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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.

Note: Membership Information and forms for the 2015/2016 year is available in the Membership page in the above list.


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


Program for Legal History Seminars 2015

The  seminars are an opportunity for interested parties to hear presentations on different aspects on Legal History from some of the state’s senior academics and judicial officers in a relaxed atmosphere.  The tutorials and interesting on both a professional and personal levels.

All tutorials will  be presented in the Banco Court (on Level 13 of the Law Courts Building in Queen’s Square, Sydney), save that Allsop CJ will present his tutorial in the Federal Court of Australia on Level 21.

The program will commence on 5 May 2015 and conclude on 4 November 2015, with a break in the middle of the year to accommodate other fixtures in the legal profession’s education calendar.

All tutorials will commence at 5:10 pm and conclude no later than 6:10 pm.  Light refreshments will be served.

The tutorials are open to all members and friends of the Forbes Society without charge. Enquiries about the tutorials can be directed to Mary-Ann de Mestre, Tipstaff to Lindsay J, on telephone (02) 9779 7263 or via email at  <Mary-Ann_de_Mestre@courts.nsw.gov.au.>

The program, as revised, comprises the following tutorials:

(1) An Introduction to Australian Legal History by Emeritus Professor Bruce Kercher (introduced by the Hon Keith Mason AC, QC): Tuesday, 5 May 2015.

(2) An Introduction to Roman Law by Justice Arthur Emmett: Thursday, 21 May 2015.

(3) The History of Property Law by the Hon John Bryson QC: Tuesday, 2 June 2015.

(4) The History of Criminal Law by Justice Richard Button and Nick Cowdery QC: Tuesday, 16 June 2015.

(5) The History of Contract Law by Acting Justice Peter Young: Wednesday, 26 August 2015.

(6) The History of Tort Law by Judge Nick Manousaridis: Wednesday, 9 September 2015.

(7) The History of the Law of Restitution (Quasi Contract) by Chief Justice James Allsop: Wednesday, 7 October 2015.

(8) The History of Equity by Chief Justice Tom Bathurst: Tuesday, 27 October 2015 (Note change from previously advertised date.)

(9) The History of Statutory Interpretation by Justice Ashley Black: Wednesday, 4 November 2015.

NOTE: This year’s annual Forbes Lecture will be presented by Emeritus Professor David Barker (on Wednesday 11 November 2015) on the History of Legal Education in Australia.

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

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


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 2015 Australian Legal History Essay Competition


Entrants in the 2015 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.


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.



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).