'Two-Fellow Government': The Condominium of the New Hebrides

George Woodcock describes how British and French officials jointly presided over the chain of Melanesian islands oddly named by Captain Cook after the Scottish west coast.

The most fruitless landfalls during the age of Spanish exploration and imperial greatness were those in the South Seas; yet, perhaps because of the preternatural luxuriance of the volcanic islands that the Iberian mariners discovered, they aroused extraordinary expectations. In the 1560s, Alvaro de Mendana sailed west from Peru in search of the southern continent that bemused all Pacific travellers until Cook established its non-existence two centuries later.

In 1568 he discovered the island of Santa Ysabel, and was convinced that he had found the mysterious land of Ophir, and to this day the archipelago into which he sailed bears the name he gave it, the Solomon Islands, though none of the gold he expected was ever found. It took Mendana almost a quarter of a century to persuade the Spanish authorities in Peru that his discovery was worth following up, but when in 1595 he finally did return, he missed the main islands of the Solomons entirely, and landed instead on outlying Santa Cruz, where the colony he attempted to establish was ruined by dissension; he himself died there in the year of discovery.

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