Christmas Island History

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Christmas Island was named in 1643 for the day of its discovery.

In the early seventeenth century the island began to appear in the charts of British and Dutch navigators, such as Captain William Mynors of the British East India Company. His vessel, the Royal Mary, named the island when he arrived on Christmas Day, 25 December 1643. Pieter Goos, a Dutch copperplate engraver and map maker (1616-1675) was the first to place the island on a map which he published in 1666, in which he had labelled the island Moni.

William Dampier of the British ship Cygnet made she earliest recorded visit to Christmas Island in March 1688. He found it uninhabited. Dampier's Voyages, which contains an account of the visit, describes how his ship was pulled off course in an easterly direction , while trying to reach Cocos from New Holland, and after 28 days arrived at Christmas Island. Dampier's landeing site was at the Dales, on the West Coast, and the first people recorded to set foot on the island were his crewmen.

Daniel Beekman, in his 1718 book, A Voyage to and from the Island of Borneo, in the East Indies, described what appears to be the next visit to Christmas Island.

An unsuccessfulI anchorage took place 1771, when the Indian vessel the Pigot, attempted to find it, according to a disputed account.

The first attempt to explore the island took place in 1857, by the crew of the Amethyst, who tried to ascend the summit of the island, but were deterred by the impassable cliffs.

The naturalist Dr John Murray carried out extensive surveys of Christmas Island during the 1872-76 Challenger expedition to Indonesia.

Captain Maclear and his crew of HMS Flying Fish discovered an anchorage in a bay, in 1887, whic he named Flying Fish Cove. A party landed and collected samples of the flora and fauna of the island.

The following year, Pelham Aldrich and J. J. Lister visited Christmas Island on board HMS Egeria. They stayed for for ten days and gathered a larger biological and mineralogical collection.

Christmas Island was annexed, and settlement began by the UK, on June 6, 1888, after discovering pure phosphate of lime among the rock samples that were submitted to Sir John Murray.

G. Clunies Ross, the owner of the Keeling Islands, established a small settlement in Flying Fish Cove.

Phosphate mining began in the 1890s with the use of indentured workers from China, Malaysia, and Singapore.

During that period, Christmas Island was jointly administered by the British Phosphate Commissioners and District Officers from the United Kingdom Colonial Office, through the Straits Settlements, and subsequenty through the Crown Colony of Singapore.

In 1942, Christmas island was invaded by Japan, following a mutiny by its Indian garrison. They had interned the residents who were then freed in 1945, at the end of World War I.

The UK transferred sovereignty to Australia in 1958. As part of a deal, the Australian government paid the government of Singapore '2.9 million in compensation, mainly based on the estimated value of the phosphate forgone by Singapore.

Initially oversen by an Australian "Official Representative", he was later superseded by an "Administrator" in 1968.

Beginning in 1997 Christmas Island and the Cocos (Keeling) Islands together were called the "Australian Indian Ocean Territories" and now share a single Administrator, who resides on Christmas Island.

Almost two-thirds of the island has been declared a national park.

During the period from the late 1980s and early 1990s, a asylum seekers from Indonesia landed on the island . In 2001, a large number of mostly Middle Eastern persons landed on Christmas Island, with the intent of applying for asylum in Australia.

A controversy arised in that year, when the Australian government stopped a Norwegian ship, MV Tampa, from letting 438 rescued asylum seekers on Christmas Island. A standoff ensued, causing political reactions in Australia, and the issue was featured prominently in the 2001 Australian federal election.

While some asylum seekers were sent from Christmas Island to Papua New Guinea for processing, many of the refugees were later accepted by New Zealand.

NOTE: The information regarding Christmas Island on this page is re-published from the 2008 World Fact Book of the United States Central Intelligence Agency. No claims are made regarding the accuracy of Christmas Island History information contained here. All suggestions for corrections of any errors about Christmas Island History should be addressed to the CIA.

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This page was last modified 12-Feb-08
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