New Caledonia was discovered by Captain Cook in 1774. He touched at the haven of Balade (the original name of the island) near the north-western extremity, as did d'Entrecasteaux in 1793, who closely explored the coast and surrounding seas. They subsequently became known to sealers and traders in sandalwood, who, however, established no friendly relations with the natives.
In 1843 French missionaries arrived at the island, and it was claimed for France, but on British representations the claim was renounced. In 1851 a landing party from a French vessel lying at Balade was attacked by the natives, and massacred with the exception of a single member. France was now determined on the annexation, and the flag was raised at the same spot in 1853, but simultaneously the commanderof a British vessel was in negotiation with the native chief of the Isle of Pines, and the British flag was hoisted there. The chief, however, subsequently sided with the French, and the British claim was finally withdrawn.
The capital, Noumea, was founded in 1854 (it was then called Port de France); in 1860 New Caledonia became a colony distinct from the French possessions in the Pacific at large; in 1864 the first penal settlement was made on Nou Island, off Noumea. In 1878 there was a serious native insurrection, and another in 1881 was only put down after much bloodshed.
The 1911 Catholic Encyclopedia wrote, "In May, 1864, the first criminals arrived, and between that date and 1896, an aggregate of about 22,000 were transported thither. As no convicts have been sent since 1896, the convict element of the population is rapidly diminishing. Nouméa is the chief town and the seat of government. It has an excellent harbour for the improvement of which various works are in course of execution. The colony is administered by a governor, assisted by a council consisting of various officials and two notables nominated by the governor. There is also an elective general council."
New Caledonia has about 25% of the world's known nickel resources. Only a small amount of the land is suitable for cultivation, and food accounts for about 20% of imports. In addition to nickel, substantial financial support from France - equal to more than one-fourth of GDP - and tourism are keys to the health of the economy. Substantial new investment in the nickel industry, combined with the recovery of global nickel prices, brightens the economic outlook for the next several years.
Matthew and Hunter Islands east of New Caledonia are claimed by both France and Vanuatu This territorial dispute remains to be resolved.
* A portion of the text is from the public domain print editon of the 1911 Encyclopedia Britannica.