The island group is named after the coconut (Cocos nucifera), which grew there in profusion, even before the deliberate planting of all of the southern atoll as a part of the Clunies Ross estate.
Captain William Keeling is believed to have been the first European to sight the islands in 1609 on his return from Bantam in the Dutch East Indies, on behalf of the East India Company. Despite knowledge of the islands for 200 years or more, it was not until the early nineteenth century that they were settled. Interest was taken in them because they lay on a trade route from Europe to the Far East.
On 6 December 1825, Captain John Clunies Ross, a Scottish trader sailing made a brief landing on the islands and he returned, with his family, in 1827 with the intention of commencing a settlement on the Islands. The Clunies Ross family, who became known as 'Kings of the Cocos', owned/occupied the islands for more than 150 years. In 1955 they became a Territory of the Commonwealth of Australia, and in 1978 Australia purchased all of the lands, excepting the family home, from the Clunies Ross family.
In 1984 through the United Nations supervised Act of Self Determination (ASD) the Cocos-Malay population voted to integrate with the Australian community. The Territory is now administered by the Australian Government.
Today there are about 470 Cocos-Malay people living in the kampong on Home Island. The population of Home Island is predominantly descended from the Malay workers brought to Cocos to work in the coconut plantations established by the Clunies Ross family in the 1830s. These Cocos-Malays have developed a unique culture based on Muslim beliefs and have colourful celebrations of events such as Hari Raya and weddings. Across the lagoon on West Island live about 100 people, mostly associated with various departments of the Australian Government.