Fiji Islands (Fee-jee), a British crown colony of the South Pacific Ocean, in 15° - 22° S. lat. and 176° E. - 178° W. long. Their nearest neighbours are the Tonga or Friendly Islands, 200 to 300 miles to the south-east; and they are about 700 from New Caledonia, 1100 from Auckland in New Zealand, 1700 from Sydney, and 4700 from San Francisco. The island of Rotumah, 250 miles N. by W., has been since 1881 included in the colony. The islands were sighted in 1643 by Tasman; and Turtle Island (or Vatoa), in the extreme south-east, was discovered by Cook in 1773; but the Fiji or Viti Archipelago was little known before the 19th century. In 1804 some escaped convicts from Australia are said to have settled here; in 1835 Wesleyan missionaries first came over from Tonga; and trade in beche-de-mer, sandalwood, etc, gradually led to a small white settlement. In 1858 the sovereignty of the islands was offered to Great Britain by the chief Thakombau; but it was not till 1874 that they were taken over. The governor is also H.M. Commissioner for the Western Pacific.
The Fiji Islands, over 200 in number, lie in a ring, open on the southern side. On the west and north are the two large islands of Viti Levu (4250 sq. m.) and Vanua Levu (2400), with a group of small islands and reefs outside them; and on the east there is a long string of small islands. The total area of the colony (including Rotumah) is 7435 sq. m., or about the same as Wales. Since 1882 the capital has been Suva, with a fine harbour, on the south coast of Viti Levu; till then Levuka, on the little island of Ovalau, off the east coast of Viti Levu, also possessing a good harbour, was the European capital. The Fiji Islands are of volcanic formation, the shape of the mountains (the highest of which attain 4500 feet) and the existence of hot springs testifying to volcanic agency; and they are surrounded by coral reefs, which act as natural breakwaters. They are well supplied with harbours, and have an abundant water-supply, a rich soil, and a climate which, though tropical and somewhat enervating to Europeans (who are subject to dysentery), is not unhealthy or extreme. They suffer, however, from the ravages of hurricanes, and earthquakes occasionally occur. Besides bananas, bread-fruit, cocoa-nut palms, etc, the products include sugar, grown with the help of Indian and Polynesian labour, maize, cotton, vanilla, tea, and coffee. The pop. in 1901 was 117,870, of whom 2440 were Europeans, and 94,000 native Fijians. They are in race akin to the Papuans, but an admixture of the lighter Polynesians has, especially in the eastern islands, leavened the native Melanesian breed. The Fijians were notoriously ferocious cannibals ; but now the Christian religion is almost universal in the islands, the adherents of the Wesleyans being estimated at over 100,000, and of the Roman Catholics at more than 10,000. The revenue, derived mainly from customs duties and native taxation, has varied from £65,000 in 1867 to £132,513 in 1902, in which last-mentioned year the expenditure amounted to £113,341. The exports have a total annual value of from £350,000 to £550,000; of imports from £250,000 to £350,000. Sugar, in spite of the depression of the industry, is far the most important export, and next to it in value come cocoa-nuts (mainly in the dried form known as copra) and fruit. The export of cotton has greatly diminished, but that of tea has increased. The trade, both import and export, is almost entirely with New South Wales, New Zealand, and Victoria.
See works by Seemann (1862), Forbes (1875), Home (1881), and Miss Gordon Cumming (1881).