Sir Francis Forbes

Sir Francis Forbes

First Chief Justice of New South Wales, 1823-1837

By Dr J M Bennett AM


Much has been written about Sir Francis Forbes, first Chief Justice of NSW (1823-1837) and the first to be appointed to the office of Chief Justice in Australia. Because it was his responsibility to introduce the rule of law in a colony still preoccupied with the reception and reformation of British convicts, he came into collision with many of the leaders of the limited free society.

Although he led a life of scrupulous detachment from the community, apart from his enforced and sometimes embarrassing membership of the Legislative Council, he was unsparingly, and wrongly, criticised for favouring the convict class. Those and other criticisms have persisted and been expanded over the years. This study seeks to correct their misconceptions and misinterpretations.

Forbes did not arrive in NSW as a judicial novice. He had been chief Justice of Newfoundland and a Crown Law Officer in Bermuda. This book gives closer attention to those early years than has any previous account, as his reputation for probity and ability, already well established before he came to Sydney, was the antithesis of the bad character attributed to him by his enemies in Australia. A review is also offered of his awkward relations with the headstrong Governor Darling and of the peculiar difficulties that confronted Forbes in establishing Australia's first superior court.

The NSW State Set of Lives of Australian Chief Justices, which includes, Sir Francis Forbes, Sir James Dowling, Sir Alfred Stephen, Sir James Martin and Sir Frederick Darley is available for $210.00 - to order the NSW State Set, click here.


Published December 2001
Publisher The Federation Press
ISBN 9781862874084
Australian RRP $49.50
International Price $45.00