Named in 1643 for the day of its discovery, the island was annexed and settlement was begun by the UK in 1888. Phosphate mining began in the 1890s. The UK transferred sovereignty to Australia in 1958. Almost two-thirds of the island has been declared a national park.
It is not known when and by whom the island was discovered, but under the name of Moni it appears on a Dutch chart of 1666. It was first visited in 1688 by Dampier, who found it uninhabited. In 1886 Captain Maclear of H.M.S. "Flying Fish," having discovered an anchorage in a bay which he named Flying Fish Cove, landed a party and made a. small but interesting collection of the flora and
In the following year Captain Aldrich on H.M.S. " Egeria " visited it, accompanied by Mr J. J. Lister, F.R.S., who formed a larger biological and mineralogical collection. Among the rocks then obtained and submitted to Sir John Murray for examination there were detected specimens of nearly pure phosphate of lime, a discovery which eventually led, in June 1888, to the annexation of the island
to the British crown. Soon afterwards a small settlement was established in Flying Fish Cove by Mr G. Clunies Ross, the owner of the Keeling Islands, which lie about 750 M. to the westward. In 1881 Mr Ross and Sir John Murray were granted a lease, but on the further discovery of phosphatic deposits they disposed of their rights in 1897 to a company. In the same year a thorough scientific
exploration was made, at the cost of Sir John Murray, by Mr C. W. Andrews, of the British Museum.
When the first settlers arrived, in 1897, it was covered with a dense forest of great trees and luxuriant under-shrubbery. Prior to colonization, the island had never been inhabited.
The island was administered jointly by the British Phosphate Commissioners and District Officers from the U.K. Colonial Office through the Straits Colony, and later the Colony of Singapore. Japan invaded and occupied the island in 1943 and interned the residents until the end of World War II in 1945. At Australia's request, the United Kingdom transferred sovereignty to Australia; in 1957, the
Australian government paid the government of Singapore 2.9 million pounds in compensation. The first Australian Official Representative arrived in 1958 and was replaced by an Administrator in 1968. Christmas Island and the Cocos (Keeling) Islands together are called Australia's Indian Ocean Territories (IOTs) and since 1997 share a single Administrator resident on Christmas Island.
In early 1986, the Christmas Island Assembly held a design competition for an island flag (shown above), however, the winning design has never been formally adopted as the official flag of the territory. The flag of Australia is still used.
During 2001, Christmas Island received a large number of asylum seekers travelling by boat, most of them from the Middle East and intending to apply for asylum in Australia. The arrival of the Norwegian cargo vessel MV Tampa, which had rescued people from the sinking Indonesian fishing-boat Palapa in international waters nearby, precipitated a diplomatic standoff between Australia, Norway, and
Indonesia. The vessel held 420 asylum seekers from Afghanistan, 13 from Sri Lanka, and five from Indonesia. The standoff eventually led to the asylum seekers being transported to Nauru for processing. Another boatload of asylum seekers was taken from Christmas Island to Papua New Guinea for processing, after it was claimed that many of the adult asylum seekers threw their children into the water,
apparently in protest at being turned away. This was later proven to be false.
John Howard, the Australian Prime Minister, later passed legislation through the Australian Parliament which excised Christmas Island from Australia's migration zone, meaning that asylum seekers arriving there could not automatically apply for refugee status, allowing the Australian navy to relocate them to other countries as part of the Pacific Solution.
Phosphate mining had been the only significant economic activity, but in December 1987 the Australian Government closed the mine. In 1991, the mine was reopened. With the support of the government, a $34 million casino opened in 1993. The casino closed in 1998. The Australian Government in 2001 agreed to support the creation of a commercial space-launching site on the island, projected to
begin operations in the near future.