History of Government and Laws, Part 10
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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Neill, Maude and the 1940 Regulations
The overall picture of the Pitcairn islanders which emerges from
the court records is that of a somewhat backward self-centered community
of individualists, with most of the failings, other than that of
addiction to liquor, to be found in any other isolated community
in other parts of the world but certainly not degenerate or lawless
as the observers during the early part of the century appear to
One cannot but feel, in relating to official records about the
island community, that the islanders were often the victims of snap
judgments based on a too short acquaintance with the people and
a feeling of frustration on the part of the reporting officials
of the islanders' failure to respond in practice to the well meaning
advice offered to them especially as they always appeared ready
to accept and act upon such advice at the time of offering. An example
of this is that despite Simons' confident expectations in 1904 of
the islanders developing on his advice an economy based on trade
with Mangareva in pigs, arrowroot and coffee, and although a trade
with Mangareva in arrowroot and fungers continued for
some years nothing was in fact done by the islanders to expand it
along the lines suggested by Simons(54). In fact the trade between Pitcairn
and Mangareva eventually lapsed and a completely different economy
In the period of virtual isolation from officialdom between 1913,
when visits by Royal Naval vessels to the island finally ceased,
and 1937 when Neill visited the Island, they developed an economy
of their own based, like the thriving economy of the 1840's, on
trade with visiting ships. Despite the haphazard state of their
own governmental and judicial affairs, the islanders set to without
any assistance from officialdom or their church to improve their
own economic lot with the result that by 1937 they had increased
their annual income from the 180 pounds a year estimated by Simons
in 1904 to the figure of between 1,800 and 2,000 pounds estimated
by Neill in 1937. This income was derived largely from the export
of oranges to New Zealand at the rate of some 2,000 cases a year,
supplemented by the sale and barter of other fruits and vegetables,
and of curios and basketware, to and with the crews and passengers
of passing vessels(55). With a total population then of some 209 people
comprising only 45 married couples this represented an average income
of 40 pounds per annum per family if one takes the number of married
couples as the basis for calculating the number of family units.
Undoubtedly the opening of the Panama Canal in 1914 and its increasing
use by vessels from the early nineteen twenties onwards was largely
responsible for the development of this trade and had a profound
influence on the life of the community not only in providing regular
sources of trade for them but also enabling a closer contact with
New Zealand, to which increasing numbers of Pitcairn islanders have
migrated either for short periods or, in a number of cases, permanently.
In addition the regular calls by merchant vessels on the England-New
Zealand run established firm bonds between the islanders and officers
and men of the British Merchant Service employed on those vessels
many of whose captains acquired a place in the minds of the islanders
even stronger than that enjoyed by the captains of the Royal Navy
vessels which had visited the island with some regularity prior
Thus, by 1937, the island community had established for themselves
a settled pattern of life and a deep attachment for their own system
of government which they had developed within the framework of the
1904 Constitution. Whilst the system was by no means perfect, and,
as the court records reveal, the laws were subject to some unusual
applications the islanders were satisfied with it on the whole as
suiting their needs.
So it was that J. S. Neill of the Western Pacific High Commission
reported in respect to an administrative visit paid by him to the
island in 1937
Surveying the situation briefly, I found the community work
of the people well performed and the people happy. In short I found
nothing which would necessitate a recommendation that the system
of government should be superseded or that it had broken down. The
community is a small one, and small troubles therefore, are magnified;
but whatever system of government exists in Pitcairn this smallness
of outlook is unlikely to change.(57)
In this realistic light Neillset to work to render the existing
system more effective without depriving it of its peculiar
and historic character, he proceeded to remedy the obvious
defects by drafting a legal code and rules of procedure for the
Island Court which, from the evidence provided by the court records,
was so lacking(58).
Neills draft code was a simple and practical effort to improve
on the existing system whilst keeping within its bounds as understood
by the islanders. Based on an understanding of the strengths and
weaknesses of the islanders, and their existing system of laws as
applied in practice, his efforts can only be commended as a major
step forward for the island. For the first time the practical functions
of the Island Council and the Court and their respective officials
were spelled out with a simplicity and conciseness capable of being
understood and applied by people unskilled in the niceties as had
a former High Commissioner Sir Cecil Rodwell, in 1921, the introduction
of a Pitcairn postal system with its own postage stamps. The implementation
of this recommendation was to have a most important effect in the
Island and its people in providing for the first time a local source
of public revenue which was to enable the provision of government
services on a scale never before thought possible(59).
Following Neills visit and report and his drafting of his
proposed simple code of laws, the Island was visited in 1940 by
Mr. H. E. Maude another experienced administrative officer of the
Western Pacific High Commission who implemented the introduction
with some modifications of Neills draft code of laws as well
as the first Pitcairn stamp issue and its postal system.
