Vanuatu occupies the group of islands formerly known as the New Hebrides, in the south-western Pacific Ocean. Many of the northern islands have been inhabited by Melanesian peoples for at least 3,000 years. The islands which comprise the Republic of Vanuatu were first discovered in 1606 by the Portuguese. They were rediscovered by the French in 1768 and charted and named the New Hebrides by Captain Cook in 1774. Captain Bligh and his companions, cast adrift by the Bounty mutineers, sailed through part of the island group in 1789. Sandalwood merchants and European missionaries came to the islands in the mid 19th century and were then followed by cotton planters—mostly French and British—in 1868.
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