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 fauna.
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.