Maude, whilst perhaps not at first sharing Neills broader
approach to the local situation on the Island, had a wide understanding
of the problems involved and set to work to discuss Neills
draft code with the islanders. In the result, he produced a modified
version acceptable in all respects to the Island Council and the
people(60). He had undoubtedly a most difficult task in obtaining the
acceptance by the islanders of Neills draft, even in modified
form, in the light of their resistance to changes, and was particularly
successful in his efforts. Not only did he succeed in establishing
the new code of laws to the satisfaction of the islanders but he
also effected a complete reorganization of the office of the Government
Secretary and carried out a comprehensive programme of training
for the local staff on the Island. Also with the aid of Mr. A. C.
Fuller of the Fiji Posts and Telegraphs Department he established
the new postal system and inaugurated the first Pitcairn Island
stamp issue, and, consequent upon the revenue arising from the sale
of postage stamps, established a carefully worked out system of
payments of local officials for their services(61). Maude's work on
the Island, and his continued dedicated interest in the island and
its people can only be described as a most significant contribution
to the establishment of modern Pitcairn.
The new code of laws introduced by Maude and known as the Pitcairn
Island Regulations, 1940, comprised a complete codification of,
and vas improvement on, the existing laws set out in more readily
understandable terms with concise provisions relating to the election
of local officials, the powers, functions and procedures of the
Island Council and the institution and conduct of cases before the
Court. In addition to the jurisdiction formerly held, provision
was also made for the conduct of fire inquiries, the annual inspection
of land marks, the registration of births, deaths and marriages
and for the maintenance of illegitimate children as a distinct subject
of its own unrelated to any other of the penal provisions of the
The offences set out in the regulations are expressed in a more
readily understandable form. The old Law 2 was now abandoned, whilst
Laws 4 and 5, which had caused so much difficulty in interpretation
by the Island Court, were replaced by two simple regulations prohibiting
respectively, adultery and unmarried couples living together, for
the first time. The regulations were expressed in simple terms more
capable of being understood by the islanders and were also based
on similar concepts to those on which the laws applicable to other
Pacific Island territories were based. For instance the old Law
10 which read, Any person committing a breach of the peace,
such as striking or abusing his wife, striking any person either
which his fist or with any weapon, save in self-defence, and all
other offences not provided for that may disturb the peace of the
community, shall on conviction, be fined from 10/- to 5 pounds,
according to the gravity (seriousness of the offence) was replaced
by several simple regulations creating the offences of using abusive
or threatening language, using profane or obscene language in a
public place and indecent behaviour in a public place(62).
On his return to the Island in 1944, Maude was able to report
a marked improvement in conditions on the Island since his previous
visit and that the new constitution and code of laws appeared to
have proved itself and to be a distinct success. Although comments
and criticisms were invited at both a general assembly of the community
and a meeting of the Island Council, no criticisms were offered
and in fact the only comments received were favourable(63).
By 1950, however, the situation appears to have deteriorated again
from the account of Mr. H. A. C. Dobbs a Deputy Commissioner of
the Western Pacific High Commission, who visited the Island for
a period of several weeks in the months of February and March of
that year. He summed up the situation in the following terms:--
As a result of these various contacts, official and unofficial,
formal and informal, I formed the following general conclusions
regarding the state of affairs on the island:--
- the tendency to form factions and feuds which has been commented
upon by nearly all outside observers has certainly not diminished;
if anything, it is on the increase;
- the Maude Constitution is not being properly observed, council
meetings are haphazard and disorderly, public meetings are rare;
- the policemen do not investigate cases and court cases are
- rules about women visiting ships are not enforced, and the
behaviour of islanders on the ships is often deplorable. . .
Dobbs principal recommendations were that the power of appointment
of the police officers should be transferred from the Island Council
to the High Commissioner; the appointment of an Inspector
of Police; the re-building of the Island Goal; the appointment
of an assistant to the Island Secretary; and an increase in the
number of visits by administrative officers from the Western Pacific
High Commission. In the result it would appear that there was in
fact no real defect to be found in the 1940 Regulations established
by Maude but that the deterioration referred to by Dobbs was really
due to the lack of any real source of guidance for the islanders
in the administration of their affairs.
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(54) Simons, p. 8 and Maude I, p. 95. Fungers is the Pitcairn name for an edible fungus which grows on trees on the islands of the Pacific and for which an export market exists in China.
(55) Neill, pp. 8-9. In addition to the orange exports shall quantities of fungers were exported to New Zealand until 1932.
(56) Neill, p. 26.
(57) Neill, p. 27.
(58) Neill, p. 13.
(59) Neill, p. 24. Also see Cowell, p. 47 for details of the revenue obtained from this source between 1957 and 1962. The average amount received each year being £9,065.
(60) See Maude II, para. 2. Maudes view of the local situation was much less glowing than that of Neill as regards the state of affairs which he found existing on the island.
(61) See Maude II, para. 17. The range of salaries varied from £36 per annum for the Chief Magistrate to £6 per annum each for the 2 assessors and for the 2 members of the Internal Committee.
(62) Regulations 59, 60, 61, 62, 63 and 64.
(63) Maude II, 1944 report, p. 5.
(64) Dobbs, p. 7.
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