The Society aims to bring together scholars, lawyers and the general public interested in Legal History. It sponsors lectures, competitions, research projects and a variety of seminars and discussion groups.

Sir Francis Forbes was the first Chief Justice of Francis_Forbes_colourNew South Wales and worked hard to establish the legal framework for the new colony. Further details are in our Biography Section.

Some recent Events in September/October

  •  NOTE: Details of the latest edition of the Forbes Flyer Newsletter are available below.


  • Forbes Lecture for 2017: This year’s Forbes Lecture was delivered by Justice Margaret Beazley AO, President of the Court of Appeal.  It is titled, “An insight into appellate justice in New South Wales”.  The lecture was held at 5.15pm on 28 September 2017 in Banco Court.




  • Lecture by The Hon Keith Mason AC QC: The Honourable Keith Mason AC QC  presented a lecture in which he  discussed his latest project on Sir Frederick Jordan.  The lecture was titled ‘Sir Frederick Jordan’s brushes with ‘degenerate art’ and was a fascinating exploration of history and art.  .




  • Tutorial by Chief Justice Bathurst:  Chief Justice Bathurst presented a tutorial on 18 October 2017 in Banco Court,  discussing the history of criminal law.




Launch of ‘A History of Australian Legal Education’ by Professor David Barker AM


Members attended the launch of Professor Barker’s book, ‘A History of Australian Legal Education’ on 4 October 2017 at 5.30pm at Greenway Chambers (Level 10, 99 Elizabeth Street, Sydney).  Professor Barker’s book was launched by The Hon Kevin Lindgren AM QC.




The Attorney General  chaired this year’s Plunkett Lecture, presented by Mark Tedeschi QC on 9 November 2017.



MEMBERSHIP 2017 / 2018

Membership Information and forms for the 2017/2018 year are available in the Membership page above or click on the following links:

FFS Membership Cover Letter 17-18


 FFS Membership application – renewal 17-18


FORBES FLYER _ News For Members and friends of the Society.

The latest Forbes Flyer No 35 (Spring 2017) has been published and is available on the following link: The Forbes Flyer No 35 (Spring 2017)

. This issue of the  newsletter of the Francis Forbes Society for Australian Legal History includes:

    • Five upcoming events arranged by the Society
    • The 36th Annual Conference of ANZLHS, Christchurch, 14-16 December
  • Aborigines & Australian Law
  • David Barker, A History of Australian Legal Education, 2017, Federation Press, 275pp, a review
  • nova constitutio futuris formam imponere debet, non praeteritis (Or how to commit a legal crime)
  • Law and literature




Forbes Flyer, No. 34,  is available at the following link:     Autumn 2017. Forbes Flyer

The 34 Flyer includes a report on: Mark Finnane’s 2016 Plunkett Lecture

Also, a review of Max Bonnell’s intriguing biography of that elusive colonial judge, John Walpole Willis. It is well worth reading! See

John Walpole Willis


John Walpole WIllis

The previous Forbes Flyer is available by clicking on: forbes-flyer-33-autumn-2016

The Legal History seminars for 2017 are completed. The 2018 Seminars will be announced in the new year.

These tutorials are well worth while for experienced practitioners as well as those starting out on a legal career. Any member of the general public who wants to know more about how our legal system operates is welcome to take advantage of these free presentations by some of the leading legal and academic professionals in the country

All tutorials were presented in the beautifully appointed Banco Court (on Level 13 of the Law Courts Building in Queen’s Square, Sydney). We are grateful to NSW Chief Justice Bathurst for his permission to use such an elegant and significant venue again this year.  E

On Tuesday, 13 June 2017 the Hon John Bryson QC presented on The History of Property Law. Click on the following for a copy of the notes accompanying the seminar: Notes

Property Law

Other Seminars included:

William Blackstone

  Tuesday 11 April was an engaging and fascinating talk on the importance of legal history and the work of the English Academic/ Lawyer from the 18th Century,  William Blackstone,  by his biographer Emeritus Professor Wilf Prest (University of Adelaide). Blackstone’s Commentaries are a landmark in the history of the law. Professor Prest brought the man and his influence alive for the audience. Click on the following link for the handout: Prof Prest Handout Forbes Tutorial 11 April 17 . Note: Oxford University Press is offering Forbes members a discount on the Oxford Edition of Blackstone: Commentaries on the Laws of England: Books I, II, III, and IV edited by Wilfrid Prest  – see the attached flyer.   blackstone_oxfordeditionofblackstone

Following this were:

The History of Corporation Law by Justice Ashley Black: Tuesday, 2 May 2017
The History of Equity by the Hon Peter Young QC: Tuesday, 23 May 2017

History of Equity


Early Equity Cases in New South Wales       

“Supreme Court of Civil Jurisdiction Equity Cases 1817-1824”.
Many cases feature the controversial judge, Barron Field. A biography of this colourful character is available at

Judge Barron Field

Early Judge Barron Field

The Hon John Hamilton QC has collected together 37 of the first Supreme Court Equity Cases in the Colony of New South Wales. The cases give a fascinating insight into the legal and social landscape of the time.

