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Between Law and Custom
'High' and 'Low' Legal Cultures in the Lands of the British Diaspora - The United States, Canada, Australia, and New Zealand, 1600–1900


  • Date Published: January 2009
  • availability: Available
  • format: Paperback
  • isbn: 9780521099196

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About the Authors
  • When British authorities established 'settler' colonies in North America and the Antipodes (New Zealand, Australia, South Africa, Fiji) from the early seventeenth to the late nineteenth centuries, they introduced law through parliamentary statutes and Colonial Office oversight, and they dispatched governors and judges to the colonies. These jurists set aside some aspects of English Common Law to meet the special conditions of the settler societies, but the 'Responsible Governments' that were eventually created in the colonies and the British immigrants themselves set aside even more of the English law, exercising 'informal law' - popular norms - in its place. Law and popular norms clashed over a range of issues, including ready access to land, the property rights of aboriginal people. the taking of property for public purposes, master-servant relationships and crown/corporate liability for negligent maintenance and operation of roads, bridges and railways. Drawing on extensive archival and library sources in England, the United States, Canada, Australia and New Zealand, Karsten explores these collisions and arrives at a number of conclusions that will surprise.

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    Product details

    • Date Published: January 2009
    • format: Paperback
    • isbn: 9780521099196
    • length: 584 pages
    • dimensions: 229 x 152 x 33 mm
    • weight: 0.84kg
    • contains: 44 b/w illus. 4 tables
    • availability: Available
  • Table of Contents

    List of illustrations
    List of tables
    Part I. Land:
    1. Law versus customs
    2. Concribs, manuring, timber and sheep: landlords, tenants and reversioners
    3. 'They seem to argue that custom has made a higher law': squatters and proprietors
    4. Protecting one's prope'ty: takings, easements, nuisances and trespasses
    Part II. Agreements:
    5. We have an agreement
    6. Work: the formal and informal law of labour contracts
    Part III. Accidents:
    7. Judicial responses to negligence claims by the British diaspora, 1800–1910
    8. Beneath the iceberg's tip
    9. Further sorties into the high, middle and low legal cultures of the British diaspora with some conclusions
    Cases discussed
    Cast of characters
    General index.

  • Author

    Peter Karsten, University of Pittsburgh

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