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A dominion, often Dominion, refers to one of a group of semi-autonomous polities that were nominally under Britishmarker sovereignty, constituting the British Empire and British Commonwealth, from the late 19th century. They included (at varying times) Canadamarker, Australia, New Zealandmarker, Newfoundland, South Africa, and the Irish Free State. After 1948, the term was used to denote independent nations that retained the British monarch as head of state; these included Pakistanmarker, Ceylon marker, and Kenya.


In English common law, the dominions of the Crown referred to all the realms and territories under the sovereignty of the Crown, e.g. the Order-in-Council annexing Cyprusmarker in 1914 provided that "... the said Island shall be annexed to and form part of His Majesty's Dominions and the said Island is annexed accordingly".

Use of the word dominion, to refer to a particular territory, dates back to the 16th century, and was used to describe Walesmarker from 1535 to around 1800. Dominion, as an official title, was first conferred on Virginia, circa 1660 and the Dominion of New England in 1686. These dominions never had semi-autonomous or self-governing status. Canada received the title upon Confederation in 1867 of several British colonies in North America.

The Colonial Conference of 1907 was the first time the self-governing colonies of Canada and the Commonwealth of Australia would be referred to collectively as "Dominions". Two other self-governing colonies, New Zealand and Newfoundland, were also granted the title that year. They were followed by South Africa (1910) and the Irish Free State (1922).

Dominion status was officially defined in the Balfour Declaration (1926) and in the Statute of Westminster (1931), which recognized these territories as "autonomous Communities within the British Empire," establishing these states as equals to the United Kingdom, making them essentially independent members of the Commonwealth of Nations. Following the Second World War, the decline of British colonialism led to Dominions generally being referred to as Commonwealth realms, the use of the word gradually diminished within these countries after this time. Nonetheless, though disused, it remains Canada's legal title; moreover, the phrase Her Majesty's Dominions continues occasionally in modern legal usage in the UK.

Historical development

Overseas dominions

Dominions originally referred to any possession of the British Empire. Oliver Cromwell's full title in the 1650s was "Lord Protector of the Commonwealth of England, Scotland and Ireland, and the dominions thereto belonging". In 1660, King Charles II gave the Colony of Virginia the title "Dominion" in gratitude for Virginia's loyalty to the Crown during the English Civil War; the state still retains "Old Dominion" as its nickname. The name also occurred in the short-lived Dominion of New England (1686-1689). In all of these cases, dominion implied being a subject of the Empire.

Responsible Government

The foundation of "Dominion" status was the achievement of internal self-rule in the form of "responsible government". Responsible government in British colonies began to emerge in the 1840s (typically with Nova Scotia cited as the first colony to achieve it in early 1848) and was granted to most of the major settler colonies (British North America, Australia, and New Zealandmarker) by 1856. Most of the territories of British North America were joined in a federal union between 1867 and 1873 under the authority of the British North America Act which termed the new entity a "Dominion" (section 3 of the British North America Act).

Australia and New Zealand were also designated dominions in 1907. The Australian Constitutions Act 1850 established the machinery for the four then existing Australian colonies (namely New South Wales, Tasmania, Western Australia and South Australia) to establish Parliaments and responsible government once certain conditions had been met; it also provided for the separation of Victoria from New South Wales and its establishment as a separate colony (which occurred in 1851) with similar capacity to attain self-government. New South Walesmarker, Victoriamarker, South Australiamarker, and Tasmaniamarker, along with New Zealandmarker, attained responsible government soon after in 1856; self-government for Western Australiamarker was delayed until 1891, mainly because of continuing financial dependence on Britain. Queenslandmarker was separated from New South Walesmarker and established as a separate colony in 1859. This left a large piece of territory in northern Australia still technically part of NSW though physically separated from it. This territory was transferred in part to Queensland and the remainder to South Australia in 1863 – the South Australian section being eventually transferred to the Commonwealth of Australia as the federal Northern Territory in 1911.

South Africa became a dominion in 1910. Its colonies had become self-governing earlier, with the Cape Colony being the first in 1872; this was followed by Natal (1893), Transvaalmarker (1906), and the Orange River Colony (1907).

