Author Archives: Tony Cunneen

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 ( 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 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: or Dr. Helen Payne for further details



Forthcoming Events and recent News of Note

 The Society wishes all its members and friends the best of health in this challenging time.

Plunkett Lecture 24 November.

The Ninth Annual Plunkett Lecture will be 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. In 1835 he published The Australian Magistrate, the first Australian legal practice book. 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.

JH Plunkett





Roger Therry

The 2020 Plunkett Lecture will focus on John Plunkett himself. The lecture will be chaired by the NSW Attorney General, The Hon Mark Speakman SC MP, himself a former Plunkett Lecturer.

The lecture will be held in the Banco Court, and streamed using the Court’s remote facilities (bearing in mind Covid-19 restrictions on public gatherings). Registration is required (admission is free).

Members of the Francis Forbes Society can register here via TryBooking – Details on becoming a member of the Society are available on the Society’s web site:

We will send the link and programme for the lecture to registered attendees on Tuesday morning.

We look forward to having many of you attend online.

Annual General Meeting

Wednesday 25 November 2020 at 5.15 pm, via Zoom

Please click on the following for details:  Notice of AGM 2020

Essay Competition

Entries in the 2020 Annual Essay competition have started coming in already!

Please remind any prospective essayists that the society welcomes essays on the full range of Australian Legal History. Further details are at:  2020 Essay Conditions and Guidelines


“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 will address 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 will examine the data concerning these events and address 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?

Log in details will be sent closer to the date, but if you are interested in attending the webinar please RSVP to Ms Joanne Selfe at the Judicial Commission at: by 2 November 2020.

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

Further details of forthcoming lectures are available at:

2020 Annual Forbes Lecture Programme



Time to Renew Subscriptions Please,

Subscription Renewal Form:  FFS Membership application – renewal 20-21

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

Forbes Flyer:

David Ash has published the latest edition of the Forbes Flyer which includes a commentary on the current situation, as well as a review of Sir Frederick Jordan – Fire under the frost,   Keith Mason, 2019, The Federation Press, 260pp. Click on the following link for the flyer: Forbes Flyer – No 41 – Autumn 2020

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

The flyer includes an index of articles since its inception.


2020 was a very restricted year for the Society. Many thanks to all our presenters and the many members and guests who presented and logged on to our lectures and presentations.


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


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 Cobbett, 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 – use the code CV7 at the checkout to get 20% off your order!


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’”.


April 2020 saw the launch of a new book by Associate Professor Catherine Bond on  the legal experiences of a range of people living in Australia during the First World War. Further details are available on the following link: Law in War Bond


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.





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: to access to the database


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.