|A few islands in the north-east of the group were first seen by Abel Tasman in 1643. The southernmost of the group, Turtle Island, was discovered by Captain Cook in 1773. Lieutenant Bligh, approaching them in the launch of the Bounty, 1789, had a hostile encounter with the local population and decided to give it a wide berth as a consequence. In 1827 Dumont d'Urville in the Astrolabe surveyed them much more accurately, but the first thorough survey was that of the United States exploring expedition in 1840. Up to this time, owing to the evil reputation of the islanders, European intercourse was very limited. The labors of the Wesleyan missionaries, however, must always have a prominent place in any history of Fiji. They came from Tonga in 1835 and settled first in the eastern islands, where the Tongan element, already familiar to them, preponderated.
About 1804 some escaped convicts from Australia and runaway sailors established themselves around the east part of Viti Levu, and by lending their services to the neighboring chiefs probably led to their preponderance over the rest of the group. Na Ulivau, chief of the small island of Mbau, established before his death in 1829 a sort of supremacy, which was extended by his brother Tanoa, and by Tanoa's son Thakombau, a ruler of considerable capacity. In his time, however, difficulties thickened. The Tongans, who had long frequented Fiji (especially for canoe-building, their own islands being deficient in timber), now came in larger numbers, led by an able and ambitious chief, Maafu, who, by adroitly taking part in Fijian quarrels, made himself chief in the Windward group, threatening Thakombau's supremacy. He was harassed, too, by an arbitrary demand for money from the American government, for alleged injuries to their consul. Several chiefs who disputed his authority were crushed by the aid of King George of Tonga, who (1855) had opportunely arrived on a visit; but he afterwards, taking some offence, demanded money for his services. At last Thakombau, disappointed in the hope that his acceptance of Christianity (1854) would improve his position, offered the sovereignty to Great Britain (1859) with the fee simple of 100,000 acres, on condition of her paying the American claims. Colonel Smythe, RA, was sent out to report on the question, and decided against annexation, but advised that the British consul should be invested with full magisterial powers over his countrymen, a step which would have averted much subsequent difficulty.
Meanwhile Dr B. Seemanns favorable report on the capabilities of the islands, followed by a time of depression in Australia and New Zealand, led to a rapid increase of settlers from 200 In 1860 to 1800 in 1869. This produced fresh complications, and an increasing desire among the respectable settlers for a competent civil and criminal jurisdiction. Attempts were made at self-government, and the sovereignty was again offered, conditionally, to England, and to the United States. Finally, in 1871, a constitutional government was formed by certain Englishmen under King Thakombau; but this, after incurring heavy debt, and promoting the welfare of neither whites nor natives, came after three years to a deadlock, and the British government felt obliged, in the interest of all parties, to accept the unconditional cession now offered (1874). It had besides long been thought desirable to possess a station on the route between Australia and Panama; it was also felt that the Polynesian labor traffic, the abuses in which had caused much indignation, could only be effectually regulated from a point contiguous to the recruiting field, and the locality where that labor was extensively employed. To this end the governor of Fiji was also created high commissioner for the western Pacific. Rotumah was annexed in 1881.
At the time of the British annexation the islands were suffering from commercial depression, following a fall in the price of cotton after the American Civil War. Coffee, tea, cinchona and sugar were tried in turn, with limited success. The coffee was attacked by the leaf disease; the tea could not compete with that grown by the cheap labor of the East; the sugar machinery was too antiquated to withstand the fall in prices consequent on the European sugar bounties. In 1878 the first coolies were imported from India and the cultivation of sugar began to pass into the hands of large companies working with modern machinery. With the introduction of 'coolies' the Fijians began to fall behind in the development of their country. Many of the 'coolies' chose to remain in the colony after the termination of their indentures, and began to displace the European country traders. With a regular and plentiful supply of Indians, the recruiting of kanaka laborers practically ceased. The settlement of European land claims, and the measures taken for the protection of native institutions, caused lively dissatisfaction among the colonists, who laid the blame of the commercial depression at the door of the government; but with returning prosperity this feeling began to disappear. In 1900 the government of New Zealand made overtures to absorb Fiji. The Aborigines Society protested to the colonial office, and the imperial government refused to sanction the proposal.
Fiji became independent in 1970.