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South Georgia: A Centenary of Good Government

17 July – 24 September 2008
See: Opening times for the exhibition and the MuseumSouth Georgia Postcard 12

South Georgia is a mountainous, glaciated island, about 170 km long, which lies in the Southern Ocean. It is home to large populations of seals, whales, penguins, albatrosses and other seabirds. Since its discovery over two centuries ago, the natural resources of South Georgia's seas have been exploited by sealers, whalers, and fishermen.

Although South Georgia was claimed for the British Crown by Captain Cook when he landed in 1775, the claim was not formally defined until Letters Patent were issued on 21 July 1908. South Georgia became part of the Falkland Islands Dependencies.

The Governor of the Falkland Islands during this period was William Allardyce, with Port Stanley as the administrative centre, and he soon appointed a resident Stipendiary Magistrate for South Georgia. The first Magistrate, James Innes Wilson, arrived on the island on 30 November 1909. His principal functions were to be a symbol of British occupation and uphold the authority of the Government. As well as being responsible for day-to-day administrative duties he was also the postmaster, deputy shipping master, deputy collector of customs, deputy receiver of wrecks, coroner and registrar. Overseeing the newly-established whaling industry was his most important task.

The centenary of the Letters Patent of 1908 is a resonant moment to consider the two major aspects of governing South Georgia:

1. Attempts to regulate the whaling industry, which failed, despite scientific input, when whaling went beyond British control.

2. Regulation of the modern fishery at South Georgia, which has been successful through the upholding of international agreements and basing regulations on good science.

The archival collections of the Scott Polar Research Institute include the official files of the Magistrate resident at Grytviken between 1909-1969. As with any archive there are gaps in the records, but those connected with the whaling and sealing activities appear to be complete. The Archives are public records and were deposited at the Scott Polar Research Institute under the terms of the Public Records Act 1958. They are an important account of government administration of a distant territory during the first half of the twentieth century.

For more information about consulting the South Georgia collection at the Scott Polar Research Institute in Cambridge please contact Miss Naomi Boneham – archives@spri.cam.ac.uk

Text and Design: Robert Burton and Dr Huw Lewis-Jones

Photographs © Scott Polar Research Institute

GSGSSI LogoExhibition panels sponsored by the South Georgia Association with support from the South Georgia Heritage Trust and the Government of South Georgia and the South Sandwich Islands

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