From its earliest days, the East India Company’s ships called at the South Atlantic island of St Helena on homeward voyages from Asia. They gathered supplies of fresh water, citrus fruits, meat and fish. Company ships also used St Helena as a place of rendezvous. It was safer to complete the final stage of the voyage with other vessels, especially in times of war.
Friar Rock on the island of St Helena - an immense pile of rocks rising perpendicularly eight hundred feet above the level of the sea. Image from St. Helena: a physical, historical, and topographical description of the island ... The botanical plates from original drawings by Mrs. J. C. Melliss (London, 1875) British Library Digital Store 10096.gg.15 BL flickr
In 1658 the Company decided to fortify St Helena and establish a colony. The first group of English settlers arrived in May 1659. Slaves were brought from West Africa to work on the plantations.
On 4 September 1672 a set of laws was issued: ‘Laws and Constitutions Ecclesiasticall Civill and Millitary made by the Councell to be observed by all the inhabitants of the Island St Hellena’.
The Laws were:
1 God was to be worshipped and served diligently. The guard at Fort St John was to attend morning and evening prayers at the toll of the bell, and all inhabitants were to attend church on Sunday unless prevented by necessity.
2 Sunday was to be kept holy and all were to refrain from cursing, swearing and excessive drinking.
3 To prevent idleness, every family was to have a plantation. They must not encroach on their neighbours’ lands or privileges.
4 Everyone was to look after their plantations, keep the ground well-fenced, ring their hogs, and improve the stock of cattle for the promotion of trade.
5 Inhabitants should endeavour to live in love and unity. Anyone bickering, brawling, or slandering neighbours would be severely punished.
6 No-one was to take revenge over a quarrel, instead going with witnesses to the Council for redress.
7 Every man was to live honestly and maintain himself and his family by careful labour and industry. The Council would punish anyone stealing from a neighbour.
8 Anyone found guilty of murder, burglary, buggery or any other capital crime would be shipped to England for trial and sentencing.
9 If debts were not settled on time, the Council would seize goods or cattle as payment.
10 Inhabitants were encouraged to build outside the Fort for the convenience of trade, and had permission to go on board English or friends’ ships.
11 Seamen were not to stay on the island without permission. Anyone harbouring a sailor would be fined £5. The sailor would be housed with the black slaves and work on the Company’s plantations until he could be returned to England,
12 Everyone capable of bearing arms was to respond to all alarms, with a 20s fine or a week’s imprisonment for each default.
13 The watch was to be observed continually and strictly when shipping approached. Each instance of neglect would be punished by a fine of 5s or another penalty decided by the Council.
14 Everyone was to go to Fort St John four times a year to be trained in martial discipline for the safety and defence of the island.
15 Anyone raising a mutiny or causing a disturbance of orderly government would be put in irons and sent home to the Company.
16 Anyone hearing of a plot, conspiracy or mutiny was liable to the same punishment as the perpetrators if they failed to alert the Council.
Lead Curator, East India Company Records
IOR/E/3/33 ff.153v-154 Laws to be observed by inhabitants of St Helena 4 September 1672
William Foster, ‘The Acquisition of St. Helena’, The English Historical Review July 1919, Vol. 34, No. 135, pp. 281-289.
St Helena settlers in 1667