The tranquillity of the Cocos Keeling Islands today gives little hint of their colourful past, their human dramas and tragedies, or the many different rulers who controlled them. From first settlement in 1826 by English merchant Alexander Hare, through decades of rule by the Clunies-Ross dynasty, most island inhabitants had little contact with the outside world.
For many years the islands were a powerhouse of copra production, with all resources and workers devoted to coconut growing and processing. Apart from disruptions caused by cyclone damage, the industry only ceased in 1987 but the abundant coconut palms throughout the Cocos still bear testament to the extent of the trade.
Two World Wars saw the islands become targets due to their strategic position in the Indian Ocean. From 1944 to 1946 the tranquil islands came under military administration and buzzed with activity, home to thousands of military personnel. The people of the Cocos Keeling Islands voted to become part of Australia in 1984. The remote atoll is now an internationally significant habitat for wildlife ... and a faraway paradise for tourists seeking something a little bit different.
|1609||Captain William Keeling, merchant seaman and adventurer exploring the East for the East India Company, discovers the Cocos Atoll during one of his voyages from Java to England.|
British hydrographer James Horsburgh charts the islands and calls them the Cocos-Keeling Islands in his sailing directory. He names one of the islands after himself.
|1825||Captain John Clunies-Ross, a Scottish trader, lands on the islands on his homeward voyage from the East Indies. His orders are to investigate Christmas Island for settlement. Bad weather prevents these plans but he surveys the Cocos-Keeling Islands, digs wells and plants fruit trees.|
|1826||Alexander Hare, British merchant known as the 'English White Rajah of Borneo', and a group of his slaves are brought to the islands by Robert Clunies-Ross (brother of John) on the Hippomeses. Hare sets up the first settlement on Home Island (then called Goose Island).|
|1827||John Clunies-Ross and party arrive and settle on Pulu Gangsa (now the cemetery) but later move to South Island due to tension with Hare.|
|1829||Hare exports the first coconut oil from Cocos Islands to England on the Borneo.
Alexander Hare occupies Goose (Home), Horsburgh, Direction and Prison Islands with a total of 98 persons, mainly of Malay decent but some from Dutch Islands as far east as Papua, and some of African and Chinese decent.
|1831||Increasing disputes between Alexander Hare and John Clunies-Ross as well as Hare's mounting financial problems lead to Hare travelling back to Batavia. John Clunies-Ross assumes control of the islands.|
|1834||Hare dies in Java. John Clunies-Ross moves to Home Island and takes over Hare's operations.|
|1836||John Clunies-Ross travels to Mauritius to seek British annexation of the islands.
Charles Darwin visits the atoll on the Beagle, surveys the islands and forms his theory of atoll formation.
|1854||John Clunies-Ross dies; John George Clunies-Ross takes over.|
Captain Fremantle arrives on HM Juno to annex the islands to Britain, but makes a mistake as he was supposed to annex the Cocos Islands in the Andaman Group. This means that John George Clunies-Ross is designated as governor of Cocos.
|1871||John George Clunies Ross dies, George Clunies-Ross assumes control over the Cocos Settlement.|
|1886||Queen Victoria grants the islands to George Clunies-Ross and his descendants.
Building of Oceania House commences using tiles and bricks from Scotland (completed in 1893).
|1901||Eastern Extension Telegraph Station establishes a relay cable station on Direction Island. Cables go to Rodrigues, Mauritius, which then links to Durban, South Africa, also to Batavia, Java, which then links to Singapore and also to Fremantle, Western Australia.|
|1910||A Wireless Station is established to communicate with passing ships.
George Clunies Ross returns to the UK and dies on the Isle of Wight (his body is later reburied on Home Island). His son John Sidney Clunies-Ross assumes control of Cocos Islands.
|1914||Cocos Cable Station is attacked by the German raider SMS Emden. The Emden is defeated by the Australian light cruiser HMAS Sydney and beached on the reef at North Keeling Island (Pulu Keeling National Park).|
|1941||Ceylon Garrison Artillery establishes 2 x 6-inch guns on Horsburgh Island.|
February: a naval bombardment from a Japanese submarine causes slight damage to the Cable Station.
March: A Japanese warship shells Direction Island; a false wireless message is sent 'Direction Island knocked out', and shell holes are painted on side of buildings.Huge decoy fires convince Japanese that the relay station is destroyed. The station on Direction Island continues to operate in secret.
|1943||Qantas begins a non-stop service across the Indian Ocean between Perth and Colombo via Cocos Islands; they flew 5700 kms and averaged 27-30 hours in the air. The service was terminated in 1946 after 824 crossings had been made.
A regular Japanese air raid from Java visits Cocos weekly, several Islanders are killed and Home Island homes destroyed.
|1944||Major bombing raids kill two Islanders and destroys 27 Home Island houses.
John Sidney Clunies-Ross dies.
|1945||Several thousand British servicemen build and operate a RAF bomber base and Air Staging Post on West Island. The bomber and fighter planes of 11 RAF squadrons are based on Cocos Islands until the end of WW2.
Operation Cockroach begins, an 1828-metre airstrip is constructed on West Island in two months. During the peak of the runway construction 8300 military personnel are stationed on Cocos.
|1946||John Sidney Clunies-Ross's widow returns to Cocos with son John Cecil Clunies-Ross.|
John Cecil Clunies-Ross commences as ruler of Cocos Islands.
|1951||The Australian Government purchases 367 acres for an aerodrome on West Island. 500 RAAF commence airstrip construction.|
|1952||Qantas begins commercial flights through Cocos to Johannesburg and Singapore.|
|1954||The Queen visits Cocos Islands.|
|1955||Cocos (Keeling) Islands 'officially' becomes an Australian Territory; Australian Government establishes a permanent presence on West Island.|
|1966||OTC Telegraph Cable Station on Direction Island ceases operation.|
|1969||John Cecil Clunies-Ross seeks Home Rule (internal self government).|
|1973||Australia invites UN committee of 24 to visit and report on the Cocos Islands.|
|1978||The Australian Government purchases all of the Clunies-Ross land on Cocos Islands for Australian $6.25 million, less lot 14 (Home Island) and 5 hectares surrounding it.|
|1979||The Cocos Islands Workers Co-Operative Society is established as the commercial arm of the community, to run copra industry, building construction, maintenance and stevedoring.|
The island's copra industry ceases operation.
|1981||Animal Quarantine Station commences on West Island.|
|1984||A third UN Mission watches as Cocos Malay people vote to integrate with Australia.|
|2014||100 Year anniversary of Australia's first Naval battle victory between HMAS Sydney and the SMS Emden German raider|
|2016||Cossies Beach on Direction Island is named Best Beach in Australia.|