, a group of 11 volcanic islands that form part of French Polynesia, in the South Pacific Ocean. They lie 900 miles (1,450 km) northeast of Tahiti and have a land area of 492 square miles (1,274 km2). The largest island is Nuku Hiva. The capital, Atuona, is on Hiva Oa. Copra is the main export. Tobacco and vanilla also are exported. Herman Melville, who deserted his ship here in 1842, described his brief stay in the novels Typee and Mardi. The painter Gauguin lived here from 1901 until his death in 1903.
The southern Marquesas were discovered by Spaniards in 1595; the northern, by United States sailors in 1791. France annexed the islands in 1842. The natives suffered greatly from the diseases brought by foreigners. Between 1800 and 1930 the population dropped from some 100,000 to 1,600.