Royal Society of New South Wales

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The Royal Society
New South Wales
Seal RSNSW.jpg
Motto Omnia quaerite (Question everything)
Founder(s) Sir Thomas Brisbane (President)
Dr James Bowman
Dr Henry Douglass
Judge Barron Field
Major Frederick Goulburn
Captain Francis Irvine
Edward Wollstonecraft Esq
Established 1821 – as the Philosophical Society of Australasia
1866 – Royal assent received from Queen Victoria and renamed as the Royal Society of New South Wales
Focus "... for the encouragement of studies and investigations in Science, Art, Literature and Philosophy ..."
President Professor Ian Hugh Sloan[1]
Members Up to 25 Distinguished Fellows
350 Fellows and Members
Formerly called The Philosophical Society of Australasia (1821-50)
The Australian Philosophical Society (1850-56)
The Philosophical Society of New South Wales (1856-66)
Address Sydney, Australia

The Royal Society of New South Wales is a learned society based in Sydney, Australia. It is the oldest such society in Australia and in the Southern Hemisphere. The Governor of New South Wales is the vice-regal patron of the Society.

The Society was established as the Philosophical Society of Australasia on 27 June 1821. In 1850, after a period of informal activity, the Society was revived and its name became the Australian Philosophical Society and, in 1856, the Philosophical Society of New South Wales. The Society was granted Royal Assent on 12 December 1866 and at that time was renamed the Royal Society of New South Wales.

Membership is open to any person interested in the promotion of studies in Science, Art, Literature and Philosophy. The Society is based in Sydney and has an active branches in Mittagong in the Southern Highlands of NSW. Regular monthly meetings and public lectures are well attended by both members and visitors.

The Society publishes a peer-reviewed journal, the Journal and Proceedings of the Royal Society of New South Wales, the second-oldest peer-reviewed publication in the Southern Hemisphere.


The Royal Society of New South Wales, Australia traces its origins to the Philosophical Society of Australasia, established on 27 June 1821 and was the first scientific society in the then British Colony of New South Wales.

The Society was formed "with a view to enquiring into the various branches of physical science of this vast continent and its adjacent regions". On his arrival in Sydney late in 1821, the newly appointed Governor, Sir Thomas Brisbane, was offered and accepted the position of President.

Following a period of informal activity, the Society was revitalised (led by Dr Henry Douglass, one of the original founders) and renamed the Australian Philosophical Society on 19 January 1850. The society was renamed the Philosophical Society of New South Wales in 1856. On 12 December 1866, Queen Victoria granted Royal Assent to change its name to The Royal Society of New South Wales. The Society was incorporated by Act of the New South Wales Parliament in 1881.

The rules of the Society provided that the Governor of New South Wales should be President ex officio. After the establishment of the Commonwealth of Australia in 1901, the Governor-General became Patron of the Society, and the Governor New South Wales the Vice-Patron. From 1938 to 2014, the Society was under the joint patronage of the Governor-General of Australia and the Governor of NSW. The Society now has a single Vice-Regal Patron, the Governor of NSW.

Throughout its history, the Society has done much to foster local research particularly in science, through meetings, symposia, publications and international scientific exchange, and has supported and fostered the endeavours of other organisations dedicated to the furtherance of knowledge.

The Society encourages "... studies and investigations in Science, Art, Literature and Philosophy, to promote and further the development of Science and its relationship with Art, Literature and Philosophy and their allied disciplines and applications, to facilitate the exchange of information and ideas amongst the Members and Fellows of the Society and others on these and kindred topics and to disseminate knowledge to the people of New South Wales and beyond ..." through the following activities:

  • Publications of results of scientific investigations through its Journal and Proceedings;
  • Awarding prizes and medals for outstanding achievements in research;
  • Liaison with other similar bodies;
  • Holding meetings for the benefit of members and the general public (special meetings are held for the Pollock Memorial Lecture in Physics and Mathematics, the Liversidge Research Lecture in Chemistry, the Poggendorf Memorial Lecture in Agriculture, the Clarke Memorial Lecture in Geology and the Warren Lecture and Prize in engineering, applied science and technology, and the Royal Society of NSW History and Philosophy of Science Medal); and
  • Maintaining a library.


