Forbes Lecture 2004

James Dowling

Why should we remember James Dowling, the second Chief Justice of NSW? Coming between two great chief justices, Francis Forbes and Alfred Stephen, Dowling is usually overlooked. But at his death in 1844, he left behind about 250 judicial notebooks from his time on the NSW bench. Among them was a collection that he called ‘Select Cases’. Dowling had intended to publish these as the first law reports in any Australian colony. Now, after a delay of 160 years, the Forbes Society intends to publish them.

Tim Castle will explain why Dowling and his ‘Select Cases’ are so important to the development of the law and the courts in NSW. Bruce Kercher will then refer to a few of the Select Cases, highlighting the process by which received English law was adapted in order to meet the needs of a frontier society. In the cases concerning Aborigines in particular, we can see a struggle over the legal recognition of Aboriginal autonomy. The case law contained therein is richer than many people would imagine today.

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