There is reason to think that the first islanders who returned to Pitcairn from Norfolk in 1859 assumed title to as much of the best land as the pre-emigration system and public opinion permitted. After 1864, there was still some land left in trust for others who never returned, and gradually it was incorporated into family holdings. Through these factors and prudent marriages, under a system of bilateral inheritance by which a wife’s land passes to her husband, the pattern of ownership became uneven. But the complaints that were voiced from time to time were more likely to be inspired by resentment at inequality than by actual need.
Historically legislation concerning land was formerly limited to a simple regulation requiring the Island Magistrate to ensure that landmarks were inspected annually.
The Land Tenure Ordinance of 2006 sought to rationalise the customary land tenure system, as most of the island was owned by Pitcairners no longer residing on the island, due to emigration.
Legislation now aims at ensuring that every permanent resident of Pitcairn Island shall be entitled to an allocation of house, garden, orchard and forestry land sufficient to meet their needs, for as long as they live on Pitcairn. An annual land tax payable on all land held by someone non-resident in the islands or on land held by a resident in excess of his or her reasonable needs, is aimed at ensuring sufficient land is available for reallocation through the Land Court, upon application. Only Pitcairn Islanders and those approved for settlement and permanent resident status, their children or grandchildren, over the age of 18, having chosen to settle permanently on Pitcairn, are eligible to apply for land.