The Society's journal, the Journal and Proceedings of the Royal Society of New South Wales is one of the oldest peer-reviewed publications in the Southern Hemisphere. Much innovative research of the 19th and early 20th centuries (e.g. Lawrence Hargrave's work on flight) was first brought to the attention of the scientific world through the Journal and Proceedings of the Royal Society of New South Wales. In the last few decades specialist journals have become preferred for highly technical work but the Journal and Proceedings remains an important publication for multidisciplinary and transdisciplinary work.

The Journal and Proceedings are exchanged with hundreds of institutions worldwide. Issues are published June and December each year.

The Society welcomes scholarly work to be considered for publication in the Journal. Preference is given to work done in Australia which has relevance to New South Wales. Intending authors must read the style guide, available via the Society’s web site (Journal), before submitting their manuscript for review.

Distinguished Fellows of the Society

The Society recognises outstanding contributions to science, art, literature or philosophy with the position of Distinguished Fellow. Distinguished Fellows of the Society are entitled to use the postnominal Dist FRSN. There can be up to 25 Distinguished Fellows at any one time.

Current Distinguished Fellows of the Society

Name Discipline Year Contribution
Professor Michael Archer AM FAA Dist FRSN Biology and paleobiology 2009 Professor Archer is a distinguished biologist and palaeobiologist. He was one of the key researchers involved in researching the Riversleigh fossil deposits found in Queensland, one of the richest deposits of fossils in the world.
Dame Marie Bashir AD CVO Dist FRSN Psychiatry and public service 2009 Dame Marie Bashir graduated in medicine and worked in clinical psychiatry and mental health services in Australia and Indochina. In 2001, she was appointed Governor of NSW. During her term as Governor she was Vice-Regal Patron of the Society.
The Hon Emeritus Professor Peter Baume AC Dist FRSN Medicine and public service 2015 Professor Baume served a Senator for New South Wales for 16 years in a range of senior ministerial positions. He was Head of the School of Community Medicine at the University of NSW and is a former Chancellor of the Australian National University.
Professor Elizabeth Blackburn AC FAA FRS Dist FRSN Biochemistry and Biophysics 2010 Professor Blackburn was awarded the Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine in 2010. She discovered the molecular nature of telomeres - the ends of eukaryotic chromosomes that serve as protective caps essential for preserving genetic information and the ribonucleoprotein enzyme telomerase.
Professor Robert Clark AO FAA Dist FRSN Physics 2009 Professor Clark was Chief Defence Scientist at the Australian Defence Science and Technology Organisation. Previously he was Professor of Experimental Physics and was Director of the Centre of Excellence for Quantum Computer Technology at the University of New South Wales.
Professor Peter Doherty AC FAA FRS FRSE Dist FRSN Immunology 2013 Professor Doherty won the 1996 Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine jointly with Rolf M. Zinkernagel. Their work discovered how T-cells recognize their targets and led to a much-improved understanding of the immune system recognises virus-infected cells.
Emeritus Professor Noel Hush AO DSc FRS FNAS FAA FRACI Dist FRSN Computational and theoretical quantum chemistry 2011 Professor Hush is one of Australia's most distinguished and internationally renowned chemists with outstanding achievements in computational and theoretical quantum chemistry.
Professor Barry Jones AO FAA FAHA FTSE FASSA Dist FRSN Politician 2012 He was the longest serving Minister for Science from 1983 to 1990 and is the only person to have been elected as a Fellow of all four of Australia’s learned Academies.
Thomas Keneally AO Dist FRSN Historian 2017 An Australian Living National Treasure, author of many books including The Chant of Jimmy Blacksmith and Schindler's Ark[2]
Professor Kurt Lambeck AO FRS FAA Dist FRSN Geophysics, geology, and glaciology 2010 Professor Lambeck is internationally recognised as an expert on the interaction between ice sheets, oceans and the Earth and the impact of ocean levels resulting from climate change.
Emeritus Scientia Professor Eugenie Lumbers FAA Dist FRSN Medicine 2010 Professor Lumbers is an internationally respected authority on foetal and maternal physiology. For many years she has worked in cardiovascular and renal physiology, with particular reference to blood pressure regulation in the renin-angiotensin system.
Professor Lord May of Oxford, OM AC Kt FRS FAA Dist FRSN Mathematics and zoolology 2010 Lord May is one of Australia’s most distinguished mathematicians. He had a key role in the application of chaos theory to theoretical ecology through the 1970s and 1980s. He was awarded the Copley Medal by the Royal Society (London) in 2007.
Professor Brian Schmidt AC FAA FRS Dist FRSN Astronomy 2012 Awarded the 2011 Nobel Prize in Physics with Saul Perlmutter and Adam Riess for providing evidence that the expansion of the universe is accelerating.
Professor Michelle Simmons FAA Dist FRSN Physics 2010 Professor Simmons is a Federation Fellow and Director of the Atomic Fabrication Facility at the University of NSW. Her research in nanoelectronics combines molecular beam epitaxy and scanning tunnelling microscopy to develop novel electronic devices at the atomic scale.
Professor Richard Stanton AO FAA Dist FRSN Geology 2009 Professor Stanton is a distinguished geologist. He recognised the role of volcanism and sedimentation in the formation of new ore deposits, and the physics and chemistry involved in the concentration of copper, zinc and lead in volcanic lavas.
Professor Jill Trewhella FAAAS FLANL FRSN Mathematics, physics, nuclear chemistry 2011 Professor Trewhella gained an international recognition for her work at Los Alamos National Laboratory, in particular contributing to our understanding of the molecular communication that underpins healthy biological function.
Professor Bruce Warren FRCPath Dist FRSN Medicine, pathology 2009 Professor Warren is a distinguished pathologist whose research interests concerned tumour biology and thrombosis.

