Skip to content
Empowering our people · In our decision · In our culture · For our future

Torres Strait history

Colonial history of the Torres Strait:

  • The first inhabitants of the Torres Strait migrated from the Indonesian archipelago 70,000 years ago, when Papua New Guinea was still attached to the Australian continent.
  • The first navigator credited with coming across the islands is the Spaniard, Luis Vaez de Torres, who sailed through the Strait in 1606.
  • James Cook first claimed British sovereignty over the eastern part of Australia in 1770 at Possession Island.
  • The pearl shed in 1860 led to an influx of people from the Asia-Pacific region, including Europeans.
  • The pearling industry employed 700 people in 1877 and more than 100 pearl luggers, with trade stopping at the end of WWII.
  • The London Missionary Society led by Rev. Samuel Macfarlane arrived on Erub (Darnley Island) on 1 July 1871. This is referred to by Islanders as "The Coming of the Light" and is celebrated annually by all Island communities on 1 July.
  • The Torres Strait Islands were annexed in 1879 by Queensland, becoming part of the British colony of Queensland. After 1901, the Islands became part of the Australian State of Queensland, despite some islands positioned off the New Guinea coast.
  • In 1898 to 1899 the Torres Strait Islands were visited by the Cambridge Anthropological Expedition led by Alfred Cort Haddon.
  • The Torres Strait Islanders become subject to the Aboriginal Protection and Restriction of the Sale of Opium Act in 1904.

See also our Governance History