The Australs were the last of the Polynesian islands to be settled; the first arrivals were believed to have come from Tahiti between AD 1000 and AD 1300. The islands came to European attention during the second half of the 18th century.

Apart from a colourful chapter in the Bounty saga, when the mutineers unsuccessfully tried to establish themselves on Tubuai, contact with Europeans and the Western world was limited until the late 19th and 20th centuries. This long period, during which English missionaries (or more frequently their native representatives) held sway, has ensured that Protestantism remains strong to this day.