Canada and Confederation

The 20th century usage of the term "Dominion" can be traced to a suggestion by Samuel Leonard Tilley at the London Conference of December 1866 discussing the confederation of four of the British North American colonies, Canada (subsequently the provinces of Ontariomarker and Quebecmarker), New Brunswickmarker and Nova Scotiamarker, into "One Dominion under the Name of Canada", the first federation in the British Empire. Tilley's suggestion was taken from Psalm 72:8, "He shall have dominion also from sea to sea, and from the river unto the ends of the earth" which is echoed in the national motto "A Mari Usque Ad Mare". The new Canadian government subsequently used "Dominion of Canada" to designate the new, larger colony. Neither Confederation nor the adoption of the Dominion title, however, granted extra autonomy or new powers to the new federal level of government. Senator Eugene Forsey documents that the powers acquired since the 1840s that established the system of Responsible Government would simply be transferred to the new Dominion government:
"By the time of Confederation in 1867, this system had been operating in most of what is now central and eastern Canada for almost 20 years. The Fathers of Confederation simply continued the system they knew, the system that was already working, and working well."

Constitutional scholar Andrew Heard establishes that Confederation did not legally change Canada's colonial status to anything approaching its later dominion status.
At its inception in 1867, Canada's colonial status was marked by political and legal subjugation to British Imperial supremacy in all aspects of government - legislative, judicial, and executive. The Imperial Parliament at Westminster could legislate on any matter to do with Canada and could override any local legislation, the final court of appeal for Canadian litigation lay with the Judicial Committee of the Privy Council in London, the Governor General had a substantive role as a representative of the British government, and ultimate executive power was vested in the British Monarch - who was advised only by British Ministers in its exercise. Canada's independence came about as each of these sub-ordinations was eventually removed.
Heard goes on to document the sizable body of legislation passed by the British Parliament in the latter part of the 19th century that would uphold and expand its imperial supremacy to constrain its colonies, including the new Dominion government.
When the Dominion of Canada was created in 1867 it was granted powers of self-government to deal with all internal matters, but Britain still retained overall legislative supremacy. This imperial supremacy could be exercised through several statutory measures. In the first place, the Constitution Act of 1867 provides in s.55 that the Governor General may reserve any legislation passed by the two Houses of Parliament for "the signification of Her Majesty's pleasure", which is determined according to s.57 by the (British) Queen in Council. Secondly, s.56 provides that the Governor General must forward to "one of Her Majesty's Principal Secretary's of State" in London a copy of any federal legislation that has been assented to; within two years after the receipt of this copy, the (British) Queen in Council can disallow an Act. Thirdly, four pieces of Imperial legislation constrained the Canadian legislatures. The Colonial Laws Validity Act of 1865 provided that no colonial law could validly conflict with, amend or repeal Imperial legislation which explicitly or by necessary implication applied directly to that colony; the Merchant Shipping Act, 1894 as well as the Colonial Courts of Admiralty Act, 1890 required reservation of Dominion legislation on those topics for approval by the British Government; and, the Colonial Stock Act of 1900 provided for the dis-allowance of Dominion legislation which the British government felt would harm British stockholders of Dominion trustee securities. Most importantly, however, the British Parliament could exercise the legal right of supremacy it possessed at common law to pass any legislation on any matter affecting the colonies.
However, as Heard later explains, the British government rarely invoked its powers over Canadian legislation. Indeed, in the Canadian context, British legislative powers over Canadian domestic policy were largely theoretical and their exercise was increasingly unacceptable in the 1870s and 1880s. The rise to dominion status and then full independence for Canada and other colonies would not occur by the granting of titles or similar recognition by the British Parliament, but by initiatives taken by colonial governments to assert their independence and establish legal constitutional precedents.
What is remarkable about this whole process is that it was achieved with a minimum of legislative amendments. Much of Canada's independence arose from the development of new political arrangements, many of which have been absorbed into judicial decisions interpreting the constitution - with or without explicit recognition. Canada's passage from being an integral part of the British Empire to being an independent member of the Commonwealth richly illustrates the way in which fundamental constitutional rules have evolved through the interaction of constitutional convention, international law, and municipal statute and case law.

