A group of islands in melanesia constituting a french overseas territory. The group includes new caledonia (the main island), ile des pins, loyalty island, and several other islet groups. The capital is noumea. It was discovered by captain cook in 1774 and visited by various navigators, explorers, and traders from 1792 to 1840. Occupied by the french in 1853, it was set up as a penal colony 1864-94. In 1946 it was made a french overseas territory. It was named by captain cook with the 5th and 6th century a.d. Latin name for scotland, caledonia.