The first written record of the existence of the Island was made in 1615 by English Captain John Milward of the East India Company ship Thomas. It was not unusual for company ships to scout around the area to find safe berths and havens whilst competing along the Spice Islands trade routes with Portugal and Holland. Captain William Mynos of the Company ship Royal Mary passed the Island and named it on Christmas day 25 December 1643.
The cliffs and lack of a suitable berth made landing on the island a real challenge. The first recorded landing was in 1688 by a crew from the British buccaneer vessel, Cygnet, who were sent ashore by William Dampier in the vicinity of the Dales for water and timber. Although several landings were made in the next 69 years, it was not until 1857 that an attempt was made by the crew of the Amethyst to explore the Island. Their venture was limited by inland cliffs and dense jungle.
The first extensive exploration was in 1887, when a small party from HMS Egeria reached the summit of Murray Hill. It was this party that collected the rock specimens of almost pure phosphate of lime that were to determine the future of the Island over the next century. In 1888 Christmas Island was declared part of the British Dominion as the result of pressure from two prospective entrepreneurs. George Clunies-Ross from the Cocos Islands wanted exploitation rights and John Murray, a Scottish scientist, wanted to mine phosphate. Mining began in 1899 around Phosphate Hill, and later at South Point. The operation was labour intensive but as there was no indigenous population, a work force had to be imported. Under the control of a Straits Settlement District Officer an initial contingent of 200 Chinese labourers, 8 European management personnel and 5 Sikh Policemen was brought onto the island in 1898.
Mining continued until World War II, when many of the European residents were evacuated in anticipation of a Japanese invasion. The Japanese duly invaded in 1942 and the Island was occupied until 1945. During this time some phosphate was mined, but this was discontinued after the first two shiploads were torpedoed. Phosphate mining resumed in 1946.
On 1 January 1958, Christmas Island, which had until then been administered as part of the Colony of Singapore, became a separate colony. On 1 October 1958, sovereignty was transferred to Australia.
Be careful not to confuse this Indian Ocean Christmas Island with another British colony called Christmas Island in the Pacific. It may be easier to call the latter one Christmas Atoll to help keep them apart.