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The Francis Forbes Society for Australian Legal History

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 New South Wales and worked hard to establish the legal framework for the new colony. Further details are in our Biography Section.Francis_Forbes_colour

Oil Painting of Sir Francis Forbes by an unknown artist.

Membership Information and forms for the 2016/2017 year are available in the Membership page above.



 The Francis Forbes Society for Australian Legal History is pleased to announce the results of the 2016 Australian Legal History Essay Competition.

In the Tertiary Student category, the winner is Daniel McKay, who has recently completed an honours thesis in law at the Australian National University, for an essay titled, “Under the Crown: Evolving Interpretations of the Office of Australian Governor-General as Constitutional Link to the British Empire, 1890-1931”. Daniel will receive a prize of $1000 and an Abbeys Bookshop voucher to the value of $1000.

Special commendations go to Freeman Zhong, a student at Monash University, for an essay titled “A Continuity in Australian Judicial Review”, and to Madisen Scott, a student Curtin University of Technology, for an essay titled, “The Power of Dissent: Evolving the Law and Gaining the Admiration of the People”.

In the Junior Secondary School category, the winner is Kyung Suh Park, a year 7 student at Kincoppal Rose Bay, for an essay that explored the life and legacy of Thomas Jeffries. She will receive a personal prize of $250 together with an Abbeys Bookshop voucher to the value of $250. Her school will receive a $250 Abbeys Bookshop voucher.

The essays in this category were of a particularly high quality and special commendations go to the following essayists (in alphabetical order): Michael Chooi (for an essay on Australian prisons since 1788); Sarah Kim (for an essay on penal reform); Winona Lu (for an essay on police corruption); and Brandon Yoon (for an essay on the Gun Alley tragedy).

The 2016 Competition was characterised by essays of high quality on a wide range of topics. All essayists are to be congratulated for their efforts. All will receive a certificate acknowledging their participation in the competition.

The Competition Guidelines for the 2017 Competition will be published on this website over the coming weeks

Date: 26 January 2017

Simon Chapple

Secretary, Francis Forbes Society for Australian Legal History



Supreme Court Remembrance Event

On the Eve of Remembrance Day 2016

the 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:

Introduction by the Hon Tom Bathurst AC

Chief Justice of New South Wales

Followed by presentations on:

Lieutenant General James Gordon Legge

the Sydney barrister and law reporter who became Chief of the General Staff in WW1

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



Tutorials on Legal History

Recent Tutorials included:

  • Chief Justice Bathurst : ‘The History of Contract Law’ on 9 November 2016.
  • Justice Emmett:  Roman Law on 30 November 2016.

Details of any seminars in 2017 will be advertised through the Society.

Oxford Edition of Blackstone

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 one of our members, Wilfrid Prest (Professor Emeritus of History and Law University of Adelaide) – see the attached flyer.   blackstone_oxfordeditionofblackstone


The Holt Prize

Australia’s richest law book prize for first time authors. The deadline for submissions is 31 March 2017. The Holt 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. Click on the following link for further details: holt-prize-2017-flyer



Early Modern English Legal History Scholarship

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.

Applicants must be acceptable as candidates for a PhD degree at the University of Adelaide. International candidates are welcome, as are Australian citizens and permanent residents.

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

Fax +61(08) 8313 4344

Email: wilfrid.prest@adelaide.edu.au

Application for Admission by domestic students must be submitted using the Online Application Form available at: https://hdrapp.adelaide.edu.au/auth/login

International students should use the Online Application Form available at: https://international-hdr.adelaide.edu.au/login

Please email a summary of your application for admission to Dr. Helen Payne with “Application for Legal History PhD Scholarship” in the subject heading.

You can request a copy of your application summary by emailing scholarships@adelaide.edu.au with the subject heading ‘Request for application summary’.

History of Equity Podcast

NOTE: Next Forbes Tutorial is on Tuesday 30 August in Banco Court on Roman Law, presented by Justice Emmett.

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.


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.  This year’s 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.

In Freedom’s Cause: the Queensland Legal Profession and the Great War

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 of the same name 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

The publication, In Freedom’s Cause, and further details concerning the project are available through the following link:   publication or by downloading the order form: In Freedom’s Cause Order Form

The project aims to honour and preserve the memory of those legal professionals who left the comfort and safety of their law chambers to fight in foreign terrains and appalling conditions.

The project offers fascinating insights into Queensland society and its legal profession in the 20th century and highlights the loss  society and the legal profession as a result of the war.

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.