The Colonial Conference of 1907

Issues of colonial self-government spilled into foreign affairs with the Boer War (1899-1902). The self-governing colonies contributed significantly to British efforts to stem the insurrection, but assured that they set the conditions for participation in these wars. Colonial governments repeatedly acted to assure that they determined the extent of their peoples' participation in imperial wars in the military build-up to the First World War.

The assertiveness of the self-governing colonies was recognised in the Colonial Conference of 1907, which implicitly introduced the idea of the Dominion as a self-governing colony by referring to Canada and Australia as Dominions. It also retired the name "Colonial Conference" and mandated that meetings take place regularly to consult Dominions in the running the foreign affairs of the empire.

The Colony of New Zealandmarker, which chose not to take part in Australian federation, quickly became the Dominion of New Zealand on 26 September 1907; Newfoundland became a Dominion on the same day. The newly-created Union of South Africa would also be referred to as a Dominion in 1910.

The First World War and the Treaty of Versailles

The initiatives and contributions of British colonies to the British war effort in the First World War were recognized by Britain with the creation of the Imperial War Cabinet in 1917, which gave them a say in the running of the war. Dominion status as self-governing states, as opposed to symbolic titles granted various British colonies, would wait until 1919 when the self-governing Dominions signed the Treaty of Versailles independently of the British government and became distinct members of the League of Nations. This ended the purely colonial status of the dominions.
"The First World War ended the purely colonial period in the history of the Dominions. Their military contribution to the Allied war effort gave them claim to equal recognition with other small states and a voice in the formation of policy. This claim was recognized within the Empire by the creation of the Imperial War Cabinet in 1917, and within the community of nations by Dominion signatures to the Treaty of Versailles and by separate Dominion representation in the League of Nations. In this way the "self-governing Dominions", as they were called, emerged as junior members of the international community. Their status defied exact analysis by both international and constitutional lawyers, but it was clear that they were no longer to be regarded simply as colonies of Britain."

The Irish Free State

Irish Free State in 1922, after the Anglo-Irish War. All retained the same monarch as head of state, represented locally by a governor-general appointed in consultation with the Dominion government. The Irish Free State, led by W. T. Cosgrave was the first Dominion to appoint a non-British, non-aristocratic Governor-General, when Timothy Michael Healy took the position in 1922. Dominion status was never popular in the Irish Free State/Irelandmarker, where people saw it as a face-saving measure for a British government unable to countenance a republic in what had previously been the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Irelandmarker. Successive Irish governments undermined the constitutional links with Britain, until they were severed completely in 1949. In 1930, the Australian Prime Minister, James Scullin, reinforced the right of the overseas Dominions to appoint native-born governors-general, when he advised King George V to appoint Sir Isaac Isaacs as his representative in Australia, against the wishes of the opposition and officials in London.

The Second Balfour Declaration and the Statute of Westminster

The Balfour Declaration of 1926 (there'd been one in 1917), and the subsequent Statute of Westminster, 1931, ended Britain's ability to pass or affect laws outside of its own jurisdiction. Significantly, it was Britain which initiated the change to complete independence for the Dominions. World War I had left Britain saddled with enormous debts and the Great Depression had further reduced Britain's ability to pay for the defence of its empire. In spite of popular opinions of empires, the larger Dominions were reluctant to leave the protection of the then-superpower. For example, many Canadians felt that being part of the British Empire was the only thing that had prevented them from being absorbed into the United States.

Until 1931, Newfoundland was referred to as a colony of the United Kingdom, as for example, in the 1927 reference to the Judicial Committee of the Privy Councilmarker to delineate the Quebec-Labrador boundary. Full autonomy was granted by the United Kingdommarker parliament with the Statute of Westminster in December 1931. However, the government of Newfoundland "requested the United Kingdom not to have sections 2 to 6[—]confirming Dominion status[—]apply automatically to it[,] until the Newfoundland Legislature first approved the Statute, approval which the Legislature subsequently never gave." In any event, Newfoundland's letters patent of 1934 suspended self-government and instituted a "Commission of Government," which continued until Newfoundland became a province of Canada in 1949. It is the view of some constitutional lawyers that—although Newfoundland chose not to exercise all of the functions of a Dominion like Canada—its status as a Dominion was "suspended" in 1934, rather than "revoked" or "abolished".

