Hubble Space Telescope images of a sample of 285 galaxies with measured redshifts from the Canada-France Redshift Survey (CFRS) and Autofib-Low Dispersion Spectrograph Survey (LDSS) redshift surveys are analysed to derive the evolution of the merger fraction out to redshifts z∼1. We have performed visual and machine-based merger identifications, as well as counts of bright pairs of galaxies with magnitude differences δm≤1.5 mag. We find that the pair fraction increases with redshift, with up to ∼20 per cent of the galaxies being in physical pairs at z∼0.75–1. We derive a merger fraction varying with redshift as ∝(1+z)3.2±0.6, after correction for line-of-sight contamination, in excellent agreement with the merger fraction derived from the visual classification of mergers for which m=3.4±0.6. After correcting for seeing effects on the ground-based selection of survey galaxies, we conclude that the pair fraction evolves as ∝(1+z)2.7±0.6. This implies that an average L* galaxy will have undergone 0.8–1.8 merger events from z=1 to z=0, with 0.5 to 1.2 merger events occuring in a 2-Gyr time-span at around z∼0.9. This result is consistent with predictions from semi-analytical models of galaxy formation. From the simple coaddition of the observed luminosities of the galaxies in pairs, physical mergers are computed to lead to a brightening of 0.5 mag for each pair on average, and a boost in star formation rate of a factor of 2, as derived from the average [O ii] equivalent widths. Mergers of galaxies are therefore contributing significantly to the evolution of both the luminosity function and luminosity density of the Universe out to z∼1.