13. Australasia and the Oceanic Territories

Populated by an extremely ancient aboriginal people, Australia was briefly visited by Chinese, Polynesian and European ships before the seventeenth century, when Dutch navigators charted much of its coastline to the north and west and also in the south east and named it New Holland. With the loss of the American colonies, where miscreants and vagabonds, etc, were sent as indentured servants, Britain was urgently seeking a solution to its problem of a large convict population imprisoned in the hulks of unseaworthy ships. The First Fleet established a convict colony in New South Wales, but free citizens were encouraged to emigrate and eventually the settlements flourished and expanded throughout the continent. They spread to New Zealand and trading connections and the strength of the Royal Navy brought many small islands in the Pacific under British protection in the nineteenth century.

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1699 William Dampier a pirate and extraordinary adventurer, explores the western and northern coasts of Australia on the second of his three world circumnavigations (he was the first man to achieve that feat). He describes some of the flora and the people he encountered.

1770 Captain Cook charts the east coast and lands at Botany Bay.

1788 A penal colony is established at Sydney Cove, in what became the colony of New South Wales, in an effort to relieve the overpopulated prisons, convict hulks and workhouses in Britain.

1798-9 George Bass and Matthew Flinders prove Tasmania is an island.

1801-2 Flinders circumnavigates Australia.

1807 Attempts to settle Norfolk Island are abandoned and the convict settlers are evacuated to Van Dieman’s Land, Tasmania.

1810 Governor Lachlan Macquarie assumes office and supervises the change of New South Wales from a penal colony to a more normal civic society.

1824 The name Australia is given to the whole landmass. Moreton Bay penal settlement is established on the site of Brisbane.

1825 The Island of Tasmania, known as Van Dieman’s Land becomes a separate colony.

1827 To prevent French settlement, an expedition is sent to annexe the western third of Australia as a British colony.

1829 The Swan River settlement in Western Australia is established as a convict free, privatised colony. Convicts are later accepted because of an acute shortage of labour.

1836 The Province of South Australia is created as a privately financed settlement. The intention is to found a free colony based on private investment at little cost to the British government. Convict labour is banned.

1837 Melbourne is established as a planned town for Port Philip.

1840 The suspension of convict transportation to New South Wales. Van Dieman’s Land becomes the main convict colony.

1840-1 Edward Eyre and an Aborigine companion explore the Nullabor and the coastline of the Great Australian Bite as far as Albany, Western Australia.

1841 New Zealand, previously administered by N S W, becomes a separate colony.

1842 South Australia, badly affected by an economic depression, becomes a Crown colony.

Moreton Bay penal colony is closed and the area in northern NSW is opened to free settlers.

1851 The separate colony of Victoria is created out of territory around Melbourne in southern N S W. Gold is discovered in the new colony.

1853 Convict transportation to Van Dieman’s Land ends.

1856 The colony of Van Dieman’s Land changes its name to Tasmania.

1859 The colony of Queensland is created out of northern N S W.

1868 The end of convict transportation from Great Britain.

1869 A settlement is established at Darwin, capital of the Northern Territory.

1901 the six colonies amalgamate in the Commonwealth of Australia.

1911 The capital city of Canberra is established.

The Northern Territory is taken from South Australia and put under federal control.

1915 Australian soldiers participate in the Gallipoli campaign which fosters a developing sense of national identity

1939 Australia joins WW2 alongside Britain.

1942 Japanese air raids and plans to invade Australia are ended at the Battle of the Coral Sea.

New Zealand

1769 Captain Cook circumnavigates the islands.

1788 Britain makes the colony of New South Wales responsible for administering New Zealand.

1834 The N S W representative declares New Zealand’s independence.

1841 Lobbying by the Church Missionary Society and concern for French interest in the area, causes Britain to make New Zealand a Crown colony. The Treaty of Waitingi allows considerable rights to the existing Maori population, but there is a problem of interpretation of some of the clauses.

1853 The Constitution Act gives more democratic rights to NZ settlers than were available in Great Britain – most males have the right to vote.

1860-9 The Maori Wars begin over a disputed purchase of land for sale to the increasing influx of settlers. British and Australian regular troops and militia are brought into the conflict, which is mainly confined to the north island and reignites from time to time. In later years about 1500 sq. miles of land is confiscated with little distinction between the land of loyal and rebel Maoris.

