Cocos (Keeling) Islands History

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History[edit | edit source]

The Territory of Cocos Islands is an Australian external territory in the Indian Ocean, comprising a small archipelago approximately midway between Australia and Sri Lanka and closer to the Indonesian island of Sumatra. It is part of Southeast Asia and is in the Southern Hemisphere. The territory's dual name, official since the islands incorporation into Australia in 1955, reflects that the islands have historically been known as either the Cocos Islands or the Keeling Islands.

The population of around 600 people consists mainly of Cocos Malays, who practise Sunni Islam and speak a dialect of Malay as their first language. The territory is administered by the Australian federal government's Department of Infrastructure, Regional Development and Cities, and together with Christmas Island forms the Australian Indian Ocean Territories administrative unit.

The islands were first discovered in 1609 by William Keeling, but no settlement occurred until the early 19th century. One of the first settlers was John Clunies-Ross, a Scottish merchant; much of the island's current population is descended from the Malay workers he brought in to work his copra plantation. The British formally annexed the islands in 1857, and for the next century they were officially administered from either Ceylon or Singapore. The territory was transferred to Australia in 1955, although until 1979 virtually all of the island's real estate still belonged to the Clunies-Ross family.
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Timeline[edit | edit source]

1609 - The archipelago was discovered in 1609 by Captain William Keeling of the East India Company, on a return voyage from the East Indies
1857 - The islands were annexed by the British Empire
1955 - The islands were transferred from the United Kingdom to the Commonwealth of Australia. Immediately before the transfer the islands were part of the United Kingdom's Colony of Singapore