Post details: The Clunies-Ross Family - The Kings of the Cocos

06/08/07

Permalink 10:57:36 am, by Email , 1044 words   English (CA)
Categories: History In The News, Museums And Historic Sites, Adventurers

The Clunies-Ross Family - The Kings of the Cocos

The Cocos (Keeling) Islands are located in the middle of the Indian Ocean some 2750km north-west of Perth, and 900km west south-west of Christmas Island, its closest neighbour. Cocos lies approximately 12° south and 96.5° east, locating the islands in the humid tropical zone.

For many, living on an tropical island away from the cares of everyday life is the ultimate dream. But, for a family of British merchant adventurers, the dream became a reality when they ran a group of islands as a private fiefdom for 150 years.

Today, the BBC is featuring an article on the the Clunies-Ross family, and the Cocos Islands. Here is a brief snippet to whet your appetite:

"From the air, they look like a chain of pearls wrapped around a giant opal. Twenty six tiny islands enclosing a turquoise and jade lagoon.

Stepping out of the aircraft, I was enveloped by tropical heat.

Palm trees rustled in the breeze and there was the distant sound of surf crashing on a reef. The locals were either barefoot or in flip-flops.

Adrift in the middle of the Indian Ocean, the Cocos Keeling Islands lie halfway between Australia and Sri Lanka.

Home to just 500 people, they are an Australian territory, but on many maps of the continent, they do not even feature.

Which is a shame, because the islands have an intriguing history.

They were uninhabited until the 1820s, when a small settlement was established by a Scottish adventurer named John Clunies-Ross.

Oceania House was the original home of the Clunie-Rosses
He was originally from Shetland and must have delighted in exchanging his frigid homeland for these balmy, sun-kissed isles. He set about planting hundreds of coconut palms and brought in Malay workers to harvest the nuts.

Successive generations of Clunies-Rosses built up a business empire based on copra, the dried flesh of coconuts traded for its oil. Their tenure over their exotic adopted home was confirmed in 1886, when Queen Victoria granted them possession of the islands in perpetuity.

They styled themselves the "kings" of the Cocos.

Remarkably, their rule lasted right up until 1978, when the last "king", also called John Clunies-Ross, was forced to sell the islands to Australia for £2.5m ($4.75m)."

Full BBC Article and Photos Here

A well written, and thoughtful article, I enjoyed learning about this family, and it's intriguing history!


Here is a brief historical timeline:

1609 - discovery of the islands is generally attributed to Captain William Keeling during one of his homeward voyages from Java to England, although he did not record it in his journals.

1805 - the British hydrographer, James Horsburgh, called them the Cocos-Keeling Islands in his sailing directory and named one of the islands after himself.

1825 - Captain John Clunies-Ross, a Scottish trader, sailing the Borneo for the Trading House of Hare made a brief landing on the islands on his homeward voyage from the East Indies. He had orders to investigate Christmas Island on Alexander Hare's behalf as a possible site for a settlement. Bad weather prevented these plans and he surveyed the Cocos-Keeling Islands instead.

1826 - the first settlement was established on the islands by Alexander Hare. Clunies-Ross delivered him and approximately 100 other people to the islands in May. Hare set up a settlement on Home Island and subsidiary camps on most of the other larger islands.

1827 - Captain John Clunies-Ross returned to the islands with his family and a small party of servants, seamen and tradesmen. Relations between Clunies-Ross and Hare became strained.

1829 - the total population of the atoll was 175, with 20 Europeans and 155 people from the Indies, New Guinea and the Cape.

1831 - John Clunies-Ross was in sole possession of the islands as Hare had departed following disagreements with Clunies-Ross and financial trouble in the House of Hare company. Hare never returned to the islands.

1834 - John Clunies-Ross moved his small group to Home Island, assumed control over the remnants of Hare's people and turned his attention to planting out coconut palms and teaching the islanders shipbuilding. A schooner called the Harriet was built on South Island and launched in 1835.

1836 - Charles Darwin, aboard the HMS Beagle, visited the islands on his round the world voyage. They were the only atolls he visited and from which he formed his theory of atoll formation.

1837 - John Clunies-Ross had succeeded in recovering his investment, trading in coconuts, coconut oil and copra, mainly in Java. his increasing prosperity was boosted by the visits of whaling ships on their return trips from the Southern Ocean. The crews from these ships played havoc in the Cocos community however, and Clunies-Ross sought help from the authorities in Ceylon. HM Sloop Pelorus visited in December. The problems were solved, a code of law and order established and better pay and conditions for the Cocos workers secured.

1841 - Captain Clunies-Ross's eldest son, John George, married to a Javanese girl named Supia Dupong, returned to Cocos.

1842 - Captain Clunies-Ross's brother, James arrived to settle on the islands.

1845 - Captain John Clunies-Ross died and John George assumed control of the settlement and his father's debts.

1857 - in a bureaucratic blunder, the islands were annexed to Britain. The annexation made J.G. Clunies-Ross a Governor under the Crown and responsible for the conduct of the colony. The settlers began in earnest to develop the islands' coconut plantations.

1862 - a disastrous cyclone struck the islands and Clunies-Ross' eldest son, George, was recalled from studies in England to assist in running the estate.

1871 - John George Clunies-Ross died and his son, George, assumed control of the estate.

1878 - Responsibility for administration of the islands was given to the British governor of Ceylon.

1886 - Queen Victoria granted all of the islands to George Clunies-Ross in perpetuity. The Straits Settlements acted in a supervisory capacity.

1901 - A telegraphy relay station was established on Direction Island. Up until this time the islanders rarely saw people form the outside world. The islands became a vital link in world communications.

1910 - George Clunies-Ross died and his son, John Sydney, assumed control of the settlement.

1914 - November 14, the German light cruiser, SMS Emden, was scuttled on North Keeling following a sea battle with the HMAS Sydney 1 in the waters off the islands. Survivors were picked up but some perished on North Keeling trying to evade rescuers. This battle was Australia's first naval victory.

For Further Informations And Sources:

The man who lost a 'coral kingdom'

Travel To The Cocos Islands

Enditall

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