1893 Women are given the right to vote.

1907 New Zealand becomes a self-governing dominion.

1915 N Z troops participate in the Gallipoli campaign which fosters a developing sense of national identity.

1939 New Zealand joins WW2 alongside Britain.

Papua New Guinea

1883 The Government of Queensland annexes south east New Guinea on behalf of Great Britain, but the British government refuses to ratify the act.

1884-8 The territory becomes a British protectorate.

1902 Papua New Guinea is placed under the authority of the Commonwealth of Australia.

1919 Australia gains League of Nations mandate to rule the German colony in Northern New Guinea.

1942-4 Papua New Guinea is the scene of fierce combat between Australian and Japanese troops.

1905 Papua is transferred to Australia.

1975 Papua New Guinea becomes independent.


The Cook Islands


Inhabited by Polynesian people, the islands in the South Pacific are named for Captain James Cook, who visited the islands twice during his voyages of exploration 1773 and 1777.

1900 The islands are ceded to Great Britain in response to the French takeover of Tahiti.

1901 They become part of New Zealand.

1965 The islands become self-governing in free association with New Zealand.


The Falkland Islands

1690 Captain Strong of the Welfare lands and named the sound between the two islands Falkland after his sponsor, the fifth Viscount Falkland. The name is gradually adopted for the whole archipelago in the South Atlantic.

1740 Captain, later Admiral, George Anson promotes the strategic importance of the islands as a safe haven for the Royal Navy.

1764 Louis de Bougainville of France establishes a settlement. Mostly Acadians originating from Canada.

1765 The Royal Navy, unaware of the French settlement, claims the islands for Britain and establishes a settlement at Port Egmont.

1767 France resigns its settlement to Spain which renames the islands Las Malvinas.

1770 Spain evicts the British garrison from Port Egmont, but both sides agree to return to the previous arrangement. The issue of sovereignty is avoided.

1774 The Royal Navy abandons Port Egmont, but leaves a plaque proclaiming British sovereignty in the islands.

1811 Spain abandons the Malvinas but also leave a plaque proclaiming sovereignty.

1816 Spanish possessions around the River Plate declare independence as the United Provinces of Rio de la Plata.

1826 The United Provinces disintegrate into a number of independent states, including Argentina which proclaims it has inherited the historic Spanish claim to the islands.

1831 The United States, seeking to protect sealing and fishing access, breaks up a small Argentine settlement on the islands and declares them terra nullius.

1832 Attempts to form an Argentine penal colony fails.

1833 Britain reclaims the Falklands which are governed as a Royal Navy establishment.

1843 The Falklands become a Crown colony with its capital at Port Stanley.

1914 The opening of the Panama Canal diminishes the Falklands importance on the Atlantic-Pacific sea route via Cape Horn.

1980 The Falklands War. Argentina invades but a British taskforce is sent and defeats them a few weeks later.  The Falklands remain a British Overseas Territory.

South Georgia, the South Sandwich, South Shetland, South Orkney Islands and Graham’s Land Antarctica

1775 Captain James Cook claims sovereignty over South Georgia and the South Sandwich islands in the South Atlantic.

1843 Letters patent arrange for the government of South Georgia.

1908 All British-controlled lands around the Antarctic become part of the Falklands Islands Dependencies.

1917 The Dependency Antarctic area is extended to the South Pole.

1938 Argentina claims the South Sandwich Islands.

1962 Only South Georgia and the South Sandwich Islands remain in the Falklands Islands Dependency, the rest become the British Antarctic Territory.

1982 South Georgia is invaded by Argentine troops but they are soon removed by Royal Marines.

1985 The British Overseas Territory of South Georgia and the Sandwich Islands is created.

2012 The Southern part of the Antarctic territory is renamed Queen Elizabeth Land in honour of the Queen.

St Helena

A British Overseas Territory in association with Ascension Island and Tristan da Cunha, St Helena lies in mid Atlantic, roughly halfway between Brazil and Africa. Discovered and used as a revictualling post by the Portuguese.

1633 The island is briefly claimed by the Dutch.

1657 Oliver Cromwell grants a charter to govern the island to the East India Company.

1659 The first Governor is appointed by the Company.

1660 The restored King Charles II affirms the Charter for the East India Company to govern and settle St Helena.

1815 Napoleon Bonaparte is exiled on St Helena and dies there in 1821.

1834 St Helena becomes a Crown colony.

1922 Ascension Island becomes a dependency of St Helena.

1938 Tristan da Cunha becomes a dependency of St Helena.

2009 The St Helena Dependencies Act is reorganised, giving Tristan and Ascension equal status with St Helena.

Ascension Island

The volcanic island lies in the mid-Atlantic 7.56 degrees south of the equator. It is located about 1400 miles from the Brazilian coast and about 1000 miles from Africa and was originally discovered by the Portuguese in 1501.

