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Forthcoming Events and recent News of Note


Forbes dates for 2022:



Our planned legal history tutorial “The Mason Court” has had to be POSTPONED.

It was intended for tonight, Tuesday 24 May at 5.15 pm in Court 13A, Supreme Court, Law Courts Building.

A new date will be announced directly

Professor Barbara McDonald, Dr Ben Chen, and Dr Jeffrey Gordon (also University of Sydney Law School) on their research project (the Mason Court – the forthcoming book, Dynamic and Principled: The Influence of Sir Anthony Mason).

NOTE: This book will be formally launched on Wednesday 6th July at 5.30pm in , by Justice Stephen Gageler.  

Photo: Sir Anthony Mason AC KBE


The Society is grateful to Chief Justice Bell for use of court facilities.  In a most welcome change from the Covid related restrictions on in person events over the last two years, Chief Justice Bell is encouraging in person attendance at lectures and tutorials held in the Supreme Court.  We will continue to offer a remote option for those who cannot make in person attendance.

No registration is necessary for in person attendance.  However, it is essential to observe the Court’s Covid regulations (mask wearing is still required).

For streaming using the Court’s remote facilities please register here 24th May Tutorial – The Mason Court  and follow the link to register for the link to view the tutorial



The Forbes Lecture will be delivered on Tuesday 28 June at 5:15 pm by Dr Susan Bartie of the University of Tasmania, again in Court 13A.


Dr Nicole Graham, Associate Professor (University of Sydney Law School) on the history of land law


The first Forbes Society tutorial of 2022 was Wednesday 23 February 2022 at 5.15pm in the Banco Court  presented by Dr Coel Kirkby of the University of Sydney, on the “History of Jurisprudence”.

There was a formal presentation by the President of the Forbes Society, Chief Justice Allsop of the Federal Court of Australia, to:

  • The Honourable T F Bathurst AC, Chief Justice of New South Wales, recognizing his support for the Society during his term as Chief Justice, on his retirement from the Court; and

  • the Winners of the 2021 Australian Legal History Essay Competition – are set out below.


2021 Australian Legal History Essay Competition

  • The Tertiary Student winner is Tamaris Hoffman from the University of New England for an essay titled, “The Solomons and ‘Our Patch’ in the Pacific – 100 Years on from Sir John Latham and the League of Nations”.
  • The Senior Secondary School winner is Johan Choi for an essay titled, “The law: It sees you when you’re sleeping, it knows when you’re awake”.
  • The Junior Secondary School winner is Bo Chung for an essay titled, “The Legality of Australia’s Response to COVID-19: A Reflective Comparison with the Spanish Flu”.

In the Junior Secondary School category Special Commendations were awarded to:

  • Lucas Hong for an essay titled “How did Man Monis v The Queen affect the implied doctrine of freedom of political communication? Does the doctrine still fulfil its role and functionality?”.
  • Esther Kim for an essay titled, “Does Australia sufficiently recognise Indigenous Australian rights?”.
  • Ian Kim for an essay titled, “Why did Captain Cook believe he had the right to claim Australia for England in 1788?”

The Society also congratulates the schools of each of the students, being (in alphabetical order) Chatswood High, MLC Burwood, Newington College, Normanhurst Boys High School, and Sydney Grammar School.


NOTE 2021 AGM WAS HELD ON WEDNESDAY 24 November at 5.30 pm VIA ZOOM. Further details are at:  Notice of AGM 2021 (1.11.21)



Past Legal history tutorial : Thank you to the Chief Justice, the Hon TF Bathurst AC, for delivering the legal history tutorial  on Wednesday 22 September 2021, titled “The History of Sentencing Law” at 5.15pm.   It was streamed from Banco Court.

Click here for a copy of the Speech: Bathurst_20210922

The Society expresses its deep gratitude to the Chief Justice who has supported the many tutorials, lectures and other events that occurred during his time in office.

His generosity in allowing the use of Banco Court is greatly appreciated!


New Legal History blog Announced 

The University of Southern Queensland School of Law and Justice has recently launched a blog with a strong focus on legal history – https://lawfully.usq.edu.au/

Initial posts examine the 1348 Humber Ferry case, Chief Justice Coke’s decision in the Bonham case, an analysis of the 1686 Godden v Hales matter, and more!!!


