In 1708, Captain John Roberts was appointed by the East India Company to replace the recently deceased Captain Stephen Poirier as Governor of St Helena, a remote but commercially significant island in the South Atlantic. Upon taking up the post, Roberts and the island’s council received orders from the directors of the company, reminding them to ‘take Effectuall care’ that ‘the Old Standing constitutions, which are as it were the Magna Carta of the Island, be religiously preserved & maintained’. The orders form part of a compilation of laws and ordinances sent to St Helena by the East India Company, which since 1683 had provided the island with a complete ‘System of Laws and Constitutions’. Introducing trial by jury and due process, the laws were influenced by, and regularly compared to, Magna Carta; that association was consciously nurtured by the company, which presented the laws as the basis of a fundamental and independent constitution for St Helena.
- Article by:
- Zoë Laidlaw
The British Empire lasted more than 300 years and spanned the globe. During this time, Magna Carta was used by imperialists to justify global ambition and by indigenous people to demand liberty and justice. Dr Zoe Laidlaw considers the significance of Magna Carta in relation to imperialism.