Canada, Australia, New Zealand, Newfoundland and South Africa (prior to becoming a republic and leaving the Commonwealth in 1961), with their large populations of European descent, were sometimes collectively referred to as the "White Dominions." Today Canada, Australia, New Zealand and the United Kingdom are sometimes referred to collectively as the "White Commonwealth."

The United Kingdom and its component parts never aspired to the title of "Dominion," remaining anomalies within the network of free and independent equal members of the empire and Commonwealth. However, the idea has on occasions been floated by some in Northern Irelandmarker as an alternative to a United Ireland if they felt uncomfortable within the United Kingdom.

The Dominions


Four colonies of Australia had enjoyed responsible government since 1856: New South Wales, Victoria, Tasmania and South Australia. Queensland had responsible government soon after its founding in 1859 but, because of ongoing financial dependence on Britain, Western Australia became the last Australian colony to attain self-government in 1890. During the 1890s, the colonies voted to unite and in 1901 they were federated under the British Crown as the Commonwealth of Australia by the Commonwealth of Australia Constitution Act.The Constitution of Australia had been drafted in Australia and approved by popular consent. Thus Australia is one of the few countries established by a popular vote. Under the second Balfour Declaration, the federal government was regarded as coequal with (and not subordinate to) the British and other Dominion governments, and this was given formal legal recognition in 1942 (when the Statute of Westminster was retroactively adopted to the commencement of the Second World War 1939). The governments of the states (called colonies before 1901) remained under the Commonwealth but retained vestigial links to the British Parliament until the passage of the Australia Act 1986.


See also: Name of Canada

Dominion is the legal title conferred on Canadamarker in the Constitution of Canada, namely the Constitution Act, 1867 (British North America Acts), and describes the resulting political union. Specifically, the preamble of the BNA Act indicates:

Whereas the Provinces of Canada, Nova Scotia, and New Brunswick have expressed their Desire to be federally united into One Dominion under the Crown of the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Ireland, with a Constitution similar in Principle to that of the United Kingdom ...

and, furthermore, sections 3 and 4 indicate that the provinces:

... shall form and be One Dominion under the Name of Canada; and on and after that Day those Three Provinces shall form and be One Dominion under that Name accordingly.
Unless it is otherwise expressed or implied, the Name Canada shall be taken to mean Canada as constituted under this Act.

Usage of the term Dominion of Canada was sanctioned as the country's formal political name in 1867 and it predates the general use of the term 'dominion' as applied to the other autonmous regions of the British Empire in 1907. Some still read the BNA Act passage as specifying this phrase – rather than Canada alone – as the name. The term Dominion of Canada does not appear in the 1867 act nor in the Constitution Act, 1982 but does appear in the Constitution Act, 1871, other contemporaneous texts, and subsequent bills. References to the Dominion of Canada in later acts, such as the Statute of Westminster, do not clarify the point because all nouns were formally capitalised in British legislative style. Indeed, in the original text of the BNA Act, "One" and "Name" were also capitalised.

Starting in the 1950s, the federal government began to phase out the use of Dominion, which had been used largely as a synonym of "federal" or "national" such as "Dominion building" for a post office, "Dominion-provincial relations", and so on. The last major change was renaming the national holiday from Dominion Day to Canada Day in 1982. Official bilingualism laws also contributed to the disuse of dominion, as it has no acceptable equivalent in French.

While the term may be found in older official documents, and the Dominion Carillonneur still tolls at Parliament Hillmarker, it is rarely used any more to distinguish the federal government from the provinces or (historically) Canada before and after 1867. Nonetheless, the federal government continues to produce publications and educational materials that specify the currency of these official titles.

Defenders of the title Dominion — including monarchists who see signs of creeping republicanism in Canada — take comfort in the fact that the Constitution Act, 1982 does not mention and therefore does not remove the title, and that a constitutional amendment would be required to change it.

The word Dominion has been used with other agencies, laws, and roles:

Toronto-Dominion Bank (founded as the Bank of Toronto in 1855), the Dominion of Canada General Insurance Company (founded in 1887), the Dominion Institute (created in 1997), and Dominion Stores (founded in 1927, renamed as Metro stores beginning in August 2008) are notable Canadian corporations not affiliated with government that have used Dominion as a part of their corporate name.

