History of the Marquesas

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This article details the history of the Marquesas. The Marquesas Islands are a group of volcanic islands in French Polynesia, an overseas collectivity of France in the southern Pacific Ocean. The Marquesas Islands form one of the five Administrative divisions of French Polynesia.


The first recorded settlers of the Marquesas were Polynesians, who, from archæological evidence, are believed to have arrived before 100 AD.[citation needed] Ethnological and linguistic evidence suggests that they likely arrived from the region of Tonga and Samoa.[citation needed]

European exploration[edit]

The islands were given their name by the Spanish explorer Álvaro de Mendaña de Neira who reached them on 21 July 1595. He named them after his patron, García Hurtado de Mendoza, 5th Marquis of Cañete, who was Viceroy of Peru at the time. Mendaña visited first Fatu Hiva and then Tahuata before continuing on to the Solomon Islands. De Neira also discovered an ancient cross on one of the islands. Historians have speculated that this may have marked the grave of a sailor from San Lesmes, a Spanish vessel which disappeared in a storm during García Jofre de Loaísa's expedition through the region in 1526.[1]

The American navigator Capt. Joseph Ingraham first visited the northern Marquesas while commanding the brig Hope in 1791, giving them the name Washington Islands.[2] In 1813, Commodore David Porter claimed Nuku Hiva for the United States, but the United States Congress never ratified that claim, and in 1842, France, following a successful military operation on behalf of a native chief (named Iotete) who claimed to be king of the whole of the island of Tahuata, took possession of the whole group, establishing a settlement (abandoned in 1859) on Nuku Hiva. French control over the group was reestablished in 1870, and later incorporated into the territory of French Polynesia.

Of all the major island groups of the Pacific, the Marquesas Islands suffered the greatest population decline as a result of diseases brought by European explorers, reducing the estimated sixteenth century population of over 100,000 inhabitants, to about 20,000 by the middle of the nineteenth century, and to just over 2,000 by the beginning of the 1900s. During the course of the twentieth century, the population increased to about 8,500 by 2002, not including the Marquesan community residing on Tahiti.

The whaleship Essex was rammed and sunk by a sperm whale near the Marquesas in November 1820, but the crew, forced to take refuge in three small boats, did not make its way there because of (largely spurious) reports of cannibalism among the island's inhabitants. Instead the crew turned east towards South America, much farther away, and ironically were eventually forced to resort to cannibalism themselves to survive during their three-month-long voyage.


  1. ^ Berguno, Jorge (1990). Hardy, John; Frost, Alan, eds. European Voyaging towards Australia. Australian Academy of the Humanities. p. 25. ISBN 0909897190. 
  2. ^ "Papers of Joseph Ingraham, 1790-1792: Journal of the Voyage of the Brigantine "Hope" from Boston to the North-West Coast of America". World Digital Library. 1790–1800. Retrieved 2013-06-08.