Past Legal History Seminars





Since 2013 the society began sponsoring Legal History Seminars held in the Supreme Court Precinct of Sydney. Many topics have been covered including the History of Trespass; a History of Property Law; Forms of action at Common Law; a History of the Criminal Law; the Historical Development of Insolvency Laws; Historical Development of Corporation Law and Historical Engagement with Roman Law.

Presenters have included Chief Justice Tom Bathurst and other Supreme Court Judges, Acting Judges as well as a variety of keen students of legal history. It is hoped that the course will encourage others to institute such programs of study.

Click on  History Program for a complete list of topics and presenters.

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!

2019 Presentations:

Our last events were in November and included:

A lecture co-sponsored by the Forbes Society and the Selden Society,  was presented by the Hon John Bryson QC titled “Henry VIII’s Will and the Politics of Succession” on Wednesday 6 November 2019, which   was very well attended, with nearly 100 people in Banco Court to hear the analysis of the circumstances and implications of Henry VIII’s Will.

Henry Viii King Royalty England The lecture was introduced by Justice Lucy McCallum of the NSW Court of Appeal.

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



The legal history tutorial by Chief Justice Bathurst on “The History of Defamation Law” was presented on 24 September 2020 using the Court’s remote facilities

History of the Legal Profession in NSW, was on Thursday 19  September 2019.  We are very grateful to the Chief Justice, the Hon T F Bathurst AC, for presenting this seminar in Banco Court.




We are very grateful to Professor Anne Twomey   who delivered the 2019 Forbes Lecture  on Wednesday 5 June 2019 . Further details are in the Forbes Lecture Page of the website.


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’”.


 2019 Seminars:

This year’s programme of legal history tutorials  began on 21 May 2019 with Dr Simon Chapple (Secretary of the Society) speaking on the topic: ‘Introduction to Australian Legal History’.

Other Seminars Included:

History of Equity,  delivered by the Hon J Campbell QC in two parts, on 6 and 13 August 2019.


The Hon Michael Kirby AC CMG and Professor Stefan Petrow  delivered an address:

“Our first and only Black Chief Justice meets racism in Australia”.

NSW Bar Association Common Room, S

Thursday, 15 August 2019

By arrangement with the Federation Press in association with the Forbes Society

Launch of new book on Sir Victor Windeyer


The Federation Press announces the launch by Professor The Hon William Gummow AC. of Victor Windeyer’s Legacy: Legal and Military Papers, edited by Bruce Debelle AO QC.


Legalism in the Twentieth Century: the chameleon concept, on 3 September 2019, Court 13A at 5.15 pm  jointly delivered by:

  • Professor Mark Lunney – (Junior Vice President of the Society; Professor of Law, University of New England),

  • Dr Tanya Josev (Senior Lecturer, Melbourne Law

  • Dr Susan Bartie (Lecturer, University of Tasmania Faculty of Law)




 Seminars for 2018 have been:

  • Professor Wilf Prest, Lawyers and the law in the “Glorious Revolution” on Tuesday 24 April 2018 – Professor Prest’s most recent book Blackstone and His Critics is available through

  • The Honourable Arthur Emmett, The Roman Consensual Contracts: Sale, Hire and Partnership on Tuesday 15 May 2018

  • Professor Mark Lunney, History of the law of tort on Wednesday 19 June 2018

  •   The History of the Law of Commercial Arbitration delivered by the Chief Justice, the Hon T F Bathurst AC, on Thursday 18 October 2018 

    The 2018 Plunkett Lecture:

    The Attorney General of New South Wales, the Hon Mark Speakman SC MP, delivered the 2018 Plunkett Lecture on Monday, 29 October 

These tutorials and presentations are well worth while for experienced practitioners as well as those starting out on a legal career. Any member of the general public who wants to know more about how our legal system operates is welcome at these free presentations by some of the leading legal and academic professionals in the country

All tutorials were presented in the beautifully appointed Banco Court (on Level 13 of the Law Courts Building in Queen’s Square, Sydney). We are grateful to NSW Chief Justice Bathurst for his permission to use such an elegant and significant venue.



Details of 2017 Seminars included:

Tuesday, 13 June 2017 the Hon John Bryson QC presented on The History of Property Law. Click on the following for a copy of the notes accompanying the seminar: Notes

Property Law

Other Seminars included:


William Blackstone

Sir William Blackstone  Tuesday 11 April was an engaging and fascinating talk on the importance of legal history and the work of the English Academic/ Lawyer from the 18th Century,  William Blackstone,  by his biographer Emeritus Professor Wilf Prest (University of Adelaide). Blackstone’s Commentaries are a landmark in the history of the law. Professor Prest brought the man and his influence alive for the audience. Click on the following link for the handout: Prof Prest Handout Forbes Tutorial 11 April 17 . Note: Oxford University Press is offering Forbes members a discount on the Oxford Edition of Blackstone: Commentaries on the Laws of England: Books I, II, III, and IV edited by Wilfrid Prest  – see the attached flyer.   blackstone_oxfordeditionofblackstone

Following this were:

The History of Corporation Law by Justice Ashley Black: Tuesday, 2 May 2017
The History of Equity by the Hon Peter Young QC: Tuesday, 23 May 2017

Other significant events for 2017 included:

  • Forbes Lecture for 2017 – delivered by Justice Margaret Beazley AO, President of the Court of Appeal.  It is titled, “An insight into appellate justice in New South Wales”.  The lecture was held at 5.15pm on 28 September 2017 in Banco Court.
  • Lecture by The Hon Keith Mason AC QC: in which he  discussed his latest project on Sir Frederick Jordan.  The lecture was titled ‘Sir Frederick Jordan’s brushes with ‘degenerate art’ and was a fascinating exploration of history and art.
  • Tutorial by Chief Justice Bathurst:  on 18 October 2017 in Banco Court,  discussing the history of criminal law.

Launch of ‘A History of Australian Legal Education’ by Professor David Barker AM on 4 October 2017 at 5.30pm at Greenway Chambers (Level 10, 99 Elizabeth Street, Sydney).  Professor Barker’s book was launched by The Hon Kevin Lindgren AM QC.

The Attorney General  chaired the Plunkett Lecture, presented by Mark Tedeschi QC on 9 November 2017.