160 Years at Melbourne Law School

Melbourne Law School has a rich history of providing students with a first rate legal education. Against the backdrop of World Wars and changing social norms, the institution has adapted to new curriculums, rules, locations and leadership.


Melbourne Law School Established.

‘I presume that by far the greater number of those who attend the law lectures do so with the intention of adopting the law as their profession.. but I am not without a hope that some will so attend as a necessary part of the education of a gentleman’ 1 – Henry Chapman, lecturer, 1861.

The Quadrangle

‘Law teaching began in the university’s original, and at that time only, building. Known later as the quadrangle, even before it gained its fourth side, it consisted of three wings in Tudor gothic style around a courtyard, and housed not only classrooms, offices and the embryonic library, but also the professors, who lived there with their families. The law lectures were initially delivered three days a week at 6p.m, and attendance was a prerequisite for sitting the exam. For those who worked in the city, trudging a couple of kilometres to the university in winter for the evening lectures, through muddy, unlit streets, was a trial… Almost as soon as the lectures began, students asked for them to be moved to ‘some more central location” 2

Law school staff and students in the 1870s.

Compulsory subjects in the early days

‘To honour the professors’ intentions for something more than a merely technical education, LLB students also had to pass Greek, Latin, the two parts of the combined subject English and Logic, Ancient History, and Constitutional History parts I and II’ 3


Sir William Harrison Moore. Professor at the University of Melbourne and the third dean of the Melbourne University Law School (1916).

‘Moore was a small, wiry man who always carried a cane; with his precise English accent, he was a stately and dignified figure. His deliberate manner and his fastidious precision in speech reminded listeners of a judge who was always in the course of summing-up’ 4


The First Female enrols in the Law Faculty: Flos Greig.

‘When Greig enrolled in 1897, the university had long settled the question of women’s rights to be students, but whether the law continued to bar them from practice as barristers and solicitors was yet to be determined… In 1897… the all-male Law Students’ Society debated whether women should be admitted to practise, and decided in favour by sixteen votes to ten’ 5


Details of Subjects for Bachelor of Laws

Student’s notes

‘Sets of lecture notes circulated among the students, handed on as favours or in return for cash. This caught the attention of an entrepreneur in 1922: a ‘scrivener’ turned up to Moore’s jurisprudence class and started taking shorthand notes, in order to write them up for sale. But he soon disappeared, Moore said, ‘owing apparently to the technicalities of the lectures’ 6


‘September 1939: army camps, call-ups, war-service and quotas, onerous office work for the remaining Articled Clerks, enormous burdens on the tiny Law School staff – such was the pattern of the next six years. The extra-curricular life of Law students still at Melbourne came to include such unfamiliar activities as trench-digging and first-aid. Those who joined the Armed Services, of course, have different and diverse memories of the times – for some they include trying to study in tents or messes’ 7


Student Timetable, 1946

‘Various forms of help were given to students returning after the War including refresher courses, and the desire of many ex-servicemen to begin Law, though having no Latin, helped extinguish that subject as a pre-requisite in 1947’ 8  

1950s – 1960s

Law Students, 1950. 

The Library Reading Room on a Quiet Day

Law Students in 1953.


In the 1960s, the smoking room of the law library was ‘the social hub of the School. A meeting place; a place to read the sports pages or do the crossword’ 9

‘Hopes were high in 1956 that smoking might be allowed in the Library, due to Mr (later Professor) Brett’s willingness to broach the subject with the Librarian’ 10  


‘Some [women] in the 1950s and 1960s encountered the belief that they simply did not belong, though others never met this response… Rosemary Howell, a student in the late 1960s, was told by a staff member, ‘You’re actually stealing a man’s place… Maybe you’d better think seriously about whether law’s the right career for you’ 11 .


Curriculum for Bachelor of Laws, 1970.


Women outnumbered men in the first year intake for the first time 12


Australia’s first Juris Doctor program (JD) starts at Melbourne Law School.


The new Law Building is opened opposite University Square. Although the plans to move away from the Old Quadrangle were initially met with some hesitation:

‘Abandoning the quadrangle, the law school’s symbol and its dominant image, stirred strong feelings, and the move had significant drawbacks. Some staff were either way or formally opposed, and the Law Students’ Society organised a campaign against the move…[stressing] the shortcomings of distance and isolation from the main campus’ 13


The JD becomes the primary law degree at Melbourne, replacing the LLB. The final LLB students graduated in 2012.


By Amy Clements


  1. Waugh, J. (2007). First principles: the Melbourne Law School 1857-2007. Carlton, Vic: Melbourne University Press, 2007, p.15.
  2. Waugh, p.43.
  3. Waugh, p.16.
  4. Campbell, R. (1977). A history of the Melbourne Law School, 1857 to 1973. Parkville, Vic: Faculty of Law, University of Melbourne, 1977, p.106.
  5. Waugh, p.69.
  6. Waugh, p.84.
  7. Campbell, p.23.
  8. Campbell, p.16.
  9. Waugh, p.160.
  10. Campbell, p.24.
  11. Waugh, p.166.
  12. Waugh, p.269.
  13. Waugh 278-279.

Images and documents:

Melbourne University Archives UM/420 & UMA/I

Melbourne University ImageBank

Special thanks to:

Helen Thomson from the Melbourne University Copyright Office.

Melbourne University Archives.

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