History of Government and Laws, Part 5
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.
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Removal to Norfolk Island
Whilst enjoying a standard of living comparable at least to that
of most other Colonial settlers elsewhere, the population was also
steadily increasing. Rising to 156 in 1850, it reached a total of
187 by 1855. In view of the smallness of the Island and the shortage
of arable land on it, fears began to be expressed as to the Islanders
capability of maintaining their new found standard of living indefinitely
and consideration was again given to the possibility of their removal
to a larger island capable of providing sufficient land for all
and of enabling the maintenance of their then living standards.
Nobbs becaming anxious on this score had written in 1847 to General
Williams, British Consul-General for the Pacific Islands in Hawaii
seeking his assistance in finding a new home for the Pitcairn community(26).
As a result of inquiries made by General Williams, offers of land
were received from both the King of Hawaii and the Queen of Huahine.
Both of these offers were, however, rejected by the Pitcairn Islanders
who with the memory of the Tahitian interlude still strong amongst
them insisted that if they were to be moved it must be to an uninhabited
At this time considerable feeling was aroused in England and Australia
concerning the continuation of the convict settlement on Norfolk
Island off the coast of Australia. With the possibility of that
settlement being abandoned leaving that island uninhabited, consideration
began to be given to it as a possible new home for the Pitcairn
Island Community. Having as a result of inquiries made by Sir William
Denison, Governor of New South Wales, satisfied themselves as to
the suitability of Norfolk Island for that purpose and a decision
being made to close the convict settlement there, the English authorities
proceeded to make inquiries of the Pitcairn Island community as
to whether Norfolk Island was acceptable to them, as their future
home. An opportunity for this occurred in May 1853, when Admiral
Moresby, the Commander in Chief of the Pacific Station of the Royal
Navy, visited Pitcairn Island.
Although of the opinion that Pitcairn Island could, if properly
cultivated, support a much larger population, Moresby came to the
conclusion that their removal would have to be made at some time
in the future if their then standard of living was to be maintained.
As a result of Moresbys discussions with them, and on his
advice, the Islanders, through the Chief Magistrate, requested that
he solicit the aid of the British Government in transferring them
to Norfolk Island, or to some other appropriate place. Being assured
both as to the desire of the Pitcairn Island community to removed
to Norfolk Island and the suitability of that Island for their occupation,
the consent of the British authorities was given to their removal
from Pitcairn to Norfolk Island and in 1855 Captain Freemantle was
sent by Governor Denison on H.M.S. Juno to inform the
Pitcairn Islanders of that decision. Upon receipt of this news the
Pitcairn Island community was again divided over the question of
removal. The majority were in favour of the move but a minority
group elected to remain on Pitcairn. However, on the arrival of
the transport Morayshire at Pitcairn Island in April
1856, for the purpose of transporting the community to Norfolk Island,
as in the case of the decision to remove to Tahiti, the community
spirit prevailed and when that vessel sailed for Norfolk Island
on the 3rd day of May, 1856, the entire community , comprising 194
persons in all, sailed on her(27).
Arriving at Norfolk Island on the 8th of June, 1856, the majority
of the Pitcairn Islanders soon settled down, appreciating the material
advantages which they had gained from the move, namely the availability
of considerably more land, hundreds of acres of which were already
under cultivation and well stocked with domestic animals, good stone
houses ready for their own occupation, good roads, a climate at
least equable as that of Pitcairn Island and ready access to, and
communication with, the outside world. A minority, however, were
not content with their lot and longed to return to Pitcairn. The
principal reasons for this unrest appear to have been nostalgia,
coupled with uncertainty as to their future on Norfolk Island, especially
as regards the distribution of land there(28).
The Pitcairn Islanders appear to have been under the belief that
on their arrival the whole of Norfolk Island was to be granted to
them and that they would be able to cultivate it on the same community
basis as they had Pitcairn Island. In 1857, however, Governor Denison
directed that the head of each family should be permitted to select
an allotment of not more than 50 acres. The balance of the land
on the Island was (presumably) to be retained by the Crown, and
held with a view to future distribution as and when required. Although
not happy with this direction the Pitcairn Islanders complied with
it and the majority appear to have accepted it. Two families, however,
did not, and determined to return to Pitcairn Island. They were
the families of Moses and Mayhew Young. On the 2nd of December,
1858, together with their wives and families they sailed for Pitcairn
Island on the schooner Mary Anne reaching there on the
17th of January, 1859. Of this party of sixteen persons, twelve
were children and only four were males, and, the wife of Mayhew
Young being the former widow of Matthew McCoy, six of the children
were in fact McCoys. Despite the smallness of the party and the
predominance of children in it, they soon settled down on the Island
and set to work repairing the ravages which had resulted from nearly
three years of abandonment and neglect.
The Beginnings of Modern Pitcairn
The new life on Pitcairn was considerably different from that
which the Islanders had enjoyed prior to their departure for Norfolk,
but as there was plenty of land for all they soon settled down to
a not uncomfortable existence. As a result of publicity given to
a visit to the Island by H.M.S. Charybdis in October,
1862, a further four of the families on Norfolk Island decided to
return to Pitcairn Island also. This group of twenty-seven persons
contained Simon Young, his wife and eight children and his mother
Hannah; Thursday October Christian, his wife and nine children together
with his mother-in-law, Elizabeth Young, who was also the mother
of Mayhew Young of the first party: Robert Buffett and his wife
and a young American sailor named Samuel Warren and his wife who
was a daughter of Thursday October Christian(29).
This party sailed from Norfolk Island by the schooner St.
Kilda on the 15th of December, 1863, and arrived at Pitcairn
Island on the 2nd of February, 1864. With their arrival the population
of Pitcairn was increased to a total of forty-three persons, just
under a quarter of the number that had sailed for Norfolk Island
in 1856. They were the founders of modern Pitcairn and, apart from
a handful of further strangers who have since settled on the Island
constituted the forebears of the existing Pitcairn population. Of
these the lineages of Buffet and McCoy were to die out leaving only
those of Young, Christian and Warren on the Island today.
The fact that the Island was abandoned for almost three years
coupled with the decline of the American whaling industry had the
result that very few ships then called at the Island and the old
thriving fruit and vegetable trade which, whilst revived, never
really recovered. In place of the former market economy the new
Pitcairn Island community was reduced to the subsistence economy
which had prevailed in the pre 1840's. As regards the system of
government and laws this was allowed to lapse until after the return
of the second party in 1864, when the 1838 Constitution and laws
were revived and Thursday October Christian was elected as the first
Chief Magistrate with Moses and Mayhew Young as the two councillors(30).
The only substantial change from the system in force in 1856 was
a revision to the former practice of convening meetings of heads
of families only instead of general assemblies. In the absence of
any strong leader and with the reversion to a subsistence economy
the Island community settled down to a period of virtual stagnation
from which it was to take them many years to emerge. The vessels
now calling at the Island were mostly occasional steamers carrying
passengers between California and Panama with the result that there
was little demand for fresh provisions but there was some demand
for Pitcairn Island curios, from the sale of which the Islanders
gained a small but intermittent income(31).
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(26) Maude I, p. 77-8.
(27) See Maude I, pp. 77-9 and Young, 118-136
for more detailed accounts.
(28) Young, pp. 137-8 and Maude I, p. 80 and Maude,
Aleric, pp. 106-7. See also Murray, pp. 352-3 on this aspect and
Governor Denisons reasons for his actions.
(29) See Young, pp. 156-172 for a detailed account
of the return by the second party; also Maude I, pp. 80-81.
(30) Maude 2, p. 84.
(31) Maude I, p. 82.
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