The first written record of the existence of the Island was made in 1615. Captain William Mynors of the Royal Mary passed the Island and named it on Christmas day 25 December 1643.
The first recorded landing was in 1688 by a crew from the British buccaneer vessel, Cygnet, who were sent ashore by William Dampier in the vicinity of the Dales for water and timber. Although several landings were made in the following years, it was not until 1857 that an attempt was made by the crew of the Amethyst to explore the island. Their venture was limited by the inland cliffs and dense jungle.
The first extensive exploration was in 1887, when a small party from HMS Egeria reached the summit of Murray Hill. It was this party that collected the rock specimens of almost pure phosphate of lime that were to determine the future of the Island over the next century. In 1888 Christmas Island was declared part of the British Dominion as the result of pressure from two prospective entrepreneurs. George Clunies-Ross from the Cocos (Keeling) Islands wanted exploitation rights and John Murray, a Scottish scientist, wanted to mine phosphate. Mining began in 1899 around Phosphate Hill, and with only two short breaks has continued ever since.
On 1 January 1958, Christmas Island, which had until then been administered as part of the Colony of Singapore, became a separate colony. On 1 October 1958, sovereignty was transferred to Australia.
In 1980, Mr W.W. Sweetland was commissioned by the Government to investigate the future of the phosphate industry. In December 1985, following the recommendations of a Government working party on the future of Christmas Island, the operations of the Phosphate Mining Company of Christmas Island were transferred to the Phosphate Mining Corporation of Christmas Island. On 11 November 1987, citing diminishing resources and industrial unrest, the Government ceased mining and began winding-up the corporation. On 26 September 1990, a lease providing for limited phosphate mining was signed between the Government and a private company, Phosphate Resources Limited (PRL). A subsequent lease was signed in 1997 for a further 21 years. This operation was limited to previously mined areas and a condition of the lease is that no more primary rainforest be cleared.