Featured post

Forthcoming Events and recent News of Note

Australia Day Announcements – Honours Awardee and Essay Competition winners:

The Society congratulates all people who received Australia Day Honours, particularly those who have had careers in the Law. Of particular note is the Award to long term, distinguished legal Historian, Dr John Bennett (AO). His citation reads:


Dr John Michael BENNETT AM, NSW For distinguished service to the law through prolific authorship of biographies of eminent members of the legal profession.


  • Author or Editor of over 30 publications based on rigorous research locally and overseas concerning Australia’s legal history.
  • A current series of 17 biographies (2000-2019) uniquely examines the lives of Australia’s 19th Century Chief Justices and their influence on the law, courts and their institutions.


Professional Affiliations

  • Fellow, Australian Academy of Law, current.
  • Churchill Fellowship, 2000.

Honorary Life Member, New South Wales Bar Association, since 2006.   Awards and recognition includes:

  • Doctor of Laws, 1990 and Honorary Doctor of Letters, University of Sydney.
  • Doctor of Letters, Australian National University, 2007.
  • New South Wales History Fellowship, State Library of New South Wales, 2006.
  • Appointed a Member of the Order of Australia, 2005.

ALSO Essay Competition Winners

Today we are happy to announce the winners of our annual Essay competition.

The winners are:

Junior Secondary category: Annette Kim, Tara Anglican School for Girls, for an essay considering Australia’s prison system.

Senior Secondary category: Rohan Hodges, Camberwell Grammar School, for an essay titled, “The Tasmanian Dams Case: To what extent has it influenced Australia’s environmental management? Was the dramatic response to the High Court’s decision justified?”

Tertiary category: Joseph Chigwidden, University of New South Wales, for an essay titled, “How did the benefit of clergy operate to mitigate the rigours of the criminal law? What was the status of the doctrine in colonial New South Wales prior to its formal abolition?”.

Well done to these students for their effort and interest!!!.

2019 was a very productive year for the Society. Many thanks to all our presenters and the many members and guests who attended our lectures, presentations and other functions.


Our last events were in November and included:

A lecture co-sponsored by the Forbes Society and the Selden Society,  was presented by the Hon John Bryson QC titled “Henry VIII’s Will and the Politics of Succession” on Wednesday 6 November 2019, which   was very well attended, with nearly 100 people in Banco Court to hear the analysis of the circumstances and implications of Henry VIII’s Will.

Henry Viii King Royalty England

The lecture was introduced by Justice Lucy McCallum of the NSW Court of Appeal.


Plunkett Lecture

The 2019 Plunkett lecture was delivered by Professor Wilfrid Prest on Wednesday, 13 November 2019 at 5:15pm in Banco Court. Level 13 Law Courts Building, Queens Square, 184 Phillip Street, Sydney In keeping with the theme of previous Plunkett lectures, Professor Prest spoke about the office of attorney-general in the 18th century, with particular reference to Sir Dudley Ryder (1691-1756), the second-longest serving holder of that office.

dudley ryder

We are grateful to the Chief Justice for making Banco Court available for both lectures.


2019 Annual General Meeting

The 2019 Forbes Society AGM was held on Tuesday 19 November 2019 in the Federal Court Conference Room 18.47, Level 18, 184 Phillip Street, Sydney.

Click on the following tabs for documents related to the AGM: Notice of AGM 2019FFS Council nomination form 2019; Minutes of AGM – 14.11.2018; FFS proxy form 2019; Circular resolution 30 October 2019; 2019 Society & Fund Financial Report; Management Representation letter – 30 Oct 2019


 Book Launch:

Launch of Sir Frederick Jordan: Fire under the frost, by the Hon Keith Mason AC QC – Tuesday 26 November 2019

The Federation Press cordially invited Forbes members to the launch of Sir Frederick Jordan: Fire under the frost, by the Hon Keith Mason AC QC. The book was launched by the Hon Justice Stephen Gageler AC in Banco Court.

Forbes members may recall the lecture delivered by the Hon Keith Mason on 10 October 2017, titled “Sir Frederick Jordan’s brushes with ‘degenerate art’”.


History of the Legal Profession in NSW, was on Thursday 19  September 2019.  We are very grateful to the Chief Justice, the Hon T F Bathurst AC, for presenting this seminar in Banco Court.




Time to Renew Subscriptions Please,

Subscription Renewal Covering Letter: FFS Membership Cover Letter 19-20

Subscription Renewal Form:  FFS Membership application – renewal 19-20

Have you considered donating to the Society? 

 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


We are very grateful to Professor Anne Twomey   who delivered the 2019 Forbes Lecture  on Wednesday 5 June 2019 . Further details are in the Forbes Lecture Page of the website.



Latest edition of the Forbes Flyer prepared by David Ash is available now:

Click on:  Forbes Flyer No 40 (Spring 2019)

The flyer includes an index of articles since its inception.

Recent Publications of Note:

 The Constitution and Government
of Australia, 1788 to 1919
By William Pitt Cobbett Edited by Anne Twomey


 Between 1910 and 1919, William Pitt Cobett, former Professor of Law and Dean of the Sydney Law School, wrote what would become his great opus on the Constitution and Government of Australia but the manuscript was never published. Its publication
had been frustrated in the period following his death by the High Court’s judgment in the Engineers Case in 1920 and the new constitutional order it created.

A century later, Professor Anne Twomey, has edited Cobbett’s original manuscript, taking care to
preserve the integrity of his work.
The Federation Press, with the support of the Francis Forbes Society for Australian Legal History, will publish this important historical work which provides a detailed perspective of how the Constitution operated in
the first two decades after Federation.

Click on the following for further details: eCard_The Constitution and Government of Australia



Free Hands and Minds

Pioneering Australian Legal Scholars

Susan Bartie

 legal scholars

Peter Brett (1918–1975), Alice Erh-Soon Tay (1934–2004) and Geoffrey Sawer (1910–1996) are key, yet largely overlooked, members of Australia’s first community of legal scholars. This book is a critical study of how their ideas and endeavours contributed to Australia’s discipline of law and the first Australian legal theories. It examines how three marginal figures – a Jewish man (Brett), a Chinese woman (Tay), and a war orphan (Sawer) – rose to prominence during a transformative period for Australian legal education and scholarship.

Ranging from local experiences and the concerns of a nascent Australian legal academy to the complex transnational phenomena of legal scholarship and theory, Free Hands and Minds makes a compelling case for contextualising law and legal culture within society. At a time of renewed crisis in legal education and research in the common law world, it also offers a vivid, nuanced and critical account of the enduring liberal foundations of Australia’s discipline of law.

 Susan Bartie is Lecturer in Law at the University of Tasmania, Australia.

    344pp   |   Hardback   |

Discount Price: £56

Order online at www.hartpublishing.co.uk – use the code CV7 at the checkout to get 20% off your order!


The result of a long term research project by Malcolm Oakes SC is now available. It is 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 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.

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.

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



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


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).