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Forthcoming Events and recent News of Note


AGM for the Society was held on  Thursday, 23 November 2023. The following Annual Report was tabled:

ANNUAL REPORT 2023 (16.11.23)

2023 HISTORY COMPETITION – It’s time to get writing!!!

Competition Details are at: 2023 Essay Conditions and Guidelines – Final[1][100]

We remind members, school and universities of the annual Australian Legal History Essay Competition.  Please remind  students in your networks of this competition as well.  For further information please contact Simon Chapple SC on secretary@forbessociety.org.au

Link to Recent Conference





There will be a number of commemorative events to mark the Bicentenary of the establishment of the New South Wales Legislative Council and the Supreme Court 

 New South Wales Parliament coordinated a recent conference titled:  New South Wales Act 1823 – the spark that ignited 200 years of Parliament and the Supreme Court in NSW.

The various presentations are available at: https://www.parliament.nsw.gov.au/about/Pages/The-Spark-Conference.aspx

Bicentenary Conference 2023: The Spark

Current and former judges, eminent historians, experts and authors explored the history, politics and society of early colonial NSW that laid the foundations for 200 years of evolving parliamentary democracy and the rule of law.

Included was a special panel discussion from Chief Justice of the Supreme Court the Hon Andrew Bell, former Justice of the High Court and Supreme Court Virginia Bell and former President of the NSW Court of Appeal Keith Mason AC KC.


The Society has been very pleased with the high quality of the recent Legal History Tutorials and other events, supported by very capable presenters and  made possible by the generous permission of the the Chief Justice of New South Wales Andrew Bell to use the Supreme Court as a venue.

Our most recent presentation was: 1 November 2023           

Dr Jessica Lake (ACU Melbourne) ‘The Slander of Women’

Dr Jessica Lake will present a tutorial The Slander of Women: Australia and the gendered reform of defamation in the 19thcentury common law world in Court 13A, Level 13 Law Courts Building, 184 Phillip Street Sydney on 1 November 2023,

In the nineteenth century, a gendered reform movement known as the Slander of Women Acts swept through the common law world, making it easier for women to sue for defamatory allegations of sexual immorality. Under these changes, first initiated in New Jersey in 1790, a woman called a ‘whore’ or ‘unchaste’ could bring a civil action for slander without the burden of proving ‘special damage’. These reforms, while technical in language, reflected important shifts in understanding about gender, social status and speech and carried significant social and cultural implications. At one level, they enabled individual women to vindicate their reputations, obtain financial compensation and silence vituperative attacks. More broadly, the Slander of Women laws overturned centuries of English precedent – structured around class hierarchies, shaped to address men’s injuries, and premised on distinctions between common law and ecclesiastical courts. In the USA, these reforms connected with revolutionary sentiments, an emphasis on ‘character’ and a paternalistic desire to ‘protect’ the purity of republican wives and daughters. But what spurred the Australian colonies – New South Wales, South Australia, and Victoria in particular – to break with England on this issue? How did new significance of respectability, ideas of civilisation, and conditions of commerce influence the direction and development of defamation laws in these far-flung colonies? Drawing upon archival research funded in part by the Francis Forbes Society, this presentation will examine Australia’s place within this global reform movement

Jessica is a Senior Research and ARC DECRA Fellow in the Institute for Humanities and Social Sciences at the Australian Catholic University in Melbourne. Her first book, The Face that Launched a Thousand Lawsuits: The American Women Who Forged a Right to Privacy, was published with Yale University Press in 2016. Her second book on the transnational and gendered history of defamation law is forthcoming with Stanford University Press.



Forthcoming Plunkett Lecture to be held in February 2024

We are honoured that the Hon Andrew Bell, Chief Justice of New South Wales, has agreed to present the  Plunkett Lecture. Due to so many activities at this time it has been decided to schedule this lecture on 13 February 2024 in Banco Court – further details later.

Recent Forbes Lecture

The 2023 Forbes Lecture presented by the Governor  was well attended in Banco Court. The Governor has accepted an invitation to publish the paper in the Australian Bar Review.  Courtesy of Geoff Lindsay, we presented to Her Excellency a copy of the first Bicentenary publication: Cases for Opinion – A Bicentennial Miscellany Dr J M Bennett AO & Dr John K McLaughlin AM (eds).

Her Excellency the Honourable Margaret Beazley AC KC

Image Courtesy NSW Government Website

The Forbes Society, and the annual Forbes Lecture sponsored by the Society, are named for Francis Forbes (1784-1841), the first Chief Justice of the Supreme Court of NSW, 1824-1837.

The Following Annual Report was presented at the Francis Forbes AGM 2022  on Tuesday 29 November 2022. ANNUAL REPORT 2022 (25.11.22)



Our new Membership Application and Renewal Form is now available at: FFS Membership application and renewal 23-24 (v1)


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 2023 (v1)




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).