Derivation of maritime saying: ‘Below 40 degrees south there is no law…’

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    C. G. Maxworthy

      Please note that we will exploring this topic in a series on maritime myths and legends in the Mariner’s Mirror Podcast. Enjoy! Dr Sam Willis, Editor.

      I’ve come across many versions of this quote from the age of sailing ships:
      ‘Below 40 degrees south there is no law; below 50 degrees south there is no God’

      I am looking for the origins of this quotation – was it really attributed to a whaler or sealer?

      Tony Beales

        A rather superficial dig around in Google Books suggests that this saying may have entered the English language comparatively recently, and perhaps only twenty years ago. It may have come from Norwegian whalers, and I have no idea if the saying can be traced back further in the Norwegian language.
        But another intriguing trail leads back to the Wild West of America. A suspiciously similar saying was used as an advertising tag line for the 1939 film Dodge City, starring Errol Flynn [Warner Bros, dir. Michael Curtiz from a story by Robert Buckner], and was taken from dialogue in the film; this was: ‘West of Chicago there was no law! West of Dodge City there was no God!’
        This dialogue in turn seems to have been adapted from earlier versions. Charles M Harger, in ‘Cattle Trails of the Prairies’,[Scribner’s Magazine vol 11, June 1892, pp732-742], recorded the saying: ‘There is no Sunday west of Newton and no God west of Pueblo’. Edward King records in The Great South: a record of journeys…, [Hartford, Conn., 1875; electronic version at:, accessed 19.9.10]: ‘There’s no railroad west of Junction City, no law west of Kansas City, and no God west of Hays’ City’.
        These sayings were much quoted with various different place names inserted. I think you may be right to question the origins of the quotation!

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