Thank you very much to the Hon Justice Jacqueline Gleeson, High Court, for delivering a fascinating 2021 Plunkett Lecture. Thank you also to  the Attorney General, the Hon Mark Speakman SC MP (19 August) for chairing the meeting


The Lecture was titled, ‘Dignity in the time of John Hubert Plunkett’ and provided a fascinating perspective on the concept of dignity in legal proceedings and history.

The Attorney General delivered the Seventh Annual Plunkett Lecture in 2018, ‘The Royal Prerogative of Mercy’ and chaired the 2017 Plunkett Lecture, ‘John Hubert Plunkett QC and the Myall Creek murder trials’ delivered by Mark Tedeschi AM QC and the 2020 Plunkett Lecture, ‘John Hubert Plunkett: An Irish Lawyer in Australia’ delivered by Dr John McLaughlin AM.

Click Here for the program: 2021 Plunkett Lecture Programme

The Lecture was delivered online via Zoom.  We are grateful for the assistance of the NSW Bar Association in arranging this Zoom Webinar.


CONGRATULATIONS – Queens Birthday Honours 

Congratulations to the following members of the Legal and associated Professions who received Queen’s Birthday Honours in the Order of Australia:

Officer (AO) in the General Division of the Order of Australia

  • The Honourable Patricia Anne BERGIN SC for distinguished service to the law, and to the judiciary, to legal administration, and as a mentor and advisor.
  • Professor Anne Frances TWOMEY
    For distinguished service to the law, to legal education,
    and to public education on constitutional matters.

Member (AM) in the General Division of the Order of Australia

  • Ms Katherine Louise EASTMAN for significant service to the law, to human rights, and to professional organisations.

Medal (OAM) in the General Division of the Order of Australia

  • Mr Peter Clement SEMMLER QC for service to the law.
  • Ms Mary Catherine WALKER for service to the law.

Medal in the Military Division (OAM)

  • Colonel James Graham WADDELL For meritorious performance of duty as Director of
    Operations and Security Law and as Director of Army Legal Services for the Australian Defence Force. Colonel Waddell has been a great supporter of the Society.



The Annual Forbes Lecture, titled,  ‘She was looking for her child’ Evatt J’s dissent in Chester v the Council of Waverley Municipality, was  to be presented by Gideon Haigh, the author of a recently released book on Chester v Waverley Corporation, on Wednesday 9 June 2021, starting at 5.15pm.  A link to the book on the publisher’s website: https://www.simonandschuster.com.au/books/The-Brilliant-Boy/Gideon-Haigh/9781760856113

We are very grateful for the use of the Supreme Court facilities, courtesy of Chief Justice Bathurst.

Please click here for:  2021 Annual Forbes Lecture Programme and News Update _09 06 2021


Our new Membership Application and Renewal Form is now available at: FFS Membership application and renewal 2021-22


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: Fund Donation Form 2022

Paper on Sir James Martin (1820-1886)

A new paper by eminent legal historian Dr John Bennett on   Sir James Martin has been published by the Society.

Dr Bennett described Sir James Martin as enjoying “the unique distinction, thus far in the history of New South Wales, of holding in succession the offices of Premier (thrice) and then of Chief Justice.”

Martin has been honored recently with twin statuettes in Martin Place and Parramatta. Dr Bennett, as Martin’s chief biographer, argues that these statues would be better located in the ground floor of the Law Courts Building and the grounds of Old Government House. as more protected from vandalism and more in keeping with the history of this significant individual.

This important paper is available here: Reflections on Sir James Martin 04.04.21


Recent Books

Australian Jurists and Christianity – a collection of essays, many written by members of the Society which explore the connection between Australian Jurists and  Christianity. People profiled include Eddie Mabo, Edith Cowan and Michael Kirby AC CMG

Abbeys Bookshop of 131 York St Sydney, has the book – Just $99.00!!  Click on the following link to purchase a copy from Abbey’s


Australian Jurists and Christianity provides new perspectives on the relationship between law and religion in Australia. It claims that the relationship between law and religion was more significant in Australia than has been suggested. Specifically, it suggests that Christianity was a significant influence on Australian jurists, both as public figures and as makers of Australian law.

Forbes Flyer No. 42 is out now!!!

This is David Ash’s final Flyer as editor. Our thanks to David for his great work in editing these excellent Newsletters for the society. It can be found at: Forbes-Flyer-No-42-Summer-2020-2021

This edition contains a review of the year’s events, and a fascinating article on Alexandria Park, the home of Terra Nullius.

