Skip to Main Content

Pitcairn Islands Study Center

History of Government and Laws

“The Development of the System of Government and Laws of Pitcairn Island From 1791 to 1971"
Printed in and taken from Laws of Pitcairn, Henderson, Ducie and Oeno Islands, Rev. Ed., 1971
By Donald McLoughlin, B.A., LL.B.

Much has been written, and is generally known, about the mutiny which took place on Her Majesty's Armed Ship "Bounty" on the 28th of April, 1789, and of the subsequent founding of the Pitcairn Island Community by mutineers from that vessel. Not such a great deal, however, has, been generally known until comparatively recently, concerning the subsequent development of that community, particularly as regards the establishment of its system of government and laws, although there are several excellent publications in which detailed references to this aspect of the Island's history are made. As the existing system of government and laws have now undergone a complete revision and overhaul to take account of current conditions on the Island this is perhaps an opportune time to look back over the history of the Island to determine just how and why the necessity for them arose and to review their development in the emerging years of this tiny community.

The development of any system of government and laws is dependent largely upon the nature of the people themselves, their origin and character, and environment as well as the degree of their association with the outside world. In the case of the Pitcairn Island community the most outstanding factors in the development of their system of government and laws have been their comparative isolation from the rest of the world and the impact on them of their various contacts with outsiders.

It is indeed lucky that over the years a number of visitors to the Island have given accounts of conditions that they found to exist there and in more recent years I have had the opportunity of working with the various officials who have been intimately concerned with and involved in the administration of the Island and its people. Without their guidance and assistance this account of the Island could not have been produced. I would accordingly like to record my appreciation for the assistance afforded to me by Messrs. J. B. Claydon, T. R. Cowell, K. R. Bain, W. Hull, F. E. M Warner, Dr. J. Harrie and Mr. E. Dymond, all of whom have been closely concerned with the administration of the Island since my visit there in 1958 and have lent valuable assistance to me in preparing the material for this account. I am also very grateful to Mr. T. R. Cowell and Mr. H. E. Maude, both now of the Australian National University for their most kind permission to make use of their own published accounts of Pitcairn Island and to Mr. Justice P. Raine of the Supreme Court of Papua New Guinea for making available to me the log book of his grandfather Captain Thomas Raine of the "Surrey," from which I was able to obtain a new look at some of the previously published accounts of the Island in its early years. I am also indebted to Sir Derek Jakeway, Sir Robert Foster and Sir Arthur Galsworthy, the three most recent Governors of the Colony of Pitcairn, Henderson, Ducie and Oeno Islands for their encouragement and assistance in the preparation of this account and making its publication possible. The majority of this account was the subject of two papers presented to the Fiji Society which were published in Volums X and XI of the Journal of that Society and I would like to record my appreciation to the Fiji Society for its kind permission to republish these papers in the form of this account.

On Pitcairn itself I am indebted to my many friends there who provided the background information and insight into the life of the Islanders which aroused my interest in carrying out the research which made the writing of this account possible. In this respect I can only pay especial tribute to Tom and Betty Christian; Warren and Millie Christian; Andrew Young; Roy and Hyacinth Clark; Christie Warren; and those two fine old figures, now regrettably passed on, namely Fred and Parkins Christian.

I must also express my deep appreciation to Mrs. Usha Patel, who has over the years faithfully transcribed my notes in the copy of this account.

Contact Study Center:

PHONE: 707-965-6244
TEXT:   707-229-1340

Contact Herb Ford:
PHONE: 559-592-0980 or

Live Online Chat


  [California Study Center]