Corporate entry: British Solomon Islands Protectorate, Administration


Between 1893 and 1953 the British Solomon Islands Protectorate was administered by the High Commissioner for the Western Pacific High Commission, based in Suva, Fiji. In 1953 the High Commissioner moved his headquarters to Honiara, and in 1974 the title was changed from High Commissioner to Governor of the Solomon Islands because no other territories remained to administer. Before 1953 the local representative was called the Resident Commissioner. The first Resident Commissioner, Charles Woodford, arrived in the Protectorate in late 1896, based at Gavutu and then Tulagi. Before that, the only administration was through Royal Naval captains who held positions as Deputy Commissioners of the Western Pacific High Commission. The next level down was the Resident Magistrate, sometimes termed a District Magistrate, but in 1914 both titles were replaced by 'District Officer'. The first extension of the government stations network was to Gizo Island (1899), followed by the Shortland Islands (1907), on Malaita at Rarasu (now called Auki) in 1909, a temporary base at Masi, Marovo Lagoon, New Georgia (1910), and at Aola on Guadalcanal (1914). In 1918 stations were opened at Makira (San Cristoval) and Isabel (often called Ysabel in the early years, which was transferred from German New Guinea to the BSIP in 1900), and then in 1923 at Peu on Vanikolo to administer the new Santa Cruz District and on Savo and in the Nggela Islands (separate from Tulagi). By 1934, there were eight administrative areas, each with at least one District Officer and sometimes additional officers: Mala (Malaita), Guadalcanal, Gizo, Shortlands, Isabel and Russell, Eastern Solomons, Santa Cruz, and Tulagi. (BSIP Handbook 1911, 21; AR 1925-1926, 5, AR 1934, 4)

Until 1921, the Resident Commissioner was the sole local authority, although he was always answerable to the High Commissioner and ultimately to the British Colonial Office. The High Commissioner made laws in the form of Queen's and then King's Regulations under powers conferred by the Pacific Order in Council 1893. Then, on 25 April 1921, at the recommendation of High Commissioner Sir Cecil H. Rodwell, a regulation was passed to provide for the creation of an Advisory Council (q.v.) in the Protectorate. The Resident Commissioner was empowered to inform or consult the Council on such matters as he might in his discretion determine, and could request information and advice on any matters relating to the internal administration of the Protectorate. The first meeting took place on 10 November 1921.

The 1920s saw a change in attitudes toward Solomon Islanders, and an order from the Secretary of State in 1924 slowed plans to introduce Village Councils and Village Courts. During this period also there was large debate concerning the possible future depopulation of Melanesia, best summarised in the small book on the topic edited by W.H.R. Rivers in 1922. Up until the late 1910s and early 1920s, the main concerns were pacification and maintaining a sufficient labour supply. By 1918, the Annual Reports start to give emphasis to medical services and the installation of local Headmen to assist the administration. In 1921, taxation of natives began. In 1922-1923, some attention was paid to education and the beginning of training for native dressers (nurses). In 1925, there was mention in the Annual Reports of village sanitation. They also note that the first native clerks were appointed and sub-district headmen, village headmen and village constables were created. By 1926-1927, the Protectorate provided limited grants to the missions to assist with education. In 1927, a travelling Medical Officer was appointed, and the next year the Rockefeller yaws eradication campaign was underway. In this period, too, the first Solomon Islanders also began to be trained at the Fiji Medical School as Native Medical Practitioners (later Assistant Medical Officers) (q.v.). At this stage, the bi-annual reports become much longer and more complex. Small native hospitals were opened at the different district headquarters. By 1931, the administration was interested in improving the standard of native housing, and at the end of the 1930s there were substantial reports on reorganization to create a 'Native Administration' (1937), combat leprosy (1937-1938) and expand education (1939-1940). Native Courts were introduced in several districts in 1940, and by 1941 District Officers were demanding the establishment of more Native Courts. The British Order in Council was amended to accommodate them, and a new supporting regulation was passed in 1942. The Second World War intervened and halted progress until 1945, although the WPHC continued planning during the Japanese interregnum. High Commissioner Sir Philip Mitchell visited the Protectorate in December 1942 to discuss postwar planning, and in 1943 WPHC Secretary H. H. Vaskess submitted a major report to the Colonial Office which recognised that the Protectorate needed to make reforms to avoid future public criticism, and to revise government and welfare provisions to fit evolving circumstances.

