Melanesian people originally settled in Vanuatu. A Spanish expedition headed by Portuguese navigator Fernandes de Queirós landed on the biggest island in 1606 as the first Europeans to explore the islands. As the Portuguese and Spanish monarchies were unified under the king of Spain in 1580 (following the vacancy of the Portuguese throne, which lasted sixty years until 1640, when the Portuguese monarchy was restored), Queirós claimed the archipelago for Spain, as part of the colonial Spanish East Indies, and named it La Austrialia del Espritu Santo.
France and the United Kingdom claimed portions of the archipelago in the 1880s, and in 1906 they agreed on a framework for jointly administering the archipelago as the New Hebrides through a British–French Condominium. In the 1970s, an independence movement developed, and the Republic of Vanuatu was established in 1980.