Past Distinguished Fellows of the Society

Name Discipline Year Contribution
Professor Gavin Brown AO FAA Corr FRSE Dist FRSN (1942 - 2010) Mathematics and education 2009 Professor Brown was a distinguished mathematician and educator. He was Inaugural Director of the Royal Institution of Australia after 12 years as Vice-Chancellor and Principal of the University of Sydney. His research areas were broad, including measure theory and algebraic geometry and his contributions both to education and mathematics have been recognised worldwide.
Professor David Craig AO FRS FAA Dist FRSN (1942 - 2015) Chemistry 2009 Professor Craig's research work was in several fields but was especially pioneering in the then new and very difficult field of excitons in molecular crystals. He also did major work in the field of molecular quantum electrodynamics.
Professor Jak Kelly FInstP (London) FAIP Dist FRSN (1928 - 2012) Physics 2009 Professor Kelly established an internationally renowned research centre on ion implantation and material defects at the University of New South Wales. He jointly invented a photovoltaic solar collector surface, which, at the time, was the world's most efficient and is now in mass production in China.

Notable members


The society makes a number of awards for meritorious contributions in the field of science.[3]

The Clarke Medal is awarded by the Society for distinguished work in the Natural sciences. It was named in honour of the Reverend William Branwhite Clarke, one of the founders of the Society. The medal was to be "awarded for meritorious contributions to Geology, Mineralogy and Natural History of Australasia, to be open to men of science, whether resident in Australasia or elsewhere". The Medal is now awarded annually for distinguished work in the natural sciences (geology, botany and zoology) done in the Australian Commonwealth and its territories. Each discipline is considered every three years.[4] For a complete list of medalists see Clarke Medal.

The Edgeworth David Medal, established in 1942, is awarded for distinguished contributions by a young scientists under the age of thirty-five years for work done mainly in Australia or its territories or contributing to Australian science. It is named after the geologist, Sir Edgeworth David, FRS, who wrote the first comprehensive record of the geology of Australia.[5]

The James Cook Medal, established in 1947, is awarded periodically for outstanding contributions to science and human welfare in and for the Southern Hemisphere.[6]


From 1850 to 1880, the President of the Society was the Governor of New South Wales. In 1881, when the Society was incorporated by an Act of the New South Wales Parliament, the Act provided that Presidents of the Society be elected by the members.

