‘the model of an excellent judge’

The legal profession has always taken a keen interest in its own history, and Sydney’s lawyers are no exception. Sydney has its own legal historical society, the Francis Forbes Society for Australian Legal History. Here, legal history is published, debated, reviewed and researched with the aim of ‘advancing the knowledge of the history of Australian law’.

Portrait of Sir Francis Forbes, Mitchell Library, State Library of NSW ref: a928577 / ML 14

The society is named for Sir Francis Forbes, first chief justice of New South Wales, who presided over a tumultuous period in the development of Sydney’s legal institutions, which brought him into conflict with Governor Darling and with the powerful Macarthur clan.

Sir Francis had an interest in education, and laid the foundation stone for Sydney College, an early school headed by WT Cape. The society named for him shares this interest, and offers an annual prize for the best Australian Legal History essay submitted.

The competition is open to school and undergraduate students, in three categories.

  • Tertiary students – 2000-4000 word essay, prize $1,000 and a $1,000 Abbey’s book voucher
  • Senior secondary students – 750-2,000 word essay, prize $250 and a $250 Abbey’s book voucher
  • Junior secondary students – 500-1,000 word essay, prize $250 and a $250 Abbey’s book voucher

Best of all, entrants can choose their own question or theme, or write on one suggested by the society. If in doubt, you can contact the society to check whether your topic is within the guidelines.

Last year’s competition was won by Sarah Webster, a year 10 student at Cecil Hills High School in Sydney, whose essay was published in the Australian Bar Review.

The essays must be submitted by Monday 12 December 2011, so if you know a promising student, studying history or legal studies at school or embarking on a law or history degree, tell them to get onto it!

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About Emma Grahame

Emma Grahame has been Editorial Coordinator of the Dictionary of Sydney since May 2007.
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