1701 William Dampier and his crew were marooned here for two months after their ship sank.

1815 the island is garrisoned by the Royal Navy to ensure it cannot be used as a base from which to launch a rescue mission for Napoleon Bonaparte.

1922 Ascension becomes a dependency of St Helena.

2009 The St Helena Dependencies Act is reorganised, giving Tristan and Ascension equal status with St Helena.

Tristan da Cunha

A volcanic group of islands in the South Atlantic some 1700 miles west of the Cape of Good Hope, Tristan is a British Overseas Territory with about 250 permanent inhabitants.

1506 The Portuguese navigator of the same name discovers the islands.

1810 Three Americans settle and name them the Islands of Refreshment.

1816 Britain annexes the island to ensure they cannot be used as a base from which to launch a rescue mission for Napoleon Bonaparte. Administration is vested in Cape Colony.

1875 Tristan becomes a British Crown dependency.

1907 Islanders refuse an evacuation offer and they remain in isolation from 1909 until they are visited in 1919.

1938 The islands become part of the St Helena Dependencies.

1961 A volcanic eruption forces the evacuation of all the 264 population. Most returned in 1963.

2009 The St Helena Dependencies Act is reorganised, giving Tristan and Ascension equal status with St Helena.

The Maldives

26 atolls situated south West of Ceylon (Sri Lanka), it is the world’s lowest-lying country.

1887 The Sultanate of Maldives becomes a British protectorate.

1965 The Maldives become independent.


1810 The Royal Navy seize Mauritius which had been governed as Isle de France by France since 1715.

1814 Mauritius and its dependent islands become a Crown colony of Great Britain.

1833 The Abolition of Slavery is announced. Indentured labourers are imported from India to produce sugar.

1968 Mauritius becomes independent.

The Chagos Islands

1814 France cedes Mauritius and its dependent Chagos archipelago to Britain.

1840 Slave labourers on Chagos coconut plantations are freed.

1965 The Chagos are bought from Mauritius and are designated the British Indian Ocean Territory.

1966 The UK permits the United States to use any BIOT island for defence purposes for 50 years.

1967-73 The entire population is evacuated to Mauritius and the Seychelles and the atoll Diego Garcia becomes a military base.

2010 Britain declares the Chagos Marine Protected Area, the world’s largest oceanic reserve.

2015 The Permanent Court of Arbitration rules that the Chagos MPA violates international law.

2017 The U N decides the detachment of Chagos from Mauritius was unlawful.

2019, The U N affirms that the Chagos archipelago forms an integral part of the territory of Mauritius.

2022 A delegation from Mauritius raises the Mauritian flag on the Chagos atoll of Peros Banhos.

The Seychelles

1609 The earliest recorded landing on the Seychelles, 115 islands in the Indian Ocean at the eastern edge of the Somali Sea, was by the crew of the Ascension during the fourth voyage of the British East India Company.

1756 France claims the islands.

1794 the islands are surrendered to a British frigate.

1814 Treaty of Paris. The islands become a part of Mauritius Crown colony.

1903 The Seychelles are separated from Mauritius and become the Crown colony of Seychelles.

1976 The republic of Seychelles becomes independent.

Cocos or Keeling Islands

1609 A small archipelago in the Indian Ocean, approximately midway between Australia and Ceylon and relatively close to the Indonesian island of Sumatra, is discovered by the East India Company Captain Keeling.

1826 The islands are settled by British traders in coconuts, coconut oil and copra. John Clunies-Ross becomes the leading figure.

1857 the islands are mistaken as East India Company assets and are included in the Indian Raj.

1878 They are put into Ceylon’s jurisdiction, but ownership is still vested with the Clunies-Ross family.

1886 They become part of the Straits Settlements.

1941-45 A large allied air base is built and the islands remain free from Japanese invasion.

1955 Australia takes over jurisdiction.

1984 Cocos becomes part of Australia.

Christmas Island (Indian Ocean)

1615 Lying south of Sumatra/Java, the island was discovered by East India Company Captain John Milward, but it lacked suitable landing sites. It was named by Company Captain William Mynos on Christmas Day 25 December 1643.

