Nauru had little contact with Europeans until whaling ships and other
traders began to visit in the 1830s. The introduction of firearms and alcohol
destroyed the peaceful coexistence of the 12 tribes living on the island.
A 10-year internal war began in 1878 and resulted in a reduction of the
population from 1,400 (1843) to around 900 (1888).
The island was allocated to Germany under the 1886 Anglo-German Convention.
Phosphate was discovered a decade later and the Pacific Phosphate Company
started to exploit the reserves in 1906, by agreement with Germany. Following
the outbreak of World War I, the island was captured by Australian forces
in 1914. After the war the League of Nations gave Britain, Australia, and
New Zealand a trustee mandate over the territory. The three governments
established the British Phosphate Commissioners, who took over the rights
to phosphate mining.
During World War II Japan occupied Nauru in August 1942 and deported
1,200 Nauruans to work as laborers in the Caroline Islands, where 463 died.
The survivors returned to Nauru in January 1946.
After the war the island became a UN Trust Territory under Australia,
in line with the previous League of Nations mandate, and it remained one
until independence in 1968. A plan by the partner governments to resettle
the Nauruans (because of disappearing phosphate and damage to the island
caused by extensive mining) on Curtis Island, off the north coast of Queensland,
Australia, was abandoned in 1964 when the islanders decided to stay put.
In 1967, the Nauruans purchased the assets of the British Phosphate Commissioners
and in June 1970 control passed to the Nauru Phosphate Corporation. Nauru
became an independent Republic in 1968.
In 1989 Nauru filed suit against Australia in the International Court
of Justice in The Hague for damages caused by mining while the island was
under Australian jurisdiction. Australia settled the case out of court
in 1993, agreeing to pay A$109 million (U.S.$72.6 million) and to assist
Nauru with environmental rehabilitation.
As turmoil grows over Nauru's uncertain future and economic failures,
no-confidence votes that spur a change of government have become common.
In 1997 Nauru had four different presidents in as many months. The political
situation has not stabilized as President Harris assumed power in August
2003 for the third separate time.
In 2001 Nauru became host to approximately 1,000 asylum seekers, mostly
Afghan, who were intercepted while attempting to enter Australia illegally.
A total of 549 of them remain on the island--318 of these have agreed to
return to Afghanistan after receiving a cash package from Australia. Nauru
reportedly received about $10 million in assistance from Australia in exchange
for agreeing to house the refugees while their asylum applications are
During 2002 Nauru severed diplomatic recognition with Taiwan and signed
an agreement to establish diplomatic relations with the People's Republic
of China. This move followed China's promise to provide more than U.S.$130
million in aid.