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Forthcoming Events and recent News of Note

Latest Announcements:

Legal History Tutorials are back on!!

  • This year’s programme of legal history tutorials will begin on 21 May 2019.

  • Simon Chapple will present a tutorial titled “Introduction to Australian Legal History” on Tuesday 21 May 2019 in Court 13A (on Level 13 of the Law Courts Building in Queen’s Square, Sydney) ALSO

  • The Chief Justice, the Hon T F Bathurst AC has also confirmed that he will present a tutorial the ‘History of the legal profession in NSW’ on 19 September 2019.

ALSO – just to hand…

Professor Anne Twomey  will deliver the 2019 Forbes Lecture  on Wednesday 5 June 2019 at 5.30pm.

The topic will be Pitt Cobbett and  aspects of his work. The lecture will be in Court 13A where our legal history tutorials will be held this year (Note that our usual venue, the Bar Common Room, is not available on that evening.)


 The title is ‘Pitt Cobbett – A Pre-Engineer’s Ghost Speaks from the Grave’.

 Professor Twomey’s abstract is as follows.

In Spence v Queensland, the High Court recently referred to the whispers of the pre-Engineers ghosts. One of those ghosts is Pitt Cobbett, a former Professor of Constitutional Law at the University of Sydney who died on the last day of Sir Samuel Griffith’s term as Chief Justice.  Cobbett wrote a great opus on the Constitution but its publication was frustrated by the Engineers Case and the new constitutional order it created.  A century after Cobbett’s death, his work is about to be published and his voice heard from the grave.  Join Cobbett’s successor, Professor Anne Twomey, as she explores what is surprising and what we can learn from Cobbett’s century-old understanding of the Constitution.

Further details on Pitt Cobbett’s life can be found at the Australian Dictionary of Biography Entry:  http://adb.anu.edu.au/biography/cobbett-william-pitt-5699



Latest edition of the Forbes Flyer available now:

Click on:  Forbes-Flyer-No-38-Autumn-2019

RECENT ADDITIONS TO THE PUBLICATIONS PAGE9781760021931Forbes Member David Ash has written an excellent review of Greg Woods’ monumental history

 A History of Criminal Law in New South Wales, vol 2, The New State 1901-1955, (2018),The Federation Press, 878pp. The review is at: G D Woods A History of Criminal Law in New South Wales vol 2


In addition

David presents the results of his long term research project -  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 Holt Prize

Sponsored by Federation Press.


The Prize is awarded every two years to a first-time author of an unpublished legal work of an academic or practical nature. The Holt Prize winner will receive a $12,000 cash prize and a publishing contract with The Federation Press.

Further Details available at: The-Holt-Prize-2019



This year’s 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

We welcomed Ben Chen to the Council during the meeting.

Ben is a longstanding member of the Society . In his final year of undergraduate studies, Ben served as Tipstaff to Justice Lindsay. He has published in legal history and helped organise legal history tutorials for members and friends of the Society. Ben later worked as a judge’s associate at the ACT Supreme Court (in 2013-14) and a sessional academic at the Australian National University (in 2014-16). While at Columbia, he worked as a researcher for Professor Elizabeth S Scott, the chief reporter for Restatement of Children and the Law.

Ben joined Sydney University Law School in 2018. He is a doctoral candidate at Columbia University School of Law and at the Australian National University Research School of Economics. His legal research focuses on mental incapacity in private law, using behavioural-economic and historical approaches. His economics research develops contest theory (a branch of game theory) to capture behavioural biases and social preferences, and then applies it to model civil litigation.



The latest edition of the Forbes Flyer, July 2018, edited by David Ash, is available at the following link: Forbes-Flyer-No-37-Spring-2018


  • Special Note Legal History 3 

  • The Journal, Legal History is commissioning a special Law and War Edition. Call for papers has been released. Click on the following link for details: Legal History CFP – Law and War


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.

MEMBERSHIP 2018 / 2019

Membership Information and forms for the 2018/2019 year are available in the Membership page above or click on the following links:

 FFS Membership Cover Letter 18-19

FFS Membership application – renewal 18-19

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


First World War Commemorative Activities

There have been a number of events recently to commemorate the extensive role of the NSW  Legal Profession in the First World War.

On 4 April at 5.30 pm in the Bar Common Room, The Bar Association hosted an event two speeches commemorating the WWI heroism of a NSW Barrister and a NSW Solicitor.

