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Christmas Island - History

For centuries, Christmas Island's isolation and rugged coasts provided natural barriers to settlement. British and Dutch navigators first included the island on their charts from the early seventeenth century, and Captain William Mynors of the East India Ship Company vessel, the Royal Mary, named the island when he arrived on Christmas Day, 25th December 1643. He was unable to land, however, and it was not until 1688, when Captain William Dampier on the British ship Cygnet, landed at the Dales (on the West Coast) and two of his crewmen were the first recorded people to set foot on Christmas Island.

The island was occupied by the Japanese between 1942-1945. A Japanese submarine torpedoed a Norwegian freighter, the Eisevold, that was loading phosphate in Flying Fish Cove, which later sank. Japanese aircraft made numerous bombing raids on Christmas island and with most of the women & children evacuated, the threat of invasion grew real. On 31st March 1942, a Japanese Fleet bombarded the Cove shoreline and more than 900 troops came ashore. With the remaining Europeans imprisoned, the Japanese spent the first few weeks searching for the 1000 Malays and Chinese who had fled to the jungle. Most returned and were forced to work. Japanese attempts to profit from the mine were thwarted by acts of sabotage by the islanders and by Allied submarine attacks. By 1943 the Japanese were unable to maintain the island's food supplies, but solved this crisis by sending half the island's population to prison camps in Indonesia.  

For a short time following the war, Christmas Island came under the jurisdiction of the new Colony of Singapore. In 1948, the mining was taken over by the Australian and New Zealand Governments in partnership, with the British Phosphate Commissioners in management. In the period from 1949 to 1958 a massive expansion program led to the recruitment of males from Cocos, Malaya & Singapore, bringing with them their wives & families. For the first time in the islands history a permanent population began to evolve.

In 1957 the Australian government acquired Christmas Island from the Singapore Government for a compensation of 2.9 million pounds. The island existed as a Crown colony until its transfer to Australia was finalised on 1st October 1958, which is still celebrated on the first Monday in October as Territory Day.


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