Cocos (Keeling) Islands Administered by:
22 Cent The British Government 1857
22 Cent The Government of Ceylon 1878, 1942-1946
22 Cent The Straits Settlements 1886
22 Cent The Colony of Singapore 1946
22 Cent The Australian Government 1955
In 1609 Captain William Keeling was the first European to see the islands, but they remained uninhabited until the nineteenth century, when they became a possession of the Clunies-Ross Family. Slaves were brought to work the coconut plantation from Indonesia, the Cape of Good Hope and East Asia by Alexander Hare, who had taken part in Stamford Raffles' takeover of Java A Scottish merchant seaman named Captain John Clunies-Ross, who had also served under Raffles in the takeover, set up a compound and Hare's severely mistreated slaves soon escaped to work under better conditions for Clunies-Ross. The workers were paid in a currency called the Cocos rupee a currency John Clunies-Ross minted himself and which could only be redeemed at the company store. in 1811.
On April 1, 1836, HMS Beagle under Captain Robert FitzRoy arrived to take soundings establishing the profile of the atoll as part of the survey expedition of the Beagle. To the young naturalist Charles Darwin, who was on the ship, the results supported a theory he had developed of how atolls formed. He studied the natural history of the islands and collected specimens. His assistant Syms Covington noted that "an Englishman (he was of course Scottish) 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."
An 1840 chart of the Cocos (Keeling) Islands
Annexed to the British Empire
The islands were annexed to the British Empire in 1857. In 1867, their administration was placed under the Straits Settlements, which included Penang, Malacca and Singapore. Queen VictoriaClunies-Ross family in 1886. The Cocos Islands under the Clunies-Ross family have been cited as an example of a nineteenth century micronation. granted the islands in perpetuity to the
World War I
On November 9, 1914, the islands became the site of the Battle of Cocos, one of the first naval battles of World War I. The wireless telegraph station on Direction Island, a vital link between the United Kingdom, Australia and New Zealand, was destroyed by sailors from the German light cruiser SMS Emden, which was in turn surprised and destroyed by the Australian cruiser, HMAS Sydney.
World War II
During World War II, the cable station was once again a vital link. Allied planners noted that the islands might be seized as a base for German raider cruisers operating in the Indian Ocean. Following Japan's entry into the war, Japanese forces did occupy neighbouring islands. To avoid drawing their attention to the Cocos cable station and its islands' garrison, the seaplane anchorage between Direction and Horsburgh islands was not used. Radio transmitters were also kept silent, except in emergencies.
After the Fall of Singapore in 1942, the islands were administered from Ceylon (Sri Lanka), and West and Direction Islands were placed under Allied military administration. The islands' garrison initially consisted of a platoon from the British Army's King's African Rifles, located on Horsburgh Island, with two 6-inch (152 mm) guns to cover the anchorage. The local inhabitants all lived on Home Island. Despite the importance of the islands as a communication centre, the Japanese made no attempt either to raid or to occupy them and contented themselves with sending over a reconnaissance aircraft about once a month.
On the night of 8-9 May 1942, fifteen members of the garrison, from the Ceylon Defence Forcemutinied, under the leadership of Gratien Fernando. The mutineers were said to have been provoked by the attitude of their British officers, and were also supposedly inspired by anti-imperialist beliefs. They attempted to take control of the gun battery on the islands. The Cocos Islands Mutiny was crushed, although they killed one non-mutinous soldier and wounded one officer. Seven of the mutineers were sentenced to death at a trial which was later alleged to have been improperly conducted. Four of the sentences were commuted, but three men were executed, including Fernando. These were to be the only British Commonwealth soldiers to be executed for mutiny during the Second World War.
Later in the war, two airstrips were built and three bomber squadrons were moved to the islands to conduct raids against Japanese targets in South East Asia and to provide support during the reinvasion of Malaya and reconquest of Singapore. The first aircraft to arrive were Supermarine Spitfire Mk VIIIs of No. 136 Squadron RAF. They included some Liberator bombers from No. 321 (Netherlands) Squadron RAF (members of exiled Dutch forces serving with the Royal Air Force), which were also stationed on the islands. When in July 1945, No. 99 and No. 356 RAF squadrons arrived on West Island they brought with them a daily newspaper called Atoll which contained news of what was happening in the outside world. Run by airmen in their off-duty hours, it achieved fame when dropped by Liberator bombers on POW camps over the heads of the Japanese guards. In 1946 the administration of the islands reverted to Singapore.
Transfer to Australia
On November 23, 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). In the 1970s, the Australian government's dissatisfaction with the Clunies-Ross feudal style of rule of the island increased. In 1978, Australia forced the family to sell the islands for the sum of AU$6,250,000, using the threat of compulsory acquisition. By agreement the family retained ownership of Oceania House, their home on the island. However, in 1983 the Australian government moved to dishonour this agreement, and told the former last ruler, John Clunies-Ross, that he should leave the Cocos. The following year the High Court of Australia ruled that resumption of Oceania House was unlawful, but the Australian government ordered that no government business was to be granted to his shipping company, an action which contributed to his bankruptcy. John Clunies-Ross lives in exile in Perth, Australia, but his successors still live on the Cocos.