The Hon Justice M J Slattery, Judge Advocate General of the Australian Defence Force told the story of  Percy Valentine Storkey who was awarded a Victoria Cross for his actions on 7 April 1918, in leading a surprise attack near Villiers Brettoneaux to capture an enemy force 10 times larger than his own.

Percy Storkey VC Storkey subsequently graduated in law, came to the Bar, became a Crown Prosecutor and was later a District Court Judge. Justice Slattery delivered an expanded version of his speech ton 11 April at the Sydney University Law School. Click on the following links for the speech : Storkey Speech – Sydney Law School 11 April 2018  And the Power Point: PercyStorkey – Sydney Law School speech

The President of the Law Society, Mr Doug Humphreys OAM, a senior Army reservist, told  the story of the  solicitor, Charles Melville Macnaghten, who  personified much about the experience of the NSW legal profession in WWI. Lieut Col Charles Melville Macnaghten.Macnaghten was a leading member of the 4th battalion AIF, a very brave soldier, who was appointed CMG in January 1916 and mentioned in dispatches for his Gallipoli service. He experienced difficulty adjusting to life after the battlefield and would have been suffering an early form of PTSD.  The speech is available on the following link  Doug Humphreys OAM Oration Charles Melville Macnaghten CMG

There are many other resources available relating to these men. Both are on the Australian Dictionary of Biography:  Click on the following:



For Remembrance Day 2018  
Lieutenant Edwin Mayhew Brissenden in Formal Army

Lieutenant Edwin Mayhew Brissenden. Appointed to the District Bench while still on active service. One of three stories to be old at the event.

The centenary of the end of the First World War was commemorated by a special presentation in Banco Court on Monday 12 November at 5.15 hosted by the Chief Justice, the Hon. T. F. Bathurst. Click on the following link for details:  For Remembrance Day 2018


In addition The Website of the New South Wales Supreme Court has a section dedicated to to lawyers in the First World War comprising both an extensive collection of written materials and photographs:


Centenary of Women’s Legal Status Act of 1918

2018 marks the centenary of the landmark Women’s Legal Status Act on 1918 which gave women the right to practise as lawyers in New South Wales.

The Forbes Lecture for 2018

Wednesday 30 May 2018: We were delighted that the Hon Justice Virginia Bell AC could  deliver the 2018 Forbes Lecture to mark the Centenary of the Women’s Legal Status Act 1918 (NSW). The lecture was chaired by Arthur Moses SC and was very well attended and  we thank Her Honour for the fascinating presentation.

Anyone interested in the background to the passage of the Act can find further details in the following article on the topic  published  in Bar News Summer, 2010 – 2011.  Background to the Women’s Legal Status Act 1918,

Women Marching in Sydney in 1917 - reviewed by Lady Helen Munro Ferguson.

VADs marching in Sydney in 1917 – Lady Cullen, wife of Chief Justice Sir William Cullen was the State President of the Red Cross and a leading public figure at the time. One of the main reasons given for the passage of the Act was that women had ‘proved their worth’ through their support of the war.



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

The latest Forbes Flyer No 36 (Autumn 2018)  has been published. This issue of the  newsletter of the Francis Forbes Society for Australian Legal History includes a review of:  J.M. Bennett, Sir Alexander Onslow  images


The previous issue is available on the following link: The Forbes Flyer No 35 (Spring 2017)


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

The 34 Flyer includes a review of Max Bonnell’s intriguing biography of that elusive colonial judge, John Walpole Willis. It is well worth reading! See http://www.federationpress.com.au/bookstore/book.asp?isbn=9781760020866).

John Walpole Willis


John Walpole WIllis

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

 The  four Legal History Seminars for 2018 have been:

  • Professor Wilf Prest, Lawyers and the law in the “Glorious Revolution” on Tuesday 24 April 2018 – Professor Prest’s most recent book Blackstone and His Critics is available through www.bloomsbury.com.au

  • The Honourable Arthur Emmett, The Roman Consensual Contracts: Sale, Hire and Partnership on Tuesday 15 May 2018

  • Professor Mark Lunney, History of the law of tort on Wednesday 19 June 2018

  •   The History of the Law of Commercial Arbitration delivered by the Chief Justice, the Hon T F Bathurst AC, on Thursday 18 October 2018 

    The 2018 Plunkett Lecture:

    The Attorney General of New South Wales, the Hon Mark Speakman SC MP, delivered the 2018 Plunkett Lecture on Monday, 29 October 

These tutorials and presentations 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 at 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.


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.

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 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