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UPDATE – 2017 Legal History Essay Competition

The 2017 Australian Legal History Essay Competition


Entrants in the 2017 Australian Legal History Essay Competition are invited to address any question of their own choice on “Australian legal history”. Further details are in the submission details following

Details of the competition categories and submission details as well as the sample  questions are available on the following link: 2017 Essay Conditions and Guidelines

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.

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.

Scroll down the page for information concerning Membership, upcoming seminars and talks.


Forbes Lecture and Plunkett Lecture for 2017

 We are delighted that Justice Margaret Beazley AO, President of the Court of Appeal, has agreed to present this year’s Forbes Lecture, on the history of the Court of Appeal.  It will be held on 28 September 2017 in Banco Court.  We will provide further details closer to the date.


We are also pleased to announce that the Attorney General has agreed to chair this year’s Plunkett Lecture, to be presented by Mark Tedeschi QC.  We have not yet fixed a date for this lecture, which will meet the Attorney General’s availability if at all possible.  We will provide an update as soon as the date is determined.


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 edition of the Forbes Flyer, No. 34,  edited by David Ash, is now available at the following link:     Autumn 2017. Forbes Flyer

The Flyer includes a report on: Mark Finnane’s 2016 Plunkett Lecture where the audience was treated to an informed and entertaining analysis of the criminal trial as a microcosm of society.

Also, we review Max Bonnell’s intriguing biography of that elusive colonial judge, John Walpole Willis. The book was published by Federation Press earlier this year and launched in March by the NSW chief justice. 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

Details of the first Legal History seminars for 2017 have been finalised. All tutorials will be 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.  Each tutorial will commence at 5.15pm and conclude at 6.15pm.

The Next Seminar is:

  • The History of Property Law by the Hon John Bryson QC: Tuesday, 13 June 2017

Property Law

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. Earlier 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

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.

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


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




Relaunch of Legal History Journal

Legal History is being relaunched with a new series in 2016 with its new academic host, Swinburne Law School in conjunction with Australian Scholarly Publishing.Swinburne Law School is calling for papers for the new series on any subject relating to legal history in Australia, the Asia-Pacific region or other common law countries.  Call for papers for Volume Two Closes One September 2016. All submissions should be sent to legalhistory@swin.edu.auSwinburne Law School will be accepting submissions thereafter on a continuing basis.

Contacts: Dr Amanda Scardamaglia and Dr Jessica Lake | Editors

Legal History

Swinburne Law School | Swinburne University of Technology

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


Adjudication on the Gold Fields: New Book by Dr John Hamilton QC

Dr John Hamilton QC’s book, Adjudication on the Gold Fields is to be launched by Bathurst CJ, in the Banco Court, on 8 March 2016 at 5:30 pm.

Invitation to Launch of Adjudication on the Gold Fields

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