Pitcairn's Constitution

Pitcairn's Constitution

George Hunn Nobbs (1799-1884) was born on 16 October 1799 in Ireland, allegedly the illegitimate son of the Marquis of Hastings. Nobbs's childhood was spent near Yarmouth and in 1813 a family friend, Admiral Robert Murray, procured him a position in the navy. The years that followed were an interesting mix of naval service. They included six years with South American patriots fighting the royalists; commission as a lieutenant in the Chilean navy; merchant service to West Africa as chief mate and then captain of the Gambia and finally, following a recommendation from his dying mother, he sailed to Pitcairn island with an American, Noah Bunker, in his 18-ton cutter.

Landing on 5 November 1828 they were welcomed by John Adams, the aged patriarch who had largely handed over the spiritual and temporal care of his community to the Bristol shipwright, John Buffett. Though Buffett had been five years on Pitcairn, Nobbs's superior education and stronger character enabled him to assume the position as pastor and schoolteacher, albeit not without friction, which continued after Adams's death four months later.

Constitution datestampOn 18 October 1829 Nobbs married Sarah, granddaughter of Fletcher Christian. Then in in 1831, following earlier requests from Adams, the islanders were removed to Tahiti with Nobbs reluctantly accompanying them. Sickness and deaths saw the Pitcairners return to their island with the help of Captain William Driver of the Charles Dogett but soon after anarchy and drunkenness followed.

In 1832 Joshua Hill arrived on Pitcairn (claiming to be a representative of the British government) and succeeded in supplanting Nobbs as pastor and teacher and in March 1834 forced him to leave the island. He thereupon settled as a missionary on Mangareva until, with Hill's fraudulent exposure, the community requested him to return, which he did in October 1834.

Nobbs was officially ordained in 1852 and in 1856 joined the community in their migration to Norfolk Island. He decided to remain on Norfolk until his death in 1884 leaving a widow, 10 children, 65 grandchildren and 19 great-grandchildren.

Russell Eliott (1802-1881) was the seventh son of Sir William Eliott, 6th Baronet of Stobs in Roxburghshire, Scotland. He entered the Royal Navy in 1814 as a volunteer onboard HMS Stork, moving to the HMS Favourite in 1817 as a midshipman and serving in St Helena, the Brazils and Newfoundland. His service record that followed showed time served in the West indies on ten different vessels rising to Captain in 1829. Returning home in 1830 he married Bethia Bart, eldest daughter of Sir William Russell Bart and raised four children. He was called back to duty in 1836 and joined HMS Fly as Commander, later becoming Captain and was occupied on ‘secret service’ amongst the South Sea islands including Pitcairn. His service ended in 1839 and he had no further command or postings. His interest turned to railways and politics where he became a prominent liberal.

The flag ranks indicate that he was eventually appointed as a Rear Admiral in 1857, a Vice Admiral in 1864 and rose in the retired list to full Admiral in 1869.He died in Appleby Castle in Westmorland in 1881.

The Constitution

The community’s experience with Joshua Hill and increasing visits from troublesome American whalers brought the islanders to recognise their need for stability and protection. The visit of the HMS Fly was timely as Captain Russell Eliott was able to work with George Nobbs to draw up a brief constitution and a code of laws selected from those already in force. A Magistrate (who must be native-born) was to be elected annually and assisted by a council of two members. Pitcairn’s Constitution, signed onboard the HMS Fly on 30 November 1838, incorporated Pitcairn into the British Empire and included two notable firsts in British legislation : female suffrage and compulsory schooling.

It is interesting to note that Pitcairn Islanders date their formal incorporation into the British Empire as 1838 rather than their appointment as a British Settlement under the British Settlements Act of 1887.

Pitcairn's Constitution FDC

Pitcairn's Constitution as drafted by George Nobbs and Captain Russell Eliott
Please Note: All prices are in New Zealand Dollars
Stamp strip
Gutter pair
Block of four
Full sheet of eight strips
FDC with stamps

Technical Details

Lucas Kukler, Bangkok, Thailand

Pitcairn Stamps
proudly brought
to you by:

Bounty Post
Printer: Southern Colour Print, Dunedin, New Zealand

Process: Offset Litho
Stamp size: 48.00 mm x 38.12 mm vertical
Format: Two panes each of 4 strips with centre gutter
Denominations: $3.00 x 2
Paper: 103gsm Tullis Russell Yellow/Green phosphor gummed stamp paper

Period of Sale:
5 April 2018 for a period of 2 years

Acknowledgement: The Philatelic Bureau wishes to thank Graham Ford (UK) for his assistance in providing images and historical text regarding Russell Eliott.