For centuries, Christmas Island's isolation and rugged coasts provided natural barriers to settlement. British and Dutch navigators first included the island on their charts from the early seventeenth century, and Captain William Mynors of the East India Ship Company vessel, the Royal Mary, named the island when he arrived on Christmas Day, 25th December, 1643. He was unable to land, however, and it was not until 1688, when Captain William Dampier on the British ship Cygnet, landed at the Dales (on the West Coast) and two of his crewmen were the first recorded people to set foot on Christmas Island.
During the 1872-76 HMS Challenger expedition to Indonesia, naturalist Dr John Murray carried out extensive surveys. At his urging, the British Admiralty annexed the 135 square kilometre island on 6 June 1888. But it was not until 1888 that Christmas Island was settled, when the Clunies-Ross brothers from neighbouring Cocos-Keeling Islands (some 900 kilometres to the south west) established a settlement at Flying Fish Cove to collect timber and supplies for the growing industry on Cocos.