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Forthcoming Events and recent News of Note

Latest Announcements:


Time to Renew Subscriptions Please,

Subscription Renewal Covering Letter: FFS Membership Cover Letter 19-20

Subscription Renewal Form:  FFS Membership application – renewal 19-20

Have you considered donating to the Society? 

 The Society welcomes donations to support research activities, such as  that outlined in the Current Research Page of this Website. Anyone wishing to donate should download the following form: Forbes Fund Donation Form


We are very grateful to Professor Anne Twomey   who delivered the 2019 Forbes Lecture  on Wednesday 5 June 2019 . Further details are in the Forbes Lecture Page of the website.

Legal History Tutorials are well under way!!

  • This year’s programme of legal history tutorials  began on 21 May 2019 with Dr Simon Chapple (Secretary of the Society) speaking on the topic: ‘Introduction to Australian Legal History’.

The other scheduled tutorials in this year’s series are:

History of Equity, to be delivered by the Hon J Campbell QC in two parts, on 6 and 13 August 2019.

450px-Court_of_Chancery_editedChancery Court

Legalism in the Twentieth Century: the chameleon concept, on 3 September 2019, to be jointly delivered by:

  • Professor Mark Lunney - (Junior Vice President of the Society; Professor of Law, University of New England),

  • Dr Tanya Josev (Senior Lecturer, Melbourne Law

  • Dr Susan Bartie (Lecturer, University of Tasmania Faculty of Law)


Sydney Legal Precinct in 1914.


History of the Legal Profession in NSW, on 18 September 2019, to be delivered by The Chief Justice, the Hon T F Bathurst AC.





Latest edition of the Forbes Flyer prepared by David Ash is available now:

Click on:  Forbes-Flyer-No-39-Winter-2019

The Flyer deals in part with the career of Pitt Cobbett and is well worth a read.


A Recent Publication of Note:

The result of a long term research project by Malcolm Oakes SC is now available. It is a List of non-practice published works by members of the New South Wales Bar. This is a fascinating account of the many contributions to Australian social and literary life made by barristers. It is well worth a look at the following link:  List of non-practice published works by members of the NSW bar

The list is alphabetical by author and includes man well known barristers, including CEW Bean, HV Evatt, Ian Barker QC and many others.

RESULTS of the 2018 Essay Competition are available on the Essay Competition page of the Website. Prospective essayists are encouraged to begin researching possible topics for 2019!!!





The 2018 AGM was  held on Wednesday 14 November 2018 at 5:15pm in the Bar Association Common Room. 

Click on the following link for the Annual Report which outlines the various activities of the Society:  ANNUAL REPORT 2018 – 13.11.18


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.

Please view our section About Us for information concerning our Council members.

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.

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 early cases from Best V Swinton   to Hook V Gilberthorp  :  Early Equity Cases in New South Wales The following link gives access to another 23 of these early cases from Hovell V Charters to Wheelwright,  to Lloyd, Langston v Underwood, Kable and Underwood  Further Early Equity Cases

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: https://www.youtube.com/playlist?list=PLhg7RxMYx8V1ZrK7zjeHHUsI57T05-pHY. 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 (secretary@forbessociety.org.au) if you have a project that you wish to bring to the attention of the Society.

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 legalhistory@swin.edu.auContacts: Dr Amanda Scardamaglia and Dr Jessica Lake | EditorsLegal HistorySwinburne 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: wilfrid.prest@adelaide.edu.au or Dr. Helen Payne for further details



New Book: Murray Gleeson – The Smiler by Michael Pelly

Society member, Michael Pelly, has released a book on the life of former Chief Justice of the High Court, Murray Gleeson. The book was launched in Sydney on 27 May 2014 and is available through Federation press. Further details on the book can be obtained by accessing the relevant section on the Federation Press Website. Go to


David Ash has written a Review of the book. Please click on the link to read what David has written: Murray Gleeson – The Smiler

Meeting of the Legal History Discussion Group


From time to time the Society convenes for its members and friends a “Legal History Discussion Group” meeting in the premises of the NSW Bar Association.  These meetings (held in the evening, commencing at 5.30pm and concluding no later than 7.00pm) provide a forum in which people interested in legal history can learn of recent developments, present papers and exchange ideas.


The Australian Capital Punishment Database

This database contains information on all 3,171 capital convictions handed down in New South Wales from 1788-1954. Nearly one third of those convictions resulted in executions.

The database contains searchable particulars on prisoner, victim, conviction, and execution. These categories can be used in tandem, allowing the researcher to narrow down specific criminal cases, or track patterns over time. A general search function finds hits in the entire database.

We hope that it will herald future projects in law, history, criminology, socio-legal studies, and genealogy.

The Capital Convictions database was funded by the Francis Forbes Society for Australian Legal History. The database brings together a wealth of material collected through many years of historical research. The database is the compilation of the research of Dr Ken Macnab (University of Sydney), Sydney solicitor and barrister Tim Castle, and Dr Amanda Kaladelfos (Arts NSW Archival Research Fellow and Research Fellow at ARC Centre of Excellence in Policing and Security, Griffith University). This project greatly benefited from the research assistance of students and graduates of the University of Newcastle and University of Sydney: Justin Gill, Bianca D’Angelo, Emma Warren, Sarah Dunstan, Courtney O’Regan, and Joe Campbell.

Clink on the link: http://research.forbessociety.org.au/ to access to the database


Select Cases 1828-1863


The Select Cases 1828-1863 Project, undertaken by the Forbes Society in conjunction with Macquarie University, through ongoing work of Brent Salter and Emeritus Professor Bruce Kercher in consultation with Dr Lisa Ford, has advanced to a stage where, subject to funding, the Society can proceed to publication.  The Society hopes to be able to move, in 2013, towards publication of two volumes following upon Kercher and Salter (eds), The Kercher Reports: Decisions of the New South Wales Superior Courts, 1788 to 1827 (Forbes Society, 2009/2010).