Year/Years Name Discipline Notes
1821-2 Sir Thomas Brisbane Astronomy Governor NSW, Hon. President
1850-5 Hon. E. Deas-Thomson Public Administration Senior Vice-President. Clerk of both the Council of NSW and the Executive & Legislative Council
1855-7 Sir William Denison Engineering Governor NSW, Hon. President
Sir Charles Nicholson Medicine Senior Vice-President
1858-60 Sir William Denison Engineering Governor NSW, Hon. President
Hon. E. Deas-Thomson Public Administration Senior Vice-President. Clerk of both the Council of NSW and the Executive & Legislative Council
1861-5 Sir John Young Law Governor NSW, Hon. President
Rev. W.B. Clarke Geology Senior Vice-President
1866-7 Sir John Young Law Governor NSW, Hon. President
Rev. W.B. Clarke Geology Senior Vice-President
1868-71 4th Earl of Belmore Public Administration Governor NSW, Hon. President
Rev.W.B. Clarke Geology Senior Vice-President
1872-8 Sir Hercules Robinson Public Administration Governor NSW, Hon. President
Rev. W.B. Clarke Geology Senior Vice-President
1879 Lord Augustus Loftus Diplomat Governor NSW, Hon. President
Hon. J. Smith Physics Senior Vice-President
1880 Hon. J. Smith Physics First elected President
1881 H.C. Russell Astronomy
1882 Christopher Rolleston Statistics Auditor-General
1883 Professor J. Smith Physics Second elected term
1884 H.C. Russell Astronomy Second term
1885 Professor A. Liversidge Chemistry Joint Secretary 1875-1884;1886-1888
1886 Christopher Rolleston Statistics Second term
1887 C.S. Wilkinson Geology
1888 Sir Alfred Roberts Medicine
1889 Professor A. Liversidge Chemistry Second term
1890 Dr A. Leibius Chemistry Joint Secretary 1875-1885
1891 H.C. Russell Astronomy Third term
1892 Professor W.H. Warren Engineering Joint Secretary 1889-1891
1893 Professor T.P. Anderson Stuart Physiology Joint Secretary 1892
1894 Professor R. Threlfall Physics
1895 Professor T.W.E. David Geology Joint Secretary 1893-4
1896 J.H. Maiden Botany Joint Secretary 1893-5; 1897-1913
1897 Henry Deane Engineering
1898 G.H. Knibbs Mathematics Joint Secretary 1896-7; 1899-1906
1899 William Mogford Hamlet Chemistry
1900 Professor A. Liversidge Chemistry Third term
1901 H.C. Russell Astronomy Fourth term
1902 Professor W.H. Warren Engineering Second term
1903 F.B. Guthrie Chemistry Joint Secretary 1907-1911
1904 C.O. Burge Engineering
1905 H.A. Lenehan Astronomy
1906 Professor T.P. Anderson Stuart Physiology Second term
1907 Henry Deane Engineering Second term
1908 William Mogford Hamlet Chemistry Second term
1909 H.D. Walsh Engineering
1910 Professor T.W.E. David Geology Second term
1911 J.H. Maiden Botany Second term
1912 R.H. Cambage Surveying Joint Secretary 1914-1922; 1925-7
1913 H.G. Smith Chemistry
1914 C. Hedley Zoology
1915 R. Greig-Smith Bacteriology Joint Secretary 1925-6
1916 T.H. Houghton Engineering
1917 Dr J.B. Cleland Microbiology
1918 William Sutherland Dun Palaeontology
1919 Professor C.E. Fawsitt Chemistry
1920 J. Nangle Astronomy
1921 E.C. Andrews Geology
1922 C.A. Sussmilch Geology Joint Secretary 1928-1933; 1936-7
1923 R.H. Cambage Surveying Second term
1924 Dr C. Anderson Mineralogy Joint Secretary 1935-1942
1925 Professor R.D. Watt Agriculture
1926 Dr Walter George Woolnough Geology
1927 Prof. J. Douglas Stewart Veterinary Medicine
1928 W. Poole Engineering
1929 Professor L.A. Cotton Geology
1930 Professor O.U. Vonwiller Physics Joint Secretary 1927-8; 1948
1931 Edwin Cheel Botany
1932 Asst. Prof. W.R. Browne Geology
1933 R.W. Challoner Chemistry
1934 Dr R.J. Noble Agriculture Joint Secretary 1933
1935 A.R. Penfold Chemistry
1936 Major E.H. Booth Physics Joint Secretary 1934-6
1937 Dr W.L. Waterhouse Botany
1938 Professor J.C. Earl Chemistry
1939 Dr H.S.H. Wardlaw Biochemistry
1940 Professor A.P. Elkin Anthropology Joint Secretary 1938-9; 1941-5
