Skip to Main Content

Pitcairn Islands Study Center

News - May 27, 2003

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]


PITCAIRN ISLANDS STUDY CENTER, Pacific Union College, Angwin, California USA.

Herbert Ford, 559-592-0980, 559-732-0313.


                        ANGWIN (Napa County) Calif., May 27, 2003—With virtual martial law now imposed on Pitcairn Island in the South Pacific Ocean, the director of an American research center has suggested that the island's inhabitants consider appealing to the United Nations for relief from what some are calling oppressive British governance.

                        Herbert Ford, director of the Pitcairn Islands Study Center located here, said that charges of sexual criminality against some Pitcairn men have brought in their wake gag orders, restrictions of civil liberties, and a thought control mentality.

                        According to Ford, there are currently four Ministry of Defense police officers, a Pitcairn police officer and a government-appointed representative keeping watch over every move of the fewer than 30 permanent inhabitants of the island. Two additional police officers arrived on May 23. Two New Zealand social workers, in whom few if any of the Pitcairners have any confidence, are also on the island.

                        In addition, an avalanche of confusing, restrictive ordinances has been issued by the island's New Zealand-based, British-appointed governor. Some of the ordinances adversely affect the cultural and traditional way of Pitcairn life, said Ford. "The disproportionally large military police contingent amounts to nothing less than martial law and a de facto military occupation of Pitcairn," said Ford. "The Island Council has also been de facto removed from power by the Governor."

                        Ford said he is suggesting that the Pitcairners consider appointing a representative who will present credentials at the United Nations in New York, and make a unilateral declaration of independence, due to the intolerable nature of present conditions on the island. That representative would ask other nations to recognize Pitcairn as a sovereign state. "This done, treaties can be made with France, the closest local 'power,' for military protection and health care," said Ford.

                        "The legal system and the governmental organs of Pitcairn are compromised, and the most logical way to correct the situation may be to declare unilateral independence from the oppressor. The people of Pitcairn can no longer have any confidence in British justice and government."

                        The present impasse has come after a three-years-long investigation of possible sexual criminality on Pitcairn purporting to have occurred from five to 40 years ago. Nine men, seven of whom are currently on Pitcairn, have been charged. Others, now living in New Zealand, are expected to be charged.

                        It is unclear if the offences cited were illegal if and when they were supposed to have been committed, due to changes that have been made to Pitcairn's laws through the years.

                        Pitcairn watchers also believe the charges constitute "selective prosecution" since sexual activity similar to that for which charges are being brought against the Pitcairners has also been engaged in by British Royal Engineers, British Royal Navy personnel, American governmental personnel, a United Kingdom physician, a New Zealand teacher, and an unknown number of persons from yachts that have called at the island. None of these people have been charged as the Pitcairners have.

                        Stemming from the charges is a law enacted by New Zealand, considered by many to be illegal, that Pitcairners can be tried in that country rather than on Pitcairn. Electronic equipment has been installed on Pitcairn to handle possible needs related to the charges.

                        A new, three-cell jail and other structures have been built on Pitcairn by government order rather than at the request of the Pitcairners, while requested infrastructure improvements have been ignored. All the construction is believed to be related to the criminal charges. The jail and judiciary facilities have been constructed on British government order by the same men (Pitcairners) who are to be tried and perhaps held in them.

                        "Hundreds of thousands of dollars have been spent by the British government to make ready for 'the Pitcairn trials,' while increasingly needed help for the Pitcairners remains unmet," said Ford.

                        There is now a feeling of "thought control" on Pitcairn, according to Ford.

                        "Being the open and hospitable people they are, the Pitcairners quite innocently recently invited the Ministry of Defense police to attend their Council meetings," said Ford.

                        "But that invitation was not made with any thought that from that moment on the police would not only attend but would also sit at the table with the Council members, eye-balling anyone who spoke out and, on many occasions, monopolizing the discussions themselves. This has contributed to the feeling that a police state exists."

                        The laws of Pitcairn have been revised twice in the past three years, and an avalanche of ordinances recently issued, all bringing the force of law to areas that have not been previously addressed, some of which aversely affect the traditions and culture of Pitcairn.

                        As but one example, Ford cited a new firearm regulation, "Possessing firearm when a trespasser on land," which carries a three month jail term and/or a fine of $900.

                        "Anywhere you go on tiny Pitcairn you are walking across someone else's land," Ford said. "If you do that and happen to have a rifle with you to shoot a rogue goat, or to drop a breadfruit from a tree, and your neighbor has a mad at you at the moment, he can declare you a "trespasser." You may or may not have ammunition in your rifle or on your person, but because you have the rifle in your hand you could well wind up in jail for three months, and also be fined $900. A $900 fine to a Pitcairner is an economically devastating matter.

                        "Pitcairners have carried .22 rifles for various domestic uses for close to a hundred years, never with criminal intent," according to Ford. "

                        Also, Pitcairn men have always had knives at their belts. When you need to cut a rope to release an island longboat in an emergency while the boat is tied to a ship in open ocean, you need that knife immediately, and it needs to be very sharp," said Ford.

                        "New Pitcairn laws are being written by people whose concepts are based on the harsh streets of metropolitan cities, not on little Pitcairn Island," Ford said. "Downtown Londoners, or people in Wellington, Sydney or Auckland; those who have written a whole family of new and confusing Pitcairn laws, have no concept of the practicalities of life on Pitcairn Island."

                        Pitcairn, located about midway between Panama and New Zealand, became the hideout of British seamen and their Polynesian companions in 1790. The seamen had earlier mutinied against Captain William Bligh on the British ship H.M.S. Bounty.

                        One mile wide by two miles long, Pitcairn is the smallest protectorate of the United Kingdom. It is administered by a British-appointed governor headquartered in Wellington, New Zealand.

                        Since 1977 the Pitcairn Islands Study Center, located on the campus of Pacific Union College in California's Napa Valley, has been a major source of information for scholars, journalists, researchers, authors, students and others about Pitcairn and "the mutiny on H.M.S. Bounty."