The Society welcomes Donations.

One of the Society’s objects is to encourage and promote research into Australian legal history and it maintains a fund for that purpose to which donations may be made – the Francis Forbes Fund (donations of $2.00 or more to which are tax deductible). Last year the Fund supported the project of Professor Anne Twomey (of the University of Sydney) to publish Pitt Cobbett’s grand opus called ‘The Government of Australia’. The Society shares this update from Professor Twomey:

Professor Pitt Cobbett wrote his grand opus on The Government of Australia in his retirement, leaving it as an ‘unfinished symphony’ upon his death in 1919, with a request to his executors that it be finished, edited and published. But the High Court handed down its judgment in the Engineers Case the following year, and the executors decided the manuscript was out of date. It was instead donated to the University of Sydney and has sat quietly moulding there ever since. It is now a work of great historic importance, showing how the Constitution was understood in the first twenty years of its existence.

The Forbes Society has kindly supported the project of finishing, editing and publishing this work. The aim is to publish it upon the centenary of Pitt Cobbett’s death, in 2019. The Society donated $8300 to pay a PhD student to check the footnotes of the book and to help subsidise publication to make it viable. Unfortunately, the full $8300 was spent on the footnote checking, as it turned out that as Pitt Cobbett’s illness increased, the accuracy of his footnotes decreased and considerable work had to be undertaken to find the correct sources. I am therefore hoping for some additional assistance from the Society later in the year to subsidise publication so that it can be published as a hardback book for libraries and scholars to consult for generations. The support of the Society is essential for this type of work, which would otherwise not see the light of day and remain moulding away, unseen and forgotten. We will not learn from our past unless our history is readily accessible. The Francis Forbes Society ensures that it is.

Anyone wishing to donate should download the following document:   Fund Donation Form 2022

Past doantaions have gone towards:


In 2021 grants from the Fund included the support of projects at a number of universities:

  • the University of Southern Queensland – Professor Antony Gray and Associate Professor Marcus Harmes “the History of Judicial Independence in New South Wales”, exploring the history of the separation of powers principle in the Australian Colonies in the 19th century
  • the University of New England – Dr Patrick Graham – “Sir John Latham and constitutional autochthony”
  • the University of Sydney – projects of Tony Cunneen including digitisation of letters from solicitors, barristers and law students to the University of Sydney Law School Comforts Fund during the Second World War; further support for “Dynamic and Principled: The Influence of Sir Anthony Mason” (Professor Barbara McDonald, Dr Ben Chen and Dr Jeffrey Gordon)
  • Monash University / University of Queensland – Professor Tamara Walsh and Associate Professor Dominique Allen –research project about the history of human rights complaints in federal law.


In 2020 grants from the Fund included the support of projects at Macquarie University: by Dr Kate Gleeson, Sinead Ring, Kim Stevenson “Legal Responses to Historical Child Sexual Abuse: Critical and Comparative Perspectives” and by Dr Henry Kha “The Unification of Australian Divorce Law under the Matrimonial Causes Act 1959” and at Sydney University: Professor Barbara McDonald, Dr Ben Chen, Dr Jeffrey Gordon, “Dynamic and Principled: The Influence of Sir Anthony Mason”.


In addition the Society supports an annual Essay prize for the best paper presented at the ANZLHS Conference, judged by a panel appointed by the Editor of law & history. The Fund has supported Sydney Living Museum, noting the approach of the Bicentenary of the Supreme Court and the Legislative Council and the roles of SLM / the State Archives & Records Authority and the Society.


In 2019 the Society was able to support through the Fund:

  • Digitisation of the notebooks of Sir Keith Officer and Sir Robin Sharwood – a proposal from Professor Mark Lunney (UNE), Dr Tanya Josev (Melbourne Law School) and Ms Carole Hinchcliff (senior law librarian at Melbourne). The notebooks have now been digitised ( ). Professor Lunney advises that in addition to what was planned, a notebook of KH Bailey, originally thought to be from his time at university in Melbourne but now thought to be from his first year in Oxford, has also been included. The final stage of the project was to involve some summaries and synopsis of the content of a selection of the notebooks
  • A Biographical Dictionary of Barristers and Solicitors in Early NSW, 1824-1861 (Peter Moore, through the University of Adelaide)


The Society supported the publication by the 2019 Forbes lecturer, Professor Anne Twomey (Sydney University) of Pitt Cobbett’s grand opus ‘The Government of Australia’ through the Fund. The book The Constitution and Government of Australia, 1788 to 1919 by William Pitt Cobbett and edited by Anne Twomey was published by Federation Press in October 2019.