Ceylon/Sri Lanka

Ceylonmarker, which, as a crown colony, was originally promised "fully responsible status within the British Commonwealth of Nations", was formally granted independence as a Dominion in 1948. In 1972 it adopted a republican constitution to become the Free, Sovereign and Independent Republic of Sri Lanka. By a new constitution in 1978, it became the Democratic Socialist Republic of Sri Lanka.

India and Pakistan

Indiamarker acquired responsible government in 1909, though the first Parliament did not meet until 1919. India and Pakistanmarker separated as independent dominions in 1947. India became a republic in 1950 and Pakistan adopted a republican form of government in 1956.

Irish Free State/Ireland

The Irish Free State was a British Dominion between 1922 and 1949. In the 1930s the Irish stopped participating at Commonwealth conferences and events. In 1937 the Irish people established a new state with name Irelandmarker under a new constitution. However, the United Kingdom and other members of the Commonwealth continued to regard Ireland as being a dominion owing to the unusual role accorded to the British Monarch under the Irish External Relations Act. Ultimately, however, Ireland's Oireachtas passed the Republic of Ireland Act which came into force in 1949 and unequivocally ended Ireland's links with the British Monarch and the Commonwealth.

Upon the establishment of the Irish Free State on 6 December 1922, with dominion status to be in the likeness of Canada, provision was made for Northern Ireland to join the new dominion but with the right to opt out. However, as was widely expected at the time, on the day after the signing of the Anglo-Irish Treaty, the Parliament of Northern Ireland chose, under the terms of that treaty, to opt out.


The colony of Newfoundland enjoyed responsible government from 1855-1934. It was among the colonies to be declared dominions in 1907. Following the recommendations of a Royal Commission, parliamentary government was suspended in 1934. In 1949, the Dominion of Newfoundland joined Canada and the legislature was restored.

New Zealand

The New Zealand Constitution Act 1852 gave the colony of New Zealandmarker its own Parliament (General Assembly) and home rule in 1852. In 1907 New Zealand was proclaimed the Dominion of New Zealand. New Zealand, Canada, and Newfoundland actually used the word dominion in the official title of the nation, whereas Australia used the name Commonwealth of Australia and South Africa used the name Union of South Africa. New Zealand adopted the Statute of Westminster in 1947 and in the same year, legislation was passed in London which gave New Zealand full powers to amend its own constitution. In 1986, the New Zealand parliament passed the Constitution Act 1986 which repealed the Constitution Act of 1852.

South Africa

The Union of South Africa was formed in 1910 from the four self-governing colonies of the Cape of Good Hopemarker, Natal, the Transvaalmarker, and the Orange Free Statemarker (the last two were former Boer republics). The South Africa Act 1909 provided for a Parliament consisting of a Senate and a House of Assembly. The provinces had their own legislatures. In 1961, the Union of South Africa adopted a new constitution, left the Commonwealth, and became the present-day Republic of South Africa.

Southern Rhodesia

Southern Rhodesia was a special case in the British Empire. Although it was never a dominion, it was treated as a dominion in many respects. Southern Rhodesia was created in 1923 out of the territories of the British South Africa Company. It was created as a self governing colony with substantial autonomy on the model of the dominions. However, the imperial authorities in London continued to retain direct powers over native affairs. Southern Rhodesia was not included as one of the territories that were mentioned in the 1931 Statute of Westminster although matters in relation to Southern Rhodesia were administered in London through the Dominion Office as opposed to through the Colonial Office. When the dominions were first treated as foreign countries by London for the purposes of diplomatic immunity in 1952, Southern Rhodesia was also included in the list of territories concerned. This semi-dominion status continued in Southern Rhodesia even for the ten years, 1953-1963, when it was joined with Northern Rhodesiamarker and Nyasaland in the Central African Federation, even though the latter two continued with their own status as British protectorates. When Northern Rhodesia was given independence in 1964 it adopted the new name of Zambia, and Southern Rhodesia simply reverted to the name Rhodesia. Rhodesia unilaterally declared independence from the UK in 1965 as a result of being pressurized into accepting the principles of black majority rule. This state of UDI (unilateral declaration of independence) was considered by London to be illegal, sanctions were applied, and Rhodesia was expelled from the sterling area. Nevetherless, Rhodesia continued with its dominion style constitution until 1970, and continued to issue British passports to its citizens. These Rhodesian issue British Passports were only recognized by Portugal and South Africa. In the period from 1965 to 1970, the Rhodesian government continued its loyalty to the Sovereign despite being in a state of rebellion against her Majesty's government in London. However, in 1970, Rhodesia finally decided to adopt a republican constitution and in 1980 it was finally granted legal independence by the UK following the transition to black majority rule. The new name of Zimbabwe was then adopted.

