It is believed the island was named by Captain William Bligh who passed by on his epic journey from Tahiti to Batavia after he had been set afloat by the mutineers from the Bounty.
A government outpost was established on the island in 1877 and by 1883 over 200 pearling vessels were based around the island. One of the island's great curiosities is the Japanese cemetery (second only to the one in Broome) where hundreds of Japanese pearl divers are buried. Some of the graves are marked with stone and others with timber. Many of the graves are characterised by small receptacles to hold food for the spirits of the dead.
The fear of Russian invasion (which also left its mark on Cooktown) is recalled by a fort on Battery Point which was built in 1892 to protect the island.
Numerous experiments in tropical farming have been attempted on Thursday Island. In the 1950s the CSIRO attempted to establish a cultured pearl industry and in the 1970s there was an attempt to farm green turtles. Today the island is the administrative centre for the Torres Strait Islands and has a significant population of Torres Strait Islanders. The census in 1981 recorded an island population of 2283.
There is a poem which sums up the old image of Thursday Island. It is an anonymous composition which was probably written around the turn of the century:
Up in regions equatorial
Blessed with scenery piscatorial
Is an island known to fame
Pearlers live and pearling thrives there,
Coloured races live in hives there,
White men only risk there lives there,
Thursday Island is its name.