New Caledonia was named by the greatest explorer of the South Pacific, Captain James Cook. It reminded him of the Scottish highlands. Settled followed by both Britain and France with the main island becoming a French colony in 1853.
Melanesians arrived in the New Caledonian archipelago about 1500 BCE. with Polynesians arriving around the 1100 AD.
On the 4th of September 1774, Captain James Cook became the first European to see the archipelago and named it New Caledonia because of similarities with the Scottish highlands. Caledonia was the old Roman name for the highlands.
Later on, sandalwood traders and whalers from Britain and North America came to New Caledonia. European contact exposed the natives to many new diseases such as measles, smallpox, influenza, dysentery, syphilis and even leprosy. Hostilities arose between the Europeans and natives resulting in many clashes some ending with deaths.
After demand for sandalwood fell into decline, enslaving the natives became the next trade. Slaves were set to work on sugar cane fields in Queensland Australia as well as Fiji. This era of slavery ceased at the beginning of the 20th century.
The islands of New Caledonia became a French colony in 1853 and served as a French penal colony in 1864 to 1904.
The arrival missionaries in the 19th century changed the indigenous culture and eradicated many local traditions. Today the national population is 60% Roman Catholic and 30% Protestant.
Since 1985 the Front de Liberation Nationale Kanak Socialiste (FLNKS) continue to fight for independence from France. Their goal is to create a an independent state called 'Kanaky'. After much protest and scuffles, troubles peaked in 1988 with the taking of hostages. This led to agreements on more autonomy. Between 2014 and 2018, France will conduct a referendum to decide on full sovereignty and independence for New Caledonia.