Royal Society of New South Wales

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 Royal Society
New South Wales
MottoOmnia 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
Established1821 – 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 ..."
PresidentProfessor Ian Hugh Sloan[1]
MembersUp to 25 Distinguished Fellows
350 Fellows and Members
Formerly calledThe Philosophical Society of Australasia (1821-50)
The Australian Philosophical Society (1850-56)
The Philosophical Society of New South Wales (1856-66)
AddressSydney, Australia

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. Fellowship and Distinguished Fellowship are by election, and may be conferred on leaders in their fields. 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

Professor Michael Archer AM FAA Dist FRSNBiology and paleobiology2009Professor 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 FRSNPsychiatry and public service2009Dame 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 FRSNMedicine and public service2015Professor 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 FRSNBiochemistry and Biophysics2010Professor 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 FRSNPhysics2009Professor 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 FRSNImmunology2013Professor 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.
Professor Barry Jones AO FAA FAHA FTSE FASSA Dist FRSNPolitician2012He 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 FRSNHistorian2017An 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 FRSNGeophysics, geology, and glaciology2010Professor 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 FRSNMedicine2010Professor 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 FRSNMathematics and zoolology2010Lord 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 FRSNAstronomy2012Awarded 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 FRSNPhysics2010Professor 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 FRSNGeology2009Professor 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 FRSNMathematics, physics, nuclear chemistry2011Professor 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 FRSNMedicine, pathology2009Professor Warren is a distinguished pathologist whose research interests concerned tumour biology and thrombosis.

Past Distinguished Fellows of the Society

Professor Gavin Brown AO FAA Corr FRSE Dist FRSN (1942 - 2010)Mathematics and education2009Professor 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)Chemistry2009Professor 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)Physics2009Professor 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.
Emeritus Professor Noel Hush AO DSc FRS FNAS FAA FRACI Dist FRSN (1924 - 2019) Computational and theoretical quantum chemistry 2010 Professor Hush was one of Australia's most distinguished and internationally renowned chemists with outstanding achievements in computational and theoretical quantum chemistry.

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.