John Hamilton QC explains that: “In the State Archives there is a document entitled “Supreme Court of Civil Jurisdiction Equity Cases 1817-1824”. It lists 75 cases. There is a folder there for almost every case generally containing documents for the case. Mostly these are pleadings and interrogatories with their answers, but usually there are no reasons for judgment; the cases more often than not did not go to trial. In no instance is there any record of oral evidence. However, the pleadings contained an extensive account of the parties’ evidentiary cases. The documents in the cases have been essentially copied and these versions are presented in this database. The cases are arranged in chronological order by the dates of their commencement. Click on the following for an outline of the cases to be presented chronological list of equity cases  Click on the following for 14 of these early cases Early Equity Cases in New South Wales

Further cases will be uploaded directly.

Note:  John Hamilton QC’s book, Adjudication on the Gold Fields was launched by Bathurst CJ, in the Banco Court, on 8 March 2016 at 5:30 pm. Details of the book, based on John’s PhD thesis are available at:     Launch of Adjudication on the Gold Fields

John is a former judge of the Supreme Court of NSW and  a much valued active member of both the Francis Forbes Society for Australian Legal History and the Australian and New Zealand Law and History Society.

ALSO on the History of Equity

Joe Campbell QC, formerly a judge of the Supreme Court of NSW and now an Adjunct Professor at Sydney Law School, has prepared a series of podcasts on the History of Equity.   They can be accessed if you cut and paste  the following link: These are an instructive introduction to the history of the Equity jurisdiction.

New Addition


A paper by The Hon John P Bryson QC Formerly a Judge of Appeal in the Supreme Court of New South Wales. Available at: Rules of Court Paper 

Outline of Chapters  

1 Introduction – 1

Introduction and scope 1, Forbes produced simplicity 3, application of English legislation 3, sources of legislation affecting practice 4, Equity practice 5, Ecclesiastical Jurisdiction (probate) 7, arrest imprisonment and debt 8.

2 Commentary on Imperial Acts and subordinate legislation – 11

NSW Debts Act 1813 11, New South Wales Act 1823 12, Charter of Justice 13 October 1823 14, Order in Council 19th October 1824 17, Australian Courts Act 1828 18.

3 Commentary on adopted legislation – 23

Reception of English statutes 23, adoption by local legislation 23, list of adopted English Acts and comment 23.

4 Commentary on local legislation -26

Recurring subjects 26, short titles and numbering 26, arrest imprisonment of debtors and insolvency 27, jury trial in civil litigation 28, libel and defamation 29, other local legislation 29, Table Short titles of Acts of Council 31.

5 Commentary on Rules of Court -33

Many alterations 33, draftsmanship and errors 33, little of high principle 34, following changes in English practice 34, disposition to simplify 34, recurring concerns 36, Division of the Profession 36, Terms 36, matters now obsolete 37, sources of rules, publication 38, publications, Sydney Gazette 38, Forbes’ note book 39, Australian Almanack 39, Government Gazette 40, 1834 rules 40, Sheriff rules 1834 41, 1838 rules 42, admission of attornies, articled clerks 42, drafting by Willis J 43, new rules in 1840 43  Table of publications of rules of court from 1825 to 1839  44, 1825  44, 1826  45, 1827 1828  48, 1829  49, 1830 1831  50, 1832  55, 1834  56, 1835  65, 1838  66.

Appendix – 66           Publications and Sources of Rules

List of documents and Index – 72

Forbes Projects



Future projects


The Society is dedicated to studying and documenting the history of Australian law and encourages its members to participate actively in its affairs, including in developing any projects that the Society might support.  Please don’t hesitate to contact the Secretary of the Society ( if you have a project that you wish to bring to the attention of the Society.

The Forbes Lecture


The Annual Forbes Lecture is an important event in the Forbes Society calendar.  The 2016 lecture was delivered by Professor Jane Stapleton on 14 July 2016 at 5.15pm in the NSW Bar Association Common Room.


The Hon Justice Virginia Bell AC  chaired the lecture.


Professor Stapleton is a Professor at the Australian National University and the University of Texas, School of Law.  She is the Master of Christ’s College, University of Cambridge.


