2023-24 is the 200th Anniversary of the Supreme Court of New South Wales and the Legislative Council in NSW.[1]

The New South Wales Act 1823 (9 Geo IV c96) (Imp) established the Supreme Court of NSW with equity and full civil, ecclesiastical and admiralty jurisdiction (except for divorce) with Francis Forbes as its first Chief Justice. As a consequence of the Act, Letters Patent were sealed on 13 October 1823 and proclaimed on 17 May 1824. This is called the Third Charter of Justice. This created the deliberative Legislative Assembly of New South Wales.

New South Wales in 1823-1824 included the following current jurisdictions:

  • New South Wales
  • Queensland (separated[2] 1859)
  • Victoria (separated 1850)
  • Tasmania (Van Diemen’s Land separated 1825, changed name to Tasmania in 1856)
  • New Zealand (separated 1840)
  • Much of South Australia (separated 1836) and the Northern Territory (separated from South Australia 1911) [3]
  • The Australian Capital Territory (separated from New South Wales as Federal Capital Territory  in 1911)[4]
  • The only part of present day Australia which was not part of New South Wales at this time was Western Australia.[5] In our histories of the colonies we have sometimes failed to notice the expansiveness of NSW itself, tending to focus on the places where courts and legislatures sat – Sydney, Melbourne, Auckland and so on, rather than on the size and nature of the jurisdiction exercised by that early Supreme Court and covered by that early Legislative Council. 

The establishment of the Supreme Court of NSW and a deliberative Legislative Council at the time of the New South Wales Act 1823 and Third Charter of Justice in 1824 were therefore significant aspects of the history of most of Australia and of New Zealand.  

As the Australian and New Zealand Law & History Society we wish to join with the Supreme Court of NSW, NSW Parliament and other societies such as the Francis Forbes Society and the Selden Society in exploring the significance of this moment to all the inhabitants of the colony at the time and thereafter.  Part of the significance of the New South Wales Act was that it was legislative power used to legitimate (in the eyes of the British) the possibly less legitimate use of the royal prerogative to found the colony in 1788. It was thus a very strong intimation of the permanence of the colonial presence, which Indigenous and non-Indigenous people would have seen in different ways.

 The celebrations, symposia and events planned in the next two years by the various organisations may be found on their websites.[6]

At this stage we would like to call on you to think about this as a possible topic on which you might give a paper at the ANZLHS Conference in 30 November – 2 December 2023.

[1] https://www.parliament.nsw.gov.au/about/Pages/Bicentenary-of-the-Legislative-Council.aspx

[2] Most of these separations were by Letters Patent.  Norfolk Island was administered by Britain and sometimes by NSW until 1814 when it was abandoned until 1825, and the second penal colony started. It ran down in 1855 and the island was abandoned again until the Pitcairn Islanders settled it in 1856. It was a British colony but governed by the NSW Governor. In 1914 Norfolk Island was formally handed over to Australia as an external territory.

[3] South Australia was settled as the Province of SA on 28 December 1836. A slice was taken out of NSW which still had as its border 132° deg E. The bounds of SA were 132° E by 26°S by 141°E and all the northern part remained NSW; In 1846 there was a brief period from February to November when there was a Colony of North Australia : 129°E by 26°S to the easternmost coast of Australia, wiping out Queensland for that period. In 1860 the SA border was changed from 132°E to 129° thus leaving a little piece of NSW between SA and WA. In 1862  the Queensland border  moved to 138°E, leaving the NT area as NSW again.  In 1863 Northern Territory was annexed to SA, the whole being called SA. NT passed to Commonwealth control in 1911. In 1927 NT was divided into NT and Central Australia (CA). They were merged into NT in 1931.  Jervis Bay was added to the Federal Capital Territory in 1915, no longer part of NSW; and it became special territory of the Commonwealth of Australia in 1989.

[4] Federal Capital Territory became the Australian Capital Territory in 1911.

[5] WA was settled in 1929 as the Swan River Colony, soon after that called Western Australia.

[6] See footnote 1, above for Legislative Council website.

About anzlhswebsite

The Australian and New Zealand Law and History Society was formed in 1993. It is an interdisciplinary group of scholars who share an interest in the connections between law and history. The society grew out of the annual Law in History Conferences, which have been running since 1982. Members of the society include historians, lawyers, academics and others interested in the area. Most of the members live in Australia or New Zealand, but their areas of interest are not confined to the law in those places. The society is an incorporated association in New South Wales. Inc no. 1600224
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