Part of the archipelago was discovered by Pedro Fernandez Quiros in 1607. In 1767 Samuel Wallis re-discovered it, and named it King George's Island. In 1768 Louis de Bougainville visited Tahiti, claimed it as French, and named it La Nouvelle Cythere. On the 12th of April 1769 the British expedition to observe the transit of Venus, under the naval command of James Cook, arrived at Tahiti. On
this first voyage (he subsequently re-visited the islands twice) he named the Leeward group of islands Society in honour of the Royal Society, at the instigation of which the expedition had been sent; Tahiti and the adjacent islands he called Georgian, but the first name was subsequently adopted for the whole group. In 1772 and 1774 the islands were visited by a Spanish government expedition, and
some attempt was made at colonization. In 1788 Lieutenant Bligh of the spent some time at Tahiti.
The 1912 Catholic Encyclopedia wrote, "Bougainville, Cook, and other explorers made Tahiti famous in Paris as "La Nouvelle Cythère", and in London aroused an enthusiasm for "the lovely isle", which led to the formation, by Dr. Haweis and others, of the London Missionary Society in 1794-95, and the despatch of the "Duff" in 1796 with some 60 persons, missionaries and
teachers of trades and crafts, for the conversion of the island and its neighbours. The representatives of the society made little progress until Pomaré II, King of Tahiti, accepted Protestantism in 1815. Under his successors they gained great influence in the island government. In 1836 two priests of the Congregation of the Sacred Hearts of Jesus and Mary of Picpus arrived in
Tahiti from the Gambier Islands, where Catholicism had gained a foothold. They were twice expelled by Queen Pomaré IV, with the support and approbation of the English Protestant missionaries, and took their cause to Paris. In 1838 a French naval expedition exacted from Queen Pomaré an indemnity and guarantees for the future for French residents in the island. In
1841 a mission was established by the Congregation of Picpus."
"In 1842 Pomaré IV signed a convention with Admiral Dupetit-Thouars, establishing a French protectorate and guaranteeing full religious liberty in Tahiti, which was ratified by Louis-Philippe in 1843. An uprising of the natives against the protectorate resulted in a punitive expedition by the French admiral, the flight of Queen Pomaré, and the forcible expulsion
from the island of Rev. W. T. Pritchard of the London Missionary Society, whom the admiral held responsible for the revolt. This act was disavowed by the French Government and an indemnity paid to Great Britain based upon the claim that Pritchard, at the time of his expulsion, had been appointed British consul."
"In 1848 Tahiti with its dependent islands was detached from the Vicariate of the Marquesas, and placed under the able and scholarly Mgr Jaussen. In 1880 King Pomaré, with the consent of the French Chambers, proclaimed Tahiti an integral part of the French Republic. In 1887 the French Government secularized the schools. Upon the death of Mgr Jaussen in 1891 Mgr Verdier, his
assistant since 1884, succeeded to his labours, made doubly difficult by the sectarian missions and the attitude of French officials. Since 1903 the various groups of French islands in Oceania, exclusive of New Caledonia and its dependencies, have been united in one homogeneous colonial establishment, administered from Tahiti by a governor and privy council, with an administrative council."
In September 1995, France stirred up widespread protests by resuming nuclear testing on the Mururoa atoll after a three-year moratorium. The tests were suspended in January 1996.
Since 1962, when France stationed military personnel in the region, French Polynesia has changed from a subsistence agricultural economy to one in which a high proportion of the work force is either employed by the military or supports the tourist industry. With the halt of French nuclear testing in 1996, the military contribution to the economy fell sharply. Tourism accounts for about
one-fourth of GDP and is a primary source of hard currency earnings. Other sources of income are pearl farming and deep-sea commercial fishing. The small manufacturing sector primarily processes agricultural products. The territory benefits substantially from development agreements with France aimed principally at creating new businesses and strengthening social services.
The islands became a full département d'outre mer of France in 2004.