The title of Professor Stapleton’s lecture was “Lady Margaret Beaufort and the Law”.  Lady Margaret Beaufort was the mother of King Henry VII and, among many other things, established Christ’s College, Cambridge in the 1500s.  Professor Stapleton’s well attended lecture provided a fascinating insight into this remarkable woman and her relationship with the law.

New South Wales Lawyers in the First World War
There are a number of ongoing projects commemorating New South Wales Lawyers in the First World War including the development of an Honour Board of Solicitors who served (including Articled Clerks who lost their lives) to be erected in the Law Society Building and a series of biographical sketches of barristers for the NSW Bar Association Website.

On the Eve of Remembrance Day 2016 the New South Wales Supreme Court commemorated the sacrifice and service of the New South Wales Legal Profession in the First World War by telling the stories of the New South Wales lawyers who were there. The Commemoration, held in Banco Court included an Introduction by the Hon Tom Bathurst AC, Chief Justice of New South Wales

Followed by presentations on:

Lieutenant General James Gordon Legge by Major General the Hon Justice Paul Brereton AM

Colonel Henry Norman MacLaurin the leading barrister who was killed in the Gallipoli campaign by Rear Admiral the Hon Justice Michael Slattery RANR

Charles E W Bean the barrister and journalist who became Australia’s official war historian by the Hon Justice Geoff Lindsay

All speeches are available on the Supreme Court Website.

Queensland Supreme Court First World War Project: In Freedom’s Cause.

The signature photo for the project is that of a solicitor, Alfred Edwin Dean, of Charters Towers, who was the son of the Clerk of Petty Sessions at Bundaberg. Alfred Dean’s promising career ended when he was killed in action 11 January 1918 in Belgium.

An exhibition and publication, In Freedom’s Cause, pays tribute to Queensland’s lawyers (and lawyers-in-training) who served in World War I. The publication was launched by the Chief Justice of Queensland, Catherine Holmes, in the Banco Court, Queensland Supreme Court on 18 February 2016. Further details concerning the project are available through the following link:   publication or by downloading the order form: In Freedom’s Cause Order Form




Legal History Journal and Scholarships

Legal History has been relaunched with a new series in 2016 with its new academic host, Swinburne Law School in conjunction with Australian Scholarly Publishing.  All submissions should be sent to Dr Amanda Scardamaglia and Dr Jessica Lake | EditorsLegal History

Swinburne Law School | Swinburne University of Technology

P.O. Box 21, Mail H25 John Street Hawthorn VIC 3122

ALSO of Note

Applications are invited for a scholarship leading to the degree of PhD in the School of Law, University of Adelaide

The scholarship is supported by the Australian Research Council under Discovery Project DP160100265: ‘A New History of Law in Post-Revolutionary England, 1689 1760′ (Chief Investigators: Em. Prof Wilfrid Prest and Prof David Lemmings, University of Adelaide, and Dr Mike Macnair, University of Oxford).

The successful candidate will pursue research leading to a PhD on some aspect of the English legal order, c.1689-1760. Prof. Prest is particularly interested in supervising research on case notes and law reporting or another aspect of legal literature during the later seventeenth and eighteenth centuries. However candidates are encouraged to outline (in no more than 250 words) any proposal they may have for a thesis topic related to the overall field of study.

The scholarship will be for three years full-time study, with a stipend of $31,288 per annum. It is likely to be tax exempt, subject to Taxation Office approval.

Enquiries: Prof. Em. Wilfrid Prest, Adelaide Law School Tel +61 (08) 8313 5883

Email: or Dr. Helen Payne for further details


New book by Mark Tedeschi QC

Mark Tedeschi QC, Senior Crown Prosecutor, has built on his previous success with the book Eugenia and continued writing about some significant trials in Australian Legal History with the publication of Kidnapped, the story of the Graeme Thorne kidnapping and death  in July 1960. It’s a fascinating story and a landmark case. Further details are available at: ‘Kidnapped’ by Mark Tedeschi QC

Forbes Flyer – Spring/Summer 2015

The Newsletter of the Francis Forbes Society

The Forbes Flyer is designed to be an informative reference source for members of the Forbes Society. It contains information about events of historical significance, articles about legal research and details of future lectures and other activities the Forbes Society.

The latest edition, No.32 (Spring/Summer 2016), is available here . No 32 Spring Summer 2015-2016

Topics include:

  • The Forbes Flyer Issue No 32 features:·       History reports itself

    ·       The 2015 Forbes Lecture in Sydney

    ·       Results of the 2015-2016 Australian Legal History Essay Competition

    ·       The Holt Prize

    ·       The Civil Procedure legislation 10 years on

    ·       Constitution patriotism in Adelaide

    ·       The Block and the land of coincidence

    ·       New books

    ·       Spring & Summer Quarters