An island country in the western Indian Ocean north of Madagascar. Previously uninhabited, the islands were explored by Vasco da Gama in the early 1500s and colonized by the French in the mid-1700s. They were taken by the British in 1794, and Britain gained permanent control of them in 1814. The Seychelles were a crown colony from 1903 until 1975, when they became self-governing. Independence as a Commonwealth nation was achieved in 1976. Victoria, on Mahé Island, is the capital.