The Flyer also contains details David’s recent book:  Three Sydney Judges


This book sketches the lives of three Justices of the High Court of Australia, the nation’s supreme court. Albert Bathurst Piddington, George Rich, and Adrian Knox are part of Sydney’s history. They also inform our present.

The book is available through Amazon: https://www.amazon.com.au/Three-Sydney-Judges-David-Ash/dp/B0884H5S4C#:~:text=This%20book%20sketches%20the%20lives,They%20also%20inform%20our%20present.

The Previous editions of the Forbes Flyer are available on the Forbes Flyer Page of this website.

Some Recent articles of interest:

The Society welcomes any contributions from members who may have a particular interest they wish to explore through an essay, or a resource they think may be useful in the wider community. We can easily publish them online!! Send them to the Web Manager, Tony Cunneen at:  TCunneen@stpiusx.nsw.edu.au

As a result of long research Summer Bar News Published an article on the establishment War Crimes tribunal on Labuan in 1945  by former Justice Russell Le Gay Brereton.

The article is available at:



Bar News Winter published a series of  articles on the New South Wales Legal Profession and the 1919 Pandemic. Following is an extended version of one of those articles: Tony CUNNEEN 1919 Pandemic and the Bar (7 June 2020)-1

Plunkett Lecture 24 November is available at:

Forbes Society – 2020 Plunkett Lecture – YouTube

The Ninth Annual Plunkett Lecture was delivered by Dr John McLaughlin AM on Tuesday 24 November 2020 at 5:15pm. The JH Plunkett Lecture honours the memory of one of this State’s pivotal Attorneys General. John Hubert Plunkett (1802-1869) arrived in NSW, from Ireland, in 1832. For more than 30 years thereafter he made a major contribution to colonial law and society, serving, inter alia, as Solicitor General and Attorney General. He was the first Australian lawyer to be granted a commission as Queen’s Counsel. He led Roger Therry, another Irish-born barrister, in the conduct of the Myall Creek Murder trials.

The 2020 Plunkett Lecture  focused on John Plunkett himself and was chaired by the NSW Attorney General, The Hon Mark Speakman SC MP, himself a former Plunkett Lecturer.


“Making the Past Visible: The Colonial Frontier Massacre Map Project and the Legacies of Frontier massacres”.

 On Thursday 5 November 2020 at 5:15-6:30pm (Eastern Daylight Saving Time) there was a webinar held organised by the New South Wales Judicial Commission, Ngara Yura Committee entitled:

Making the Past Visible: The Colonial Frontier Map Project and the Legacies of Frontier Massacres.

Speaker Professor Lyndall Ryan of the University of Newcastle.

Chaired by Chief Justice Allsop of the Federal Court of Australia and Justice McCallum from the Supreme Court of New South Wales.

In the lecture Professor Ryan addressed the history of massacres of Aboriginal people that occurred from 1794 to 1928 (some 300, with an estimated loss of nearly 10,000 lives) across the Australian frontier.  The lecture examined the data concerning these events and addressed important historical and contemporary questions about this part of Australian history and legal history: the lack of awareness of these events; why few perpetrators appeared before courts; how do we come to terms with this past and what the past and our response mean for the future?

Prof Ryan. Digital Map of Colonial Frontier Massacres



Obituary to  Philip Selth OAM

The following Obituary to Philip was first published in the New South Wales Bar Association, InBrief on 7 July  2020. It is reproduced with the permission of the author, Bret Walker SC. It can be found at: PHILIP ALAN SELTH OAM

Philip Selth OAM was the founding Honorary Executive Director of the Society, then variously a member of the Advisory Board and Councillor. Philip’s support for the Society and its legal history work was vital.

phillip_selth_440x295Photo courtesy Australian Dictionary of Biography – one of the many history projects which Philip supported so passionately. He wrote six entries in the ADB. Click on the following link for a piece written by Philip on his experience with the ADB:    Philip Selth in the ADB 

Further Details from the NSW Bar Association are available at: VALE PHILIP ALAN SELTH OAM


2020 Forbes Lecture

2020 Forbes Lecture:  Justice Leeming of the NSW Court of Appeal delivered the Forbes Lecture on Tuesday 19 May 2020 at 5.30 pm.

The title was: : “Lawyers’ uses of history, from Entick v Carrington to Smethurst v Commissioner of Police”. Justice Leeming’s excellent presentation  the first time the Society used social media to broadcast a lecture live.

Download the Lecture here: Forbes Lecture 2020_ Justice Leeming





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).