scale of 1:250,000 with the series in a maintenance phase.

1:100 000 Topographic map  
1:100 000 topographic map

TASMAP branding was introduced in 1973 as means of clearly identifying and recognising the government's high quality mapping products. The use of a unique brand, which was designed to survive departmental changes, was quickly adopted by other State jurisdictions with VICMAP and SUNMAP being the best known.


In the late 1970s Tasmania commenced a comprehensive program of mapping at a scale of 1:25,000. This series was a government initiative to provide large-scale base mapping for Tasmania. It is a unique series as it displays topographic detail together with property and parcel information, including state reserve information. To complete Statewide coverage was a huge task, but due to the on-going support and foresight of successive governments and mapping managers, this goal was achieved. Data from this series eventually formed the basis of all the framework data now delivered through the LIST (Land Information System Tasmania). The Series consisted of over 400 maps and the series has now been replaced by the 1:50,000 topographic series.
In the mid 1980s TASMAP proceeded to develop and produce a range of tourist based products aimed at supporting Tasmania's tourism sector and its extensive area of National Parks. The tourist maps and National Park maps continue to be in high demand.

As in many other fields, the latter half of the 20th Century has seen dramatic changes in the methods used for the production of maps and the capture of the underlying data. Prior to the 1990's, map production involved intricate and laborious manual processes that tended to make production of maps an expensive and time consuming task. Base topographic maps took many months to produce and required expensive reproduction material and photographic processing.

The last 10 years and especially the last five have seen significant changes in the methods of map production and compilation. The production of maps has evolved into a complex digital environment where maps are produced electronically and printed as a hard copy product or delivered as a raster image without the need for extensive manual processing.

Through automation and technological advancements, maps can be produced quickly and efficiently utilising current and accurate digital data. The map production process forms a critical component of digital data maintenance. All aspects of industry, science and society have an increasing need for high quality mapping in order to make reliable decisions.  Tasmania's long history in mapping makes it well placed to take advantage of the advances of technology and continue to improve its maintenance of the digital data framework and the map making processes.

In 2015, TASMAP introduced a new Statewide 1:50 000 topographic mapping series.  The new series combines the best features of the existing 1:25 000 and 1:100 000 series for accurate portrayal of topographic information with symbols and map content clearly depicting buildings, hill shading and a simplified vegetation portrayal for a better, more relevant and modern product. The 1:50 000 topographic maps are built using ESRI's ArcGIS suite of software, employing automated processes to create maps from the most current spatial data with minimal manual intervention. From data extraction, editing, finishing and the final export to PDF for printing, maps are produced quickly and efficiently and allow our cartographers to focus on cartography. Cartography is not a dead art; it is very much a required skill for our mapping products.

2015 also saw the introduction of Digital versions of TASMAPs mapping products​ developed providing products suitable for GPS and GIS applications, and a KMZ file which will open directly in Google Earth.​


134 Macquarie Street
Hobart TAS 7000
Phone: 03 6165 4444, then press Option 3
Email: tasmap@dpipwe.tas.gov.au
Website: http://www.tasmap.tas.gov.au

Back Home