The Colonial Office took until 1945 to reply to the 1943 report and gave approval for applications to be made under the Colonial Welfare and Development Act of 1940 to begin postwar reconstruction. In May 1943, Resident Commissioner William Marchant wrote about the needs of postwar reconstruction, and High Commissioner Philip Mitchell proposed implementation of Local Government Councils to be modelled on his work in Uganda in the late 1930s. The concept was that the Councils would take control of local administration, development, justice, health, education and agriculture. Planning began with a conference on 18 May 1944 at Tenaru, which covered administrative organisation, staff conditions and levels, transport, medical and economic development, taxation and justice. Detailed plans were underway by August 1944, which differentiated between obvious reconstruction needs and future development. The Resident Commissioner sent a detailed but short-term plan to the new High Commissioner, Sir Alexander Grantham, in January 1945. Then, in March, the Colonial Office announced a new Colonial Welfare and Development Act, which required a ten-year plan. This delayed matters until November, when a revised plan was submitted to the WPHC, where the obvious discrepancy between aspirations and finances delayed it by another year. When the Colonial Economic and Development Council received the ten-year plan in 1946 it was still unhappy with the costs proposed and asked that the Protectorate plan be cut back by 40 percent. British policy also changed again, as they declared postwar rehabilitation needs to have passed and a future stress on development and less on welfare. This totally ignored the extent of wartime damage to the Protectorate's infrastructure. The truncated 1946 plan was implemented, and then in 1950 revised priorities were requested. As Ian Campbell (2007) notes, British consciousness of indigenous development as a priority evolved over a much longer period and there is a clear transition from the early decades when pacification and ensuring a labour supply for plantations were the main concerns, to acknowledgement in the 1920s of public health and education issues, and the need to incorporate the residents into a taxation system that could provide benefits for welfare. In the 1930s, several major reports were commissioned to explore reorganisation of village-level governance, health and education. This was in line with the introduction of Native Courts and Village Councils in African colonies and in the neighbouring Gilbert and Ellice Islands Colony. (Woodburn 2005)

After the war, Resident Commissioner Owen Cyril Noel split the Protectorate into two divisions: one included Malaita, Makira and Santa Cruz, headquartered at Auki; and the other the northern islands of Western, Choiseul, Isabel, and the Shortlands, and the central islands of Nggela, Russells, and Guadalcanal, headquartered at Tulagi. This proved too unwieldy and in late 1948 the Protectorate was divided into four districts, each under the charge of a District Commissioner:

  • Western District, with headquarters at Gizo, comprising the New Georgia Islands or Group, the Shortland Group, Choiseul, Isabel and adjacent islands.
  • Central District, with headquarters at Honiara, comprising Guadalcanal and Savo Islands, the Florida (Nggela) Islands, Isabel, and the Russell Group with adjacent islets, and Rennell and Bellona.
  • Malaita District, with headquarters at Auki, comprising the islands of Malaita and Small Malaita with adjacent islets, and (from 1957) Sikaiana and Ontong Java.
  • Eastern District, with headquarters at Kirakira, compromising the rest of the group, and including the southern Polynesian outliers. (AR 1949, AR 1950, 46)

Initially, the Polynesian islands and atolls of Sikaiana, Ontong Java, and Rennell and Bellona were all administered from the Eastern District. In the early 1950s, the Resident Commissioner assumed personal supervision of the Polynesian outliers. It was proposed that they become a separate district of the Outer Islands with its own District Commissioner, headquartered on a vessel to enable him to visit the isolated communities regularly, but this was found unworkable. (AR 1949, AR 1950, 47) The new districts were administered by seven officers: Central District had a District Commissioner and one District Officer who did the court work and attended to Honiara town affairs; Malaita District had a District Commissioner at Auki, and two District Officers, one based at Auki to deal with the south and one at Malu'u in the north; Eastern District had only a District Commissioner to administer the huge spread of islands from Makira to Anuta; the Western District in the early 1950s usually had only a District Commissioner although sometimes there was also a District Officer. (Tedder 2008, 19)

For several years there had been rumours spread that negotiations had occurred for Australia to take over the administration of the Protectorate, but the British remained in control. The retirement of the Governor of Fiji at the end of 1951 was used as the time to split the roles of Governor and Western Pacific High Commissioner, and at the beginning of 1953 WPHC headquarters were moved from Suva to Honiara. King George VI approved this change on 20 August 1951 and it was announced in Honiara in September 1951 during the visit of John Dugdale, Minister of State for Colonial Affairs and the first British Minister of the Crown to visit the Protectorate. (AR 1951-1952, 3) The High Commissioner became directly responsible for BSIP, the Gilbert and Ellice Colony and the British side of the New Hebrides Condominium, answering directly to the British Secretary of State for the Colonies. The new High Commissioner, Mr (later Sir Robert) C. S. Stanley, previously Chief Secretary of Northern Rhodesia, arrived in June 1952. Initially still based in Suva, the headquarters began the move to Honiara in October 1952. Stanley arrived permanently on 22 December, ready for the official transfer on 1 January 1953. (AR 1951-1952, 3)

After the war, the capital was officially shifted from Tulagi to Honiara, and slowly administrative districts were re-established and the central headquarters expanded. The High Commissioner took over the duties of the BSIP Resident Commissioner Henry G. Gregory-Smith, in addition to carrying out his duties for the other High Commission Territories. The High Commission Secretariat and its records were also transferred to Honiara. The Chief Secretary and Financial Secretary of the High Commission were appointed in addition as officers of the Protectorate, and an officer of the Colonial Legal Service was appointed as the Protectorate's Attorney-General and concurrently as Legal Adviser to the High Commission, in place of the Attorney-General of Fiji. The office of Resident Commissioner lapsed and the Protectorate Secretariat was merged with that of the High Commission. No changes were made to the administration of the Protectorate Departments, although advisory links with the Fiji administration were maintained in health, education and agriculture. The Advisory Council remained the same until 1960, but now assisted the High Commissioner.

Isabel was transferred to Central District in 1956, which also included Guadalcanal, Savo, the Nggela Islands, the Russell Islands and Rennell and Bellona. Ontong Java and Sikaiana remained administered directly by the High Commissioner, until they were incorporated into the Malaita District for administrative purposes in 1957. (AR 1953-1954, 50; NS 10 Oct. 1957, 31 Oct. 1957) The Eastern District included Makira, Ulawa, Ugi, Tikopia, Anuta and all of the islands of the Santa Cruz and Reef Islands groups. The Western District included the Shortland Islands, Choiseul and the New Georgia Islands.

The District Commissioners were responsible for the general administration of their districts and the coordination of departmental activities within them. They had particular responsibility for the development of local government. The larger islands were divided into sub-districts and the smaller islands and groups of islands were classified as sub-districts. The District Commissioners and their District Officers were assisted by Headmen and Assistant Headmen, who were appointed by the High Commissioner and responsible for carrying out government business in their sub-districts. Many of the sub-districts had Sub-District Councils composed of the Headman as President and members appointed by the Resident Commissioner, and after 1953 the High Commissioner, from among residents of good standing. However, their day-to-day activities were to carry out orders of the District Commissioners (AR 1951-1952, 46-48, AR 1969, 101; PIM Feb. 1948, Sept. 1951, Dec. 1952; Healy 1966; NS 21 May 1966)

In the 1970s the Western Pacific High Commission began to administer fewer territories. At the end of 1971 the Gilbert and Ellice Colony was removed and at the end of 1973 the High Commissioner ceased to act for the New Hebrides. It was proposed that he be designated solely as Governor of Solomon Islands. (AR 1974, 137) Policy to replace expatriate government employees with Solomon Islanders holding the required qualifications was first debated by the Legislative Council in February 1963. In that year, fifty-two Solomon Islanders had received promotion to higher grades in the public service, and the size of the service was growing with the needs of the expanded government. (NS 15 Feb. 1963, 31 July 1963) By 1971, it had 1,725 members, 71.6 percent of them Solomon Islanders. During the 1970s, however, the size of the public service actually decreased, with a slight increase in the proportion of Solomon Islanders (74.6 percent of 1,569 positions in 1974). There was still a core of high-level public servants who were part of the British Overseas Civil Service: 310 in 1971, 315 in 1972, 324 in 1973, 279 in 1974 and 273 in 1975. The District Officer and District Commissioner positions were slowly localised, filled by Solomon Islanders such as Francis Talasasa, Francis Billy Hilly, Nathaniel Waena and Peter Kenilorea (all q.v.), names that remained prominent in the independent nation that emerged in 1978.

Localisation was accomplished through increasing general education in the BSIP, in-service job training and supervision and management training. Training was carried out within individual departments or by the Regional Training Development Unit. (AR 1974, 140-141) The first Solomon Islander to oversee the government was Solomon Mamaloni (q.v.), who was elected Chief Minister on 27 August 1974. His chosen Ministers were David Kausimae (Agriculture and Rural Economy), Willie Betu (Education and Cultural Affairs), Gideon Zoleveke (Works and Public Utilities), Peter Thompson (Trade, Industry and Labour) and Stephen Cheka (Health and Welfare) (all q.v.). (NS 6 Sept. 1974) See also Local Government Councils, Public Service Commission.

Published resources


  • British Solomon Islands Protectorate, Handbook of the British Solomon Islands Protectorate, 1911, Tulagi, 1911. Details
  • Tedder, James L.O., Solomon Islands Years: A District Administrator in the Islands, 1952-1974, Tuatu Studies, Stuarts Point, NSW, 2008. Details


  • Pacific Islands Monthly. Details
  • British Solomon Islands Protectorate (ed.), British Solomon Islands Protectorate News Sheet (NS), 1955-1975. Details


  • British Solomon Islands Protectorate, British Solomon Islands Protectorate Annual Reports (AR), 1896-1973. Details