1688 The buccaneer William Dampier, captain of the Cygnet, sends a landing party ashore.

1887 A British survey party discovers deposits of pure phosphate of lime and the island is claimed for Britain the following year.

1899 Mining begins. Chinese labour is imported.

1942-5 The island is occupied by Japan.

1958 Sovereignty is transferred to Australia.

Christmas Atoll (Pacific Ocean)

1777 Discovered on Christmas Eve by Captain Cook, where he witnessed an eclipse of the sun.

1857 Americans quarry the guano deposits.

1888 Britain annexes the atoll.

1937 A radio station and transit base is erected.

1957 British begin atomic bomb tests – later joined by USA with H bomb tests.

1979 Christmas Island gains independence with Kiribati (Gilbert Islands). The island is renamed Kiritimati.

Gilbert and Ellice Islands

1819 the name Ellice Island was given to one of a group of West Pacific islands and was later applied to the whole group inhabited by Polynesian people.

1820 Inhabited by a mixed race of Indo-Pacific peoples, the Gilbert Islands were named by a Russian admiral in honour of Captain Thomas Gilbert who sailed among the islands in 1788.

1892 Great Britain claims the Ellice Islands as a British protectorate administered as part of the British Western Pacific Territories.

1892 The Gilbert and Ellice Islands in the Western Pacific are declared a single British Protectorate administered as part of the British Western Pacific Territories.

1916 The Gilbert and Ellice Islands become a Crown colony.

1942 The Gilbert Islands are occupied by Japan. The United States sends troops to defend the Ellice Islands.

1943 U S troops retake the Gilbert Islands, except for Ocean Island.

1976 The two island groups are separated. Gilbert Islands become Kiribati. Ellice Islands become Tuvalu.

1978/9 Kiribati and Tuvalu both become independent states.


1789 The Fiji islands are charted and plotted by Captain William Bligh.

1877 They become part of the British Western Pacific Territories administered by the Governor of Fiji acting as British High Commissioner and Consul-General for the Western Pacific.

1952 Fiji separates from the High Commission of the Western Pacific.

1874 Fiji becomes a crown colony.

1970 Fiji becomes independent.

The Solomon Islands

The Solomons are a double chain of seven large and more than thirty small islands, located just east of New Guinea in the Pacific Ocean.

1595 Spanish intention to colonise the islands collapses with death of the leader. Future European attempts at commerce are not welcomed by the indigenous inhabitants.

1893 (Germany had taken control of the northern group of islands). Four islands in the southern group of islands including Guadalcanal are annexed by Britain and become part of the British Western Pacific Territories administered from Fiji.

1900 Germany transfers some of its islands to the British W P T.

1942 Japanese occupy the islands. Some remain in Japanese hands until 1945.

1943 U S forces recapture Guadalcanal.

1952 The High Commission of the Western Pacific moves to Honiara, Guadalcanal, in the Solomons.

1978 The Islands become independent


1773, 1774, 1777 Captain Cook visits the archipelago which is about 1800 miles NE of New Zealand’s North Island and is inhabited by Polynesian people.

1900 Treaty of Friendship with Great Britain. Tonga retains its monarchy and becomes part of the British Western Pacific Territories.

1970 The Friendship treaty ends.

New Hebrides (Vanuatu)

1774 Captain Cook visits, maps and names the islands.

1887 Britain and France establish a joint Naval Commission.

1906 The islands become a joint Anglo-French Condominium with joint resident commissioners.

1977 Paris conference agrees to grant independence.

1980 The islands become independent member of the Commonwealth as Vanuatu.

Pitcairn Islands

The sole remaining British Overseas Territory in the Pacific Ocean. The islanders a biracial ethnic group descended mostly from nine Bounty mutineers and a handful of Tahitian consorts.

1767 named in honour of midshipman Robert Pitcairn who first sighted the uninhabited islands, but its recorded longitude was inaccurate.

1790 Mutineers of HMS Bounty and Tahitians discover and settle at Pitcairn and burn the Bounty.

1808 Pitcairn is visited by an American whaling ship.

1814 A Royal Navy flotilla visits. Only one mutineer is left alive- he is granted amnesty.

1856 Population growth leads to emigration to Norfolk Island, but some Pitcairners soon return home.

1902 Britain annexes the islands and they remain a British Overseas Territory.

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