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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.

An annual event in the Society’s calendar is the Essay Competition, open to students from school and university.

The following link gives details of the 2015 Competition

2015 Essay Conditions and Guidelines


2014 Essay Competition Results


The Francis Forbes Society for Australian Legal History is pleased to announce the results of the 2014 Australian Legal History Essay Competition.

The winner of the prize in the Tertiary Students Category is Zachary Thompson of Sydney Law School for an essay entitled “Love in law and war: Justice David Ferguson and the First World War, 1914 – 18″. Zac will receive a prize of $1,000 and a $1,000 book voucher from Abbey’s Bookshop.

A Merit Certificate has been awarded to Rebecca Masterton of QUT in Brisbane. Her topic was the Stolen Generations, the Bringing Them Home Report and the importance of human rights in Australian society.

Winner of a prize in the Junior Secondary School Category is Rachel Li, a year 10 student at Pymble Ladies College, Sydney. Her essay addressed the question: “Did the Australian legal system deal fairly with the Aboriginal warrior Tuckiar, tried for murder, released by the High Court of Australia and lost in the night (1932 – 1934)?” Rebecca has won for her school $500 plus an Abbey’s book voucher for $500. She has also won for herself a personal prize of $250, together with a $250 Abbey’s book voucher.

Merit Certificates have also been awarded to Harry Heaney and Alex Harris, both Year 10 students at St Pius X College at Chatswood, in Sydney. Their topic was the importance of the 1967 Constitutional referendum in achieving rights and freedoms for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Australians.

The Forbes Society congratulates the winners and all others who participated in the Competition. Prizes, Merit Certificates and Certificates of Participation will be delivered by the end of February, allowing for commencement of the new law term

The Competition Guidelines for the 2015 Australian Legal History Essay Competition will be published on this website no later than the end of February.

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

2014 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 revised program for 2014 is in the following document:  Program Forbes 2014 revised 14.08.14

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


2015 Lectures

In 2015 the Society proposes to conduct a number of major public lectures including the 12th annual Forbes Lecture and the fourth annual JH Plunkett Lecture. The Society invites all members and friends to bring to attention potential lecturers and lecture topics which will be advertised in the future.

The 2014 Australian Legal History Essay Competition


Entrants in the 2014 Australian Legal History Essay Competition are invited to address any question of their own choice on “Australian legal history” or to address one of four questions proposed by the Society.

Read the following link for the set questions, conditions of entry and guidelines for the 2014 Essay Com

Essays submitted by email should be sent to secretary@forbessociety.org.au  Essays submitted by post should be addressed to:

The Secretary, The Francis Society for Australian Legal History, C/- NSW Bar Association, Lower Ground Floor, Selborne Chambers, 174 Phillip Street, Sydney, NSW, 2000.    Essays submitted by hand should be delivered to that address.

Link to 2014 Competition: 2014 Essay Questions, Conditions and Guidelines


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).