British Western Pacific Territories

British Western Pacific Territories
Status Colonial entity
Capital Suva 1877–1952
Honiara 1952–1976
Common languages

English (official)

Fijian, Tongan
various Austronesian languages regionally
Government Constitutional monarchy, colony
High Commissioner  
Sir Arthur Hamilton-Gordon
Sir Donald Luddington
(23rd and final)
Chief Judicial Commissioner  
Sir John Gorrie
Sir Jocelyn Bodilly
(14th and final)
Historical era 19th and 20th Centuries
 Western Pacific Order in Council
13 August 1877 (1877-08-13) 1877
2 January 1976 (1976-01-02) 1976
Currency British pound sterling
Today part of  Cook Islands
 Pitcairn Islands
 Solomon Islands

The British Western Pacific Territories was the name of a colonial entity, created in 1877, for the administration, under a single representative of the British Crown, styled High Commissioner for the Western Pacific, of a series of Pacific islands in and around Oceania. Except for Fiji and the Solomon Islands, most of these colonial possessions were relatively minor.


The composition of the territories varied over time. The most durable members were Fiji (from 1877 to 1952) and the Solomon Islands (from 1893 to 1976). Between 1942 and 1945, the high commission was suspended. While most islands were under British military administration, the Solomon Islands and Gilbert Islands came under Japanese occupation.

The position of Western Pacific High Commissioner was formalised by the Western Pacific Order in Council 1877 by the Privy Council of the United Kingdom. Article 12 established a High Commissioner's Court for the Western Pacific.[1]

In 1952, Fiji was separated from the High Commission. Following this, the High Commissioner's post moved to Honiara in the Solomon Islands, and the High Commissioner was also the Governor of the Solomon Islands. The High Commissioner's Court, however, continued to meet in Suva, with the Chief Justice of Fiji continuing as Chief Judicial Commissioner for another decade, until 1962, when the two offices were separated. Under the Western Pacific (Courts) Order in Council, gazetted on 15 August 1961 and effective from 9 April 1962, the High Commissioner's Court was renamed the High Court of the Western Pacific and relocated to the Solomon Islands.[1] The court consisted of a Chief Justice (as the office of Chief Judicial Commissioner was renamed) and two puisne judges, one based in Port Vila, New Hebrides (now Vanuatu), and the other in Tarawa, Gilbert and Ellice Islands (now Kiribati and Tuvalu).

Most of the island groups had gained either independence or internal self-government by 1971. On 2 January 1976 after nearly all had been given separate statehood, the office of High Commissioner and the entity of the Pacific Territories were abolished. A remnant of the High Commission, however, was the right of appeal from the courts of many island nations to the Fijan Court of Appeal, which persisted into the late 1970s.[2] With the independence of Kiribati in 1980, all islands formerly a part of the Territories (except the Pitcairn Islands) had either gained independence or been attached to other entities.

In 2002 the archived records of this High Commission were transferred to New Zealand, and are now held in the Special Collections of the University of Auckland Library.[3]

Island groups

In Polynesia

  • Canton and Enderbury Islands (1939 to 1971) – now a part of Kiribati
  • Cook Islands (1893 to 1901) – 15 small islands, now a self-governing parliamentary democracy in free association with New Zealand
  • Savage Island, also known as "Rock of Polynesia" (1900 to 1901) – now Niue; presently a self-governing state in free association with New Zealand
  • Phoenix Islands (to 1939) The nearly uninhabited eight atolls are presently part of Kiribati
  •  Pitcairn Islands (1898 to 1952) – a current British overseas territory
  •  Tonga (1900 to 1952) – a native kingdom, independent since 1970
  • Union Islands (1877 to 1926) – now Tokelau, a dependent territory of New Zealand

In Micronesia

In Melanesia

See also

  1. 1 2 "Judicial System". Solomon Islands Historical Encyclopaedia 1893–1978. Solomon Islands Historical Encyclopaedia, 1893–1978, 2013. Retrieved 20 August 2015.
  2. Justice Gordon Ward (2005) Achieving effective legal representation in small Pacific island Commonwealth States Archived 31 March 2011 at the Wayback Machine.. Commonwealth Law Conference, London, September 2005
  3. "Western Pacific Archives". University of Auckland. Retrieved 2 February 2016.
  • WorldStatesmen
  • Deryck Scarr, Fragments of Empire. A History of the Western Pacific High Commission. 1877–1914, Canberra: Australian National University Press & London: C. Hurst & Co., 1967.
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