1941 D.P. Mellor Chemistry Joint Secretary 1943-7
1942 Professor Henry Priestley Biochemistry
1943 Dr A.B. Walkom Palaeobotany
1944 Dr G.D. Osborne Geology Joint Secretary 1953
1945 Dr A. Bolliger Medicine
1946 Dr F. Lions Chemistry
1947 Dr J.A. Dulhunty Geology
1948 Dr Ronald Aston Engineering
1949 Harley Wood Astronomy Joint Secretary 1948; 1951; 1958-1960
1950 F.R. Morrison Chemistry Joint Secretary 1946-7
1951 Dr R.C.L. Bosworth Chemistry Secretary 1948-50
1952 Dr C.J. Magee Agriculture
1953 Dr Ida A. Browne Palaeontology First female President; Joint Secretary 1950-2; 1957-8
1954 Dr R.S. Nyholm Chemistry
1955 Dr M.R. Lemberg Biochemistry
1956 F.D. McCarthy Anthropology
1957 F.N. Hanlon Geology Joint Secretary 1954-6
1958 J.L. Griffith Mathematics Secretary 1955-7; 1966-8
1959 A.F.A. Harper Physics
1960 H.A.J. Donegan Chemistry
1961 R.J.W. LeFevre Chemistry
1962 W.B. Smith-White Mathematics
1963 Howard McKern Chemist
1964 J.W. Humphries Physics
1965 Dr A.A. Day Geology Joint Secretary 1959-1960
1966 A.H. Voisey Geology
1967 A.H. Low Mathematics Secretary 1963-5
1968 A. Keane Mathematics
1969 J.W.G. Neuhaus Chemistry
1970 W.E. Smith Mathematics
1971 M.J. Puttock Metrologist
1972 J.C. Cameron Geology Secretary 1969
1973 J.P. Pollard Mathematics/Statistics
1974 J.W. Pickett Palaeontology
1975 E.K. Chaffer Geology Secretary 1970-1
1976 D.J. Swaine Chemistry Secretary 1986-8
1977 W.H. Robertson Astronomy
1978 F.C. Beavis Geology
1979 D.H. Napper Chemistry
1980 G.S. Gibbons Geology
1981 B.A. Warren Pathology
1982 T.W. Cole Engineering
1983 R.S. Vagg Chemistry
1984 R.S. Bhathal Astronomy Secretary 1989-91
1985 J.H. Loxton Mathematics
1986 M.A. Stubbs-Race Engineering
1987 F.L. Sutherland Geology First of two terms
1988 D.E. Winch Mathematics
1989 H.S. Hancock Geology
1990 G.W.K. Ford Nuclear Science Secretary 1993-
1991 E.C. Potter Chemistry First of two terms
1992 F.L. Sutherland Geology Second term
1993 R.A.L. Osborne Geology
1994 J.R. Hardie Geology/Education Secretary 1992 - First of six terms
1995 Dr D.F. Branagan Geology
1996 K.L. Grose Ancient History
1997 E.C. Potter Chemistry Second term
1998 D.J. O'Connor Physics
1999 A.T. Baker Chemistry
2000 P.A. Williams Geology
2001-2 D.A. Craddock Aeronautics Two terms
2003-4 K. Kelly Science Journalism Two terms
2005-6 Prof. J.C. Kelly Physics Two terms
2007-11 J.R. Hardie Geology/Education Second to sixth terms
2012-16 Dr Donald Hector AM FRSN Engineering Editor of Journal & Proceedings 2011-2012
2016-17 Em. Prof D.B. Hibbert AM FRSN Analytical Chemistry Vice President 2014-2015
2018- Prof I.H. Sloan AO FRSN Mathematics Vice President 2017-2018


  1. ^ "List of Presidents - The Royal Society of NSW". Retrieved 2018-06-16. 
  2. ^ "Annual dinner of the Royal Society of NSW 2017". Royal Society of New South Wales. Retrieved 1 March 2018. 
  3. ^ "Awards". Royal Society of New South wales. Retrieved 31 August 2015. 
  4. ^ "The Clarke Medal". The Royal Society of New South wales. Archived from the original on 10 February 2015. Retrieved 31 August 2015. 
  5. ^ "The Edgeworth David Medal". The Royal Society of New South wales. Archived from the original on 2 November 2015. Retrieved 31 August 2015. 
  6. ^ "The James Cook Medal". The Royal Society of New South wales. Archived from the original on 24 September 2015. Retrieved 31 August 2015. 
  • Tyler, Peter J (Official Historian for the Royal Society of New South Wales) (2010). "Royal Society of New South Wales". Dictionary of Sydney. Dictionary of Sydney Trust. Retrieved 11 October 2015. 
  • Tyler, Peter (2010) Journal & Proceedings of the Royal Society of New South Wales, vol 143, nos 435-6, pp 29–43

External links

  • Society web-site
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