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Undated postcard of Zeehan (Tasmaniana Library, SLT)

Zeehan, a mining town on Tasmania's west coast, was named after the Dutch explorer Abel Janzoon Tasman's ship, the Zeehaen. In 1882 silver-lead ore was discovered near Mount Zeehan, but the town's development was slow, transport problems hampering early mining activity. A road from Trial Harbour was completed in 1889 and with the construction of the railway from Strahan to Zeehan in 1890, the area became more accessible and a mining boom occurred. By 1900 Zeehan was the third largest town in Tasmania after Hobart and Launceston, with a population between 8000 and 10,000, a busy rail centre, no fewer than seventeen hotels at one time, many businesses, the Gaiety Theatre, the Grand Hotel, and the Zeehan and Dundas Herald newspaper.

The end of the mining boom during the First World War saw Zeehan decline greatly. By 1921 Zeehan was without a working mine, although some mines reopened later. Today some mining is still carried out in the area, with tourism playing an important role in the town's economy. The West Coast Pioneers' Memorial Museum, opened in 1965, is housed in the former Zeehan School of Mines and Metallurgy (1903–58), and contains collections of minerals, mining equipment, locomotives and other historical west coast memorabilia.

Further reading: W Tilley, The wild west of Tasmania, Zeehan, 1891; Let's talk about Zeehan, 1972, TL; H Julen, The early history of the Tasmanian west coast, Launceston, 1976.

Margaret Harman