Primary Documents

Western Charter of 1634

King William's Act of 1699

Gov. Osborn's Commission, 1729

Palliser's Act, 1775

Judicature Act, 1791

Judicature Act, 1792

Judicature Act, 1824

Royal Charter, 1825








Western Charter of 1634
Reproduced from Keith Matthews. Collection and Commentary on the Constitutional Laws of the Seventeenth Century Newfoundland. (Memorial University of Newfoundland: Maritime History Group, 1975) pp. 71-75.

Charles R

Charles by the grace of God Kinge of England Scotland ffraunce and Ireland Defendor of the faith. To all to whome these pntes shall come Greetinge Whereas the Region of Country called Newfoundland hath beene acquired to the Dominion of our Progenitors which wee hould and our people have many Yeares resorted to those partes where, and in the Coastes adioyninge, they imployed themselves in fishing whereby a greate number of our people have been set on worke, and the Navigation, and Marriners of our Realme hath ben much increased, AND our Subjects resorting thither on by the other,*[sic] and the Natives of those partes, were orderlie and gentilie intreated* [sic] vntill of late some of our Subjectes of the Realme of England plantinge themselves in that Country, and there residinge, and inhabitinge, vpon conceipt, that for wronge or Iniuries done there, either on the Shoare, or in the Sea adioyninge, they cannot be here impeached, and the rather for that wee, or our Progenitors have not highervnto given lawes to the Inhabitantes there; and by that example our Subjectes resortinge thither iniure one another, and vse all manner of excesse, to the greate hinderance of the voyage, and comon damage of this Realme ffor preventinge such inconveniencies hereafter, wee doe hereby declare in what manner our people in Newfoundland, and vpon the Sea adioyninge, and the Bayes, Creekes, or freshe Rivers there shalbe guided and governed Doe make and ordeyne the lawes followings in the thinge after specified, comaundinge that the same bee obeyed and put in execution.

First if any man on the land there shall kill another, or if any shall secretly or forceablie steale the goodes of any other to the value of fforty shillinges, hee shalbe forthwith apprehended and arrested, detayned and brought Prisoner into England, and the cryme committed by him, shalbe made knowne to the Earle Marshall of England for the tyme beinge to whom the deliquent shalbe delivered as Prisoner, And the said Earle Marshall shall take Cognizance of the cause, And if hee shall finde by the Testimonie of two witnesses or more that the partie had killed a man not beinge at that tyme first assaulted, by the party slayne, or that the killing were by misadventure, or had stolen such goodes, the deliquent shall suffer paine of death, and all the company shall endeavor to apprhend such malefactors.

Secondly, That noe Ballast, Prestones, or any thinge els hurtefull to the Harbours bee throen out, to the preiudice of the said Harbours, but that it bee carried ashoare, and layed where it may not doe annoyance.

Thirdly That noe person whatsoever either ffishermen or Inhabitantes doe destroy, deface, or any way worke any spoyle or detriment to any Stage Cooke-roome, fflakes, Spikes, Nayles or any thinge else, that belongeth to the States whatsoever, either at the ende of the voyage when he hath done and is to departe the Country, or to any such Stages as he shall fall w'hall at his cominge into the Country, but that hee or they content themselves with such Stage or Stages only as shalbe needeful for them, And that for the repayringe of such Stages as hee or they take, they shall fetch Tymber out of the Woodes, and not to doe it with the ruininge, or tearinge downe of other Stages.

Fowerthly that accordinge to the auncient custom everie Shipp or ffisher that first entreth a Harbour in behalf of the shipp, bee Admirall of the said Harbour wherein for the time beinge hee shall reserve only so much Beach and fflakes or both as is needefull for the number of Boates that he shall vse with an overplus only for one Boate more then hee needeth as a priviledge for his first cominge, And that everie Shipp cominge after, content himselfe with what hee shall have necessarie vse for, without keepinge or deteyninge any more, to the prejudice of o thers next cominge, And that any that are possessed of severall places in severall Harbours with intent to keepe them all before they can resolve upon which of them to choose, shalbe bound to resolve, and send advise to such after comers in those places as expect his resolucon, And that within forty eight howers if the weather so serve, that the said after comers may likewise choose their places, and so none receiue p'iudice by others delayes.