1821-2Sir Thomas BrisbaneAstronomyGovernor NSW, Hon. President
1850-5Hon. E. Deas-ThomsonPublic AdministrationSenior Vice-President. Clerk of both the Council of NSW and the Executive & Legislative Council
1855-7Sir William DenisonEngineeringGovernor NSW, Hon. President
Sir Charles NicholsonMedicineSenior Vice-President
1858-60Sir William DenisonEngineeringGovernor NSW, Hon. President
Hon. E. Deas-ThomsonPublic AdministrationSenior Vice-President. Clerk of both the Council of NSW and the Executive & Legislative Council
1861-5Sir John YoungLawGovernor NSW, Hon. President
Rev. W.B. ClarkeGeologySenior Vice-President
1866-7Sir John YoungLawGovernor NSW, Hon. President
Rev. W.B. ClarkeGeologySenior Vice-President
1868-714th Earl of BelmorePublic AdministrationGovernor NSW, Hon. President
Rev.W.B. ClarkeGeologySenior Vice-President
1872-8Sir Hercules RobinsonPublic AdministrationGovernor NSW, Hon. President
Rev. W.B. ClarkeGeologySenior Vice-President
1879Lord Augustus LoftusDiplomatGovernor NSW, Hon. President
Hon. J. SmithPhysicsSenior Vice-President
1880Hon. J. SmithPhysicsFirst elected President
1881H.C. RussellAstronomy
1882Christopher RollestonStatisticsAuditor-General
1883Professor J. SmithPhysicsSecond elected term
1884H.C. RussellAstronomySecond term
1885Professor A. LiversidgeChemistryJoint Secretary 1875-1884;1886-1888
1886Christopher RollestonStatisticsSecond term
1887C.S. WilkinsonGeology
1888Sir Alfred RobertsMedicine
1889Professor A. LiversidgeChemistrySecond term
1890Dr A. LeibiusChemistryJoint Secretary 1875-1885
1891H.C. RussellAstronomyThird term
1892Professor W.H. WarrenEngineeringJoint Secretary 1889-1891
1893Professor T.P. Anderson StuartPhysiologyJoint Secretary 1892
1894Professor Richard ThrelfallPhysics
1895Professor T.W.E. DavidGeologyJoint Secretary 1893-4
1896J.H. MaidenBotanyJoint Secretary 1893-5; 1897-1913
1897Henry DeaneEngineering
1898G.H. KnibbsMathematicsJoint Secretary 1896-7; 1899-1906
1899William Mogford HamletChemistry
1900Professor A. LiversidgeChemistryThird term
1901H.C. RussellAstronomyFourth term
1902Professor W.H. WarrenEngineeringSecond term
1903F.B. GuthrieChemistryJoint Secretary 1907-1911
1904C.O. BurgeEngineering
1905H.A. LenehanAstronomy
1906Professor T.P. Anderson StuartPhysiologySecond term
1907Henry DeaneEngineeringSecond term
1908William Mogford HamletChemistrySecond term
1909H.D. WalshEngineering
1910Professor T.W.E. DavidGeologySecond term
1911J.H. MaidenBotanySecond term
1912R.H. CambageSurveyingJoint Secretary 1914-1922; 1925-7
1913H.G. SmithChemistry
1914C. HedleyZoology
1915R. Greig-SmithBacteriologyJoint Secretary 1925-6
1916T.H. HoughtonEngineering
1917Dr J.B. ClelandMicrobiology
1918William Sutherland DunPalaeontology
1919Professor C.E. FawsittChemistry
1920J. NangleAstronomy
1921E.C. AndrewsGeology
1922C.A. SussmilchGeologyJoint Secretary 1928-1933; 1936-7
1923R.H. CambageSurveyingSecond term
1924Dr C. AndersonMineralogyJoint Secretary 1935-1942
1925Professor R.D. WattAgriculture
1926Dr Walter George WoolnoughGeology
1927Prof. J. Douglas StewartVeterinary Medicine
1928W. PooleEngineering
1929Professor L.A. CottonGeology
1930Professor O.U. VonwillerPhysicsJoint Secretary 1927-8; 1948
1931Edwin CheelBotany
1932Asst. Prof. W.R. BrowneGeology
1933R.W. ChallonerChemistry
1934Dr R.J. NobleAgricultureJoint Secretary 1933
1935A.R. PenfoldChemistry
1936Major E.H. BoothPhysicsJoint Secretary 1934-6
1937Dr W.L. WaterhouseBotany
1938Professor J.C. EarlChemistry
1939Dr H.S.H. WardlawBiochemistry
1940Professor A.P. ElkinAnthropologyJoint Secretary 1938-9; 1941-5
1941D.P. MellorChemistryJoint Secretary 1943-7
1942Professor Henry PriestleyBiochemistry
1943Dr A.B. WalkomPalaeobotany
1944Dr G.D. OsborneGeologyJoint Secretary 1953
1945Dr A. BolligerMedicine
1946Dr F. LionsChemistry
1947Dr J.A. DulhuntyGeology
1948Dr Ronald AstonEngineering
1949Harley WoodAstronomyJoint Secretary 1948; 1951; 1958-1960
1950F.R. MorrisonChemistryJoint Secretary 1946-7
1951Dr R.C.L. BosworthChemistrySecretary 1948-50
1952Dr C.J. MageeAgriculture
1953Dr Ida A. BrownePalaeontologyFirst female President; Joint Secretary 1950-2; 1957-8
1954Dr R.S. NyholmChemistry
1955Dr M.R. LembergBiochemistry
1956F.D. McCarthyAnthropology
1957F.N. HanlonGeologyJoint Secretary 1954-6
1958J.L. GriffithMathematicsSecretary 1955-7; 1966-8
1959A.F.A. HarperPhysics
1960H.A.J. DoneganChemistry
1961R.J.W. LeFevreChemistry
1962W.B. Smith-WhiteMathematics
1963Howard McKernChemist
1964J.W. HumphriesPhysics
1965Dr A.A. DayGeologyJoint Secretary 1959-1960
1966A.H. VoiseyGeology
1967A.H. LowMathematicsSecretary 1963-5
1968A. KeaneMathematics
1969J.W.G. NeuhausChemistry
1970W.E. SmithