Captain Cook took possession of South Georgia for the British Crown on 17 January 1775. This was in accordance with the instructions he had received from the Admiralty which included the following:
“You are with the consent of the Natives to take possession of convenient Situations in the Country in the Name of the King of Great Britain, and to distribute among the Inhabitants some of the Medals with which you have been furnished to remain as Traces of your having been there. But if you find the Country uninhabited you are to take possession of it for His Majesty by setting up Marks & Inscriptions as first Discovers and Possessors.
“When you have performed this Service, if the State of your Provisions & the Condition of the Sloops will admit of it, you are to proceed upon farther Discoveries, either to the Eastward or Westward as your situation may then render most eligible, keeping in as high a Latitude as you can, & prosecuting your discoveries as near to the South Pole as possible.
“You are to observe with accuracy the situation of such Islands as you may discover in the course of your Voyage, which have not hitherto been discovered by any Europeans, & to make surveys & Draughts, & take Possession for His Majesty, of such of them as may appear to be of consequence, in the same manner as directed…”
As a matter of British constitutional law South Georgia was acquired by the Crown by settlement. In other words the Crown acquired the territory by the settlement of British subjects in a place where there was no population or no form of government considered civilised and recognised in international law.
In 2005 the House of Lords (the then equivalent of the UK’s Supreme Court) confirmed that the Crown had acquired South Georgia and South Sandwich Islands by settlement in the case of R v Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs ex parte Quark Fishing  UKHL 57.
It is of academic interest to note that Halsbury’s Laws of England asserts that the South Sandwich Islands were acquired by annexation. Acquisition by annexation occurs where proper settlement was or is impracticable.
In this period South Georgia and the South Sandwich Islands were administered (along with other territory) as Falkland Islands Dependencies pursuant to the:
- Letters Patent 1843
- Letters Patent 1876
- Letters Patent 1892
- Royal Instructions and
- the British Settlements Acts 1843 and 1887
- Colonial Laws Validity Act 1865
The Letters Patent of 23 June 1843 empowered the Falkland Islands Legislative Council to make laws for the Falkland Islands and the Dependencies in the following terms:
“And We do hereby authorise, empower and enjoin such Legislative Council to make and establish all such Laws, Institutions and Ordinances as may from time to time be necessary for peace, order and good government of Our subjects and others within the said present or future Settlements in the said Falkland Islands and in their Dependencies…”
The first local Ordinances were made in 1846. Handwritten copies of these Ordinances can be found in the Falkland Islands National Archives.
In accordance with the Letters Patent and then prevailing Royal Instructions the enactment clause of each Ordinance was of the style:
By His Excellency, Governor and Commander-in-Chief of the Falkland Islands and the Dependencies thereof, with the advice and consent of the Legislative Council thereof; be it enacted:-
The Administration of Justice Ordinance 1853 included, as section 62 an interpretation clause. Key amongst its provisions was:
“That in this or any Ordinance, unless there is anything in the subject or context repugnant to such construction… the words Falkland Islands shall be understood to mean: ‘the Falkland Islands and the Dependencies thereof’…”
The Administration of Justice Ordinance 1851 contained a similar provision.