History of Equity


Early Equity Cases in New South Wales       

“Supreme Court of Civil Jurisdiction Equity Cases 1817-1824”.
Many cases feature the controversial judge, Barron Field. A biography of this colourful character is available at


Judge Barron Field

Early Judge Barron Field

The Hon John Hamilton QC has collected together 37 of the first Supreme Court Equity Cases in the Colony of New South Wales. The cases give a fascinating insight into the legal and social landscape of the time.

John Hamilton QC explains that: “In the State Archives there is a document entitled “Supreme Court of Civil Jurisdiction Equity Cases 1817-1824”. It lists 75 cases. There is a folder there for almost every case generally containing documents for the case. Mostly these are pleadings and interrogatories with their answers, but usually there are no reasons for judgment; the cases more often than not did not go to trial. In no instance is there any record of oral evidence. However, the pleadings contained an extensive account of the parties’ evidentiary cases. The documents in the cases have been essentially copied and these versions are presented in this database. The cases are arranged in chronological order by the dates of their commencement. Click on the following for an outline of the cases to be presented chronological list of equity cases  Click on the following for early cases from Best V Swinton   to Hook V Gilberthorp  :  Early Equity Cases in New South Wales The following link gives access to another 23 of these early cases from Hovell V Charters to Wheelwright,  to Lloyd, Langston v Underwood, Kable and Underwood  Further Early Equity Cases

Note:  John Hamilton QC’s book, Adjudication on the Gold Fields was launched by Bathurst CJ, in the Banco Court, on 8 March 2016 at 5:30 pm. Details of the book, based on John’s PhD thesis are available at:     Launch of Adjudication on the Gold Fields

John is a former judge of the Supreme Court of NSW and  a much valued active member of both the Francis Forbes Society for Australian Legal History and the Australian and New Zealand Law and History Society.

ALSO on the History of Equity

Joe Campbell QC, formerly a judge of the Supreme Court of NSW and now an Adjunct Professor at Sydney Law School, has prepared a series of podcasts on the History of Equity.   They can be accessed if you cut and paste  the following link: https://www.youtube.com/playlist?list=PLhg7RxMYx8V1ZrK7zjeHHUsI57T05-pHY. These are an instructive introduction to the history of the Equity jurisdiction.

New Addition


A paper by The Hon John P Bryson QC Formerly a Judge of Appeal in the Supreme Court of New South Wales. Available at: Rules of Court Paper 

Outline of Chapters  

1 Introduction – 1

Introduction and scope 1, Forbes produced simplicity 3, application of English legislation 3, sources of legislation affecting practice 4, Equity practice 5, Ecclesiastical Jurisdiction (probate) 7, arrest imprisonment and debt 8.

2 Commentary on Imperial Acts and subordinate legislation – 11

NSW Debts Act 1813 11, New South Wales Act 1823 12, Charter of Justice 13 October 1823 14, Order in Council 19th October 1824 17, Australian Courts Act 1828 18.

3 Commentary on adopted legislation – 23

Reception of English statutes 23, adoption by local legislation 23, list of adopted English Acts and comment 23.

4 Commentary on local legislation -26

Recurring subjects 26, short titles and numbering 26, arrest imprisonment of debtors and insolvency 27, jury trial in civil litigation 28, libel and defamation 29, other local legislation 29, Table Short titles of Acts of Council 31.

5 Commentary on Rules of Court -33

Many alterations 33, draftsmanship and errors 33, little of high principle 34, following changes in English practice 34, disposition to simplify 34, recurring concerns 36, Division of the Profession 36, Terms 36, matters now obsolete 37, sources of rules, publication 38, publications, Sydney Gazette 38, Forbes’ note book 39, Australian Almanack 39, Government Gazette 40, 1834 rules 40, Sheriff rules 1834 41, 1838 rules 42, admission of attornies, articled clerks 42, drafting by Willis J 43, new rules in 1840 43  Table of publications of rules of court from 1825 to 1839  44, 1825  44, 1826  45, 1827 1828  48, 1829  49, 1830 1831  50, 1832  55, 1834  56, 1835  65, 1838  66.

Appendix – 66           Publications and Sources of Rules

List of documents and Index – 72