Fiftly,* [sic] That noe person cut out, deface, or anyway alter or change the markes of any Boates or Trayne fattes whereby to defraud the right owners, and that noe person convert to his owne vse the said Boates or Traynfattes so belonginge to others w'hout their consentes, nor remove nor take them from the places where they bee left by the Owners, Escept in case of necessitie, And then to give notice thereof to the Admirall, and others whereby the right owners may knowe what is become of them.

Sixtly * [sic] That noe person doe diminish, take away, purloine, or steale any of the fishe on Trayne, or Salt which is put in Caskes, Travne fattes or Cooke-rome* [sicl or other house in any of the Harbours of fishinge places of the country, or any other provision belongings to the fishinge trade, or the Shippes.

Seaventhly That noe person set fire in any of the woodes of the Country or worke any detriment or destruction to the same, by Ryndings of the Trees, either for the seelinge of Shippes, houldes, or for Roomes on Shoare, or for any other vses, Except for the coverings of the Roofes for Cookeroomes to dresse their meate in, and those Roomes not to extend above sixteene foote in length at the most.

Eightlie, * [sic] That noe man cast Anchor or ought else hurtfull, wch may breede annoyance, or hinder the haleinge of Seanes * [sic] for baite in places accustomed therevnto.

Nynthlie, That noe p'son robb the Nettes of others out of any drifte boate, or drover for baite by night, nor take away any baite out of their fishing boates by their Shipps sides, nor robb or steale any of their Nettes, or anie parte thereof.

Tenthly That noe person doe set vp any Taverne for sellinge of wyne Beere, or stronge waters Cyder or Tobacco, to entertayne the fishermen, because it is found that by such meanes they are debauched, neglectinge thar labors and poore illgoverned men not only spend most part of their shares before they come home, vpon wch the life and maintenance of their wife and Children depende but are likewise hurtfull in divers other waies, as by neglectinge and makinge themselves vnfit for their labour by purloyninge and stealinge from their owners, and by makinge vnlawfull shiftes to supply their disorders and which disorders they frequently followe since those occons have presented themselves.

Lastly That upon the Sondaies the Company assemble in meete places and have devine service to bee said by some of the Masters of the Shippes or some others, which prayers shalbe such as are in the Booke of Comon Prayer.

And because that speedie punishment may bee inflicted vpon the Offendors against those lawes and Constitucons, Wee doe ordaine, that everie of the Maiors of Southampton Weymouth and Melcombe Regis, Lyme, Plymouth, Dartmouth, Eastlowe, ffoye, and Barnestaple for the tyme beinge may take cognizans of all complayntes, made by any offender against anie of these Ordinances vpon the land, and by oath of witnesses examine the truth thereof, award amendes to the parties greeved, and punishe the delinquentes by fine imprisonment, or either of them, and of their goodes found in the partes of Newfoundland, or in the Sea, cause satisfaction thereof to bee made by warrantee vnder their handes and Seales.

And the Viceadmiralles in our Countries of Southampton, Dorsett, Devon and Dornewall vpon complaints made of any of the premisses committed vpon the Sea shall speedily and effectually proceeds against the Offendors.

Also wee will and ordeyne, that these lawes and ordinances shall stand in force, and be put in due execution, vntill wee shall other-wise provide and ordaine.

And wee doe require the Admirall in everie harbour in this next Season ensuinge callings together, such as shalbee in that Harborough* [sic] publiquelie to proclayme these presentes, And that they also pro-clayme the same on the Shore.

In witness &c.







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