For a more detailed description of the Cocos Islands see the Article about Cocos Islands in Wikipedia.
The Cocos Islands or the Keeling Islands are a group of islands in the Indian Ocean, between Australia, Indonesia and Sri Lanka. They are a low lying group of coral atolls, but are not to be confused with a similar group of islands with the same name in the Bay of Bengal.
In 1814, the Shetland merchant seaman John Clunies-Ross stopped briefly at the islands on a trip to India, nailing up a Union Jack and planning to return and settle on the islands with his family in the future.<ref name="joshua">Slocum, Joshua, "Sailing Alone Around the World", p. 212 (Slocum was the first man to circumnavigate the world singlehandedly)</ref> At this point, the islands were uninhabited.
An Englishman, Alexander Hare, had similar designs, and hired John Clunies-Ross' brother Robert to bring him and his harem of forty Malayan women to the Cocos Islands.<ref name="joshua"/> Hare had previously governed a colony in Borneo. When John Clunies-Ross returned, with his wife, children and mother-in-law, he started a private feud with Hare. Clunies-Ross' eight sailors, "began at once the invasion of the new kingdom to take possession of it, women and all".<ref name="joshua"/> Hare's harem started to abandon him for Clunies-Ross' sailors, and Hare went back to south east Asia in defeat. Thereafter, Clunies-Ross was unchallenged.
Clunies-Ross brought in workers to help with the copra plantations, and made his own currency, the Cocos Rupee, which he paid his workers with. However, the only place that this was accepted was the company store, which was run by Clunies Ross himself.<ref>End of a kingdom</ref>
Darwin and Establishment
When Darwin's ship, the Beagle visited the islands, his assistant Syms Covington noted, "an Englishman [sic] and HIS family, with about sixty or seventy mulattos from the Cape of Good Hope, live on one of the islands. Captain Ross, the governor, is now absent at the Cape."
Darwin himself wrote,
- "We arrived in view of the Keeling or Cocos Islands, situated in the Indian Ocean, and about six hundred miles distant from the coast of Sumatra. This is one of the lagoon-islands (or atolls) of coral formation similar to those in the Low Archipelago which we passed near. When the ship was in the channel at the entrance, Mr. Liesk, an English resident, came off in his boat... About nine years ago, Mr. Hare, a worthless character, brought from the East Indian archipelago a number of Malay slaves, which now, including children, amount to more than a hundred. Shortly afterwards Captain Ross, who had before visited these islands in his merchant-ship, arrived from England, bringing with him his family and goods for settlement: along with him came Mr. Liesk, who had been a mate in his vessel. The Malay slaves soon ran away from the islet on which Mr. Hare was settled, and joined Captain Ross's party. Mr. Hare upon this was ultimately obliged to leave the place.
- The Malays are now nominally in a state of freedom, and certainly are so as far as regards their personal treatment; but in most other points they are considered as slaves. From their discontented state, from the repeated removals from islet to islet, and perhaps also from a little mismanagement, things are not very prosperous. The island has no domestic quadruped excepting the pig, and the main vegetable production is the cocoa-nut. The whole prosperity of the place depends on this tree; the only exports being oil from the nut, and the nuts themselves, which are taken to Singapore and Mauritius, where they are chiefly used, when grated, in making curries. On the cocoa-nut, also, the pigs, which are loaded with fat, almost entirely subsist, as do the ducks and poultry. Even a huge land-crab is furnished by nature with the means to open and feed on this most useful production.
Two days later, Darwin went to visit the settlement:
- After [a church] service I accompanied Captain Fitz Roy to the settlement, situated at the distance of some miles, on the point of an islet thickly covered with tall cocoa-nut trees. Captain Ross and Mr. Liesk live in a large barn-like house open at both ends, and lined with mats made of woven bark. The houses of the Malays are arranged along the shore of the lagoon. The whole place had rather a desolate aspect, for there were no gardens to show the signs of care and cultivation. The natives belong to different islands in the East Indian archipelago, but all speak the same language: we saw the inhabitants of Borneo, Celebes, Java, and Sumatra. In colour they resemble the Tahitians, from whom they do not widely differ in features. Some of the women, however, show a good deal of the Chinese character. I liked both their general expressions and the sound of their voices. They appeared poor, and their houses were destitute of furniture; but it was evident from the plumpness of the little children, that cocoa-nuts and turtle afford no bad sustenance.
The Clunies-Rosses developed Horsburgh Island as a deer park, but did not allow islanders to hunt them.
On 16 December 1837, the Clunies-Rosses, asked the brig sloop, HMS Pelorus to visit the islands, fearing a revolt of local Malays.
Queen Victoria granted the islands in perpetuity to the Clunies-Ross family in 1886. Thus, the title to the islands was claimed by his descendants until 1978 when John Cecil Clunies-Ross was forced to sell the islands to the Commonwealth of Australia for £2.5m ($4.75m). The Australian government, embarrassed by demands in the United Nations concerning the feudal status of the islands, forced the family to give them up, and thus Cocos Islands were annexed by Australia.
The islands played a minor role in both World Wars, but did not receive as much bombardment, as say, Singapore. In the 1950s and 1960s the airport at Cocos Islands was a key stop for commercial airline flights between Australia and South Africa, and Qantas and South African Airways stopped there to refuel. The arrival of long range jet aircraft ended this requirement. On 23 November 1955, the islands were transferred to Australian control under the Cocos (Keeling) Islands Act 1955 (an Australian Act) pursuant to the Cocos Islands Act, 1955 (a UK Act).<ref>http://hansard.millbanksystems.com/written_answers/1977/jun/28/cocos-keeling-islands#S5CV0934P0-05978</ref> In 1974, Ken Mullen wrote a small book<ref>Cocos Keeling, the islands time forgot (1974). Ken Mullen. published by Angus & Robertson, Sydney. 122 pages.</ref> about his time with wife and son from 1964 to 1966 working at the Cable Station on Direction Island.
The islands were not seriously affected by the Indonesian tsunami.
Some members of the Clunies-Ross family still live in the Cocos Islands.