Foreign relations

Initially, the Foreign Office of the United Kingdommarker conducted the foreign relations of the Dominions. A Dominions section was created within the Colonial Office for this purpose in 1907. Canada set up its own Department of External Affairs in June 1909, but diplomatic relations with other governments continued to operate through the governors-general, Dominion High Commissioners in London (first appointed by Canada in 1880; Australia followed only in 1910), and British legations abroad. Britain deemed her declaration of war against Germanymarker in August 1914 to extend to all territories of the Empire without the need for consultation, occasioning some displeasure in Canadian official circles and contributing to a brief anti-British insurrection by Afrikaner militants in South Africa later that year. A Canadian War Mission in Washington, D.C.marker dealt with supply matters from February 1918 to March 1921.

Although the Dominions had had no formal voice in declaring war, each became a separate signatory of the June 1919 peace Treaty of Versailles, which had been negotiated by a British-led united Empire delegation. In September 1922, Dominion reluctance to support British military action against Turkey influenced Britain's decision to seek a compromise settlement. Diplomatic autonomy soon followed, with the U.S.-Canadian Halibut Treaty (March 1923) marking the first time an international agreement had been entirely negotiated and concluded independently by a Dominion. The Dominions Section of the Colonial Office was upgraded in June 1926 to a separate Dominions Office; however, initially, this office was held by the same person that held the office of Secretary of State for the Colonies.

The principle of Dominion equality with Britain and independence in foreign relations was formally recognised by the Balfour Declaration, adopted at the Imperial Conference of November 1926. Canada's first permanent diplomatic mission to a foreign country opened in Washington, D.C. in 1927. In 1928, Canada obtained the appointment of a British high commissioner in Ottawamarker, separating the administrative and diplomatic functions of the governor-general and ending the latter's anomalous role as the representative of the British government in relations between the two countries. The Dominions Office was given a separate secretary of state in June 1930, though this was entirely for domestic political reasons given the need to relieve the burden on one ill minister whilst moving another away from unemployment policy. The Balfour Declaration was enshrined in the Statute of Westminster 1931 when it was adopted by the British Parliament and subsequently ratified by the Dominion legislatures.

Britain's declaration of hostilities against Nazi Germany on 3 September 1939 tested the issue. Most took the view that the declaration did not commit the Dominions. Ireland chose to remain neutral. At the other extreme, the conservative Australian government of the day, led by Robert Menzies, took the view that, since Australia had not adopted the Statute of Westminster, it was legally bound by the UK declaration of war – which had also been the view at the outbreak of World War I – although this was contentious within Australia. Between these two extremes, New Zealand declared that as Britain was or would be at war, so it was too. This was, however, a matter of political choice rather than legal necessity. Canada issued its own declaration of war after a recall of Parliament, as did South Africa after a delay of several days (South Africa on September 6, Canada on September 10). Irelandmarker, which had negotiated the removal of British forces from its territory the year before, chose to remain neutral throughout the war. There were soon signs of growing independence from the other Dominions: Australia opened a diplomatic mission in the US in 1940, as did New Zealand in 1941, and Canada's mission in Washington gained embassymarker status in 1943.

From Dominions to Commonwealth realms

Initially, the Dominions conducted their own trade policy, some limited foreign relations and had autonomous armed forces, although the British government claimed and exercised the exclusive power to declare wars. However, after the passage of the Statute of Westminster the language of dependency on the Crown of the United Kingdom ceased, where the Crown itself was no longer referred to as the Crown of any place in particular but simply as "the Crown." Arthur Berriedale Keith, in Speeches and Documents on the British Dominions 1918-1931, stated that "the Dominions are sovereign international States in the sense that the King in respect of each of His Dominions (Newfoundland excepted) is such a State in the eyes of international law." After then, those countries that were previously referred to as "Dominions" became independent realms where the sovereign reigns no longer as the British monarch, but as monarch of each nation in its own right, and are considered equal to the UK and one another.

World War II, which fatally undermined Britain's already weakened commercial and financial leadership, further loosened the political ties between Britain and the Dominions. Australian Prime Minister John Curtin's unprecedented action (February 1942) in successfully countermanding an order from British Prime Minister Winston Churchill that Australian troops be diverted to defend British-held Burmamarker (the 7th Division was then en route from the Middle East to Australia to defend against an expected Japanese invasion) demonstrated that Dominion governments might no longer subordinate their own national interests to British strategic perspectives. To ensure that Australia had full legal power to act independently, particularly in relation to foreign affairs, defence industry and military operations, and to validate its past independent action in these areas, Australia formally adopted the Statute of Westminster in October 1942 and backdated the adoption to the start of the war in September 1939.

The Dominions Office merged with the India Office as the Commonwealth Relations Office upon the independence of Indiamarker and Pakistanmarker in August 1947. The last country to be officially made a Dominion was Ceylonmarker in 1948. The term "Dominion" fell out of general use thereafter. Irelandmarker ceased to be a member of the Commonwealth on 1 April 1949, following proclamation of the Republic of Ireland Act. This formally signaled the end of the former dependencies' common constitutional connection to the British crown. India also adopted a republican constitution in January 1950. Unlike many dependencies which became republics, Ireland never re-joined the Commonwealth and agreed to accept the British Monarch as head of that association of independent states.

The independence of the separate realms was emphasised after the accession of Queen Elizabeth II in 1952, when she was proclaimed not just as Queen of the UK, but also Queen of Canada, Queen of Australia, Queen of New Zealand, and of all her other "realms and territories" etc. This also reflected the change from Dominion to realm; in the proclamation of Queen Elizabeth II's new titles in 1953, the phrase "of her other Realms and Territories," replaced "Dominion" with another mediaeval French word with the same connotation, "realm" (from royaume). Thus, recently, when referring to one of those sixteen countries within the Commonwealth of Nations that share the same monarch, the term Commonwealth realm has come into common usage instead of Dominion to differentiate the Commonwealth nations that continue to share the monarch as head of state (Australia, Canada, New Zealand, Jamaica, etc.) from those which do not (India, Pakistan, South Africa, etc.). The term "Dominion" is still to be found in the Canadian constitution where it appears numerous times; however, it is largely a vestige of the past, as the Canadian government does not actively use it (see Canada section). The term "realm" does not appear in the Canadian constitution. Present-day general usage prefers the term realm because it includes the United Kingdom as well, emphasising equality, and no one nation being subordinate to any other. Dominion, however, as a title, technically remains a term that can be used in reference those self-governing countries within the Commonwealth of Nations, other than the United Kingdom itself, that are in a personal union relationship with the UK.

The generic language of dominion, however, did not cease in relation to the Sovereign. It was, and is, used to describe those territories in which the Monarch exercises her sovereignty, the phrase Her Majesty's dominions being a legal and constitutional term used to refer to all the realms and territories of the Sovereign, whether independent or not. Thus, for example, the British Ireland Act, 1949 recognised that the Republic of Ireland had "ceased to be part of His Majesty’s dominions." When dependent territories which had never been annexed (that is, were not colonies of the Crown), but were protectorates or trust territories (of the United Nations) were granted independence, the United Kingdom act granting independence always declared that such and such a territory "shall form part of Her Majesty’s dominions"; become part of the territory in which the Queen exercises sovereignty, not merely suzerainty.

Many of the distinctive characteristics which once pertained only to Dominions are now shared by other states in the Commonwealth, whether they are republics, independent realms, self-governing colonies or Crown colonies. Even in a historical sense the differences between self-governing colonies and Dominions have often been formal rather than substantial.

See also


  1. Merriam Webster's Online Dictionary (based on Collegiate vol., 11th ed.) 2006. Springfield, MA: Merriam-Webster, Inc.
  2. Order-in-Council, 5 November 1914.
  3. The Laws in Wales Act 1535 applies to the Dominion, Principality and Country of Wales
  4. Parliamentary questions, Hansard, 5 November 1934
  5. Roberts, J.M.; The Penguin History of the World; Penguin Books; London; 1995; p. 777; ISBN 357910864
  6. " Dominion". Youth Encyclopedia of Canada (based on Canadian Encyclopedia). Historica Foundation of Canada, 2008. Accessed 20 June 2008. "The word "Dominion" is the official title of Canada. ... The term is little used today."
  7. National Health Service Act 2006 (c. 41), sch. 22
  8. Link to the Australian Constitutions Act 1850 on the website of the National Archives of Australia: [1]
  9. Link to the New South Wales Constitution Act 1855, on the website of the National Archives of Australia: [2]
  10. Link to the Victoria Constitution Act 1855, on the website of the National Archives of Australia:[3]
  11. Link to the Constitution Act 1855 (SA), on the website of the National Archives of Australia: [4]
  12. Link to the Constitution Act 185 (Tasmania), on the website of the National Archives of Australia: [5]
  13. Link to the Constitution Act 1890, which established self-government in Western Australia: [6]
  14. Link to the Order in Council of 6 June 1859 which established the Colony of Queensland, on website of the National Archives of Australia: [7]
  15. Link to the "Letters Patent annexing the Northern Territory to South Australia, 1863" on the website of the Australian National Archives: [8]
  16. Link to the Northern Territory Acceptance Act 1910 (Cth), which transferred the NT from SA to Cth control, on the website of the Australian National Archives: [9]
  17. "The London Conference December 1866 - March 1867"
  18. B.Hunter (ed), The Stateman's Year Book 1996-1997, Macmillan Press Ltd, pp.130-156
  19. Order in Council of the UK Privy Council, 6 June 1859, establishing responsible government in Queensland. See Australian Government's "Documenting a Democracy" website at this webpage: [10]
  20. Constitution Act 1890 (UK), which came into effect as the Constitution of Western Australia when proclaimed in WA on 21 October 1890, and establishing responsible government in WA from that date. See Australian Government's "Documenting a Democracy" website at this webpage: [11]
  21. D.Smith, Head of State, MaCleay Press 2005, p.18
  22. ibid., p.102
  23. J. E. Hodgetts. 2004. "Dominion". Oxford Companion to Canadian History, Gerald Hallowell, ed. (ISBN 0195415590) p. 183: "... Ironically, defenders of the title dominion who see signs of creeping republicanism in such changes can take comfort in the knowledge that the Constitution Act, 1982, retains the title and requires a constitutional amendment to alter it."
  24. The Statesman's Year Book, p.635
  25. ibid., p.635
  26. ibid., p.1002
  27. On 7 December 1922 (the day after the establishment of the Irish Free State) the Parliament resolved to make the following address to the King so as to opt out of the Irish Free State: ”MOST GRACIOUS SOVEREIGN, We, your Majesty's most dutiful and loyal subjects, the Senators and Commons of Northern Ireland in Parliament assembled, having learnt of the passing of the Irish Free State Constitution Act, 1922, being the Act of Parliament for the ratification of the Articles of Agreement for a Treaty between Great Britain and Ireland, do, by this humble Address, pray your Majesty that the powers of the Parliament and Government of the Irish Free State shall no longer extend to Northern Ireland". Source: Northern Ireland Parliamentary Report, 7 December 1922 and Anglo-Irish Treaty, sections 11, 12
  28. The Statesman's Year Book, p.302
  29. ibid., p.303
  30. ibid.
  31. HISTORY, CONSTITUTIONAL - The Legislative Authority of the New Zealand Parliament - 1966 Encyclopaedia of New Zealand
  32. Dominion status | NZHistory
  33. ibid
  34. ICL - New Zealand - Constitution Act 1986
  35. The Stateman’s Year Book p.1156
  36. Wikisource: South Africa Act 1909
  37. Statute of Westminster Adoption Act 1942 (Act No. 56 of 1942). The long title for the Act was "To remove Doubts as to the Validity of certain Commonwealth Legislation, to obviate Delays occurring in its Passage, and to effect certain related purposes, by adopting certain Sections of the Statute of Westminster, 1931, as from the Commencement of the War between His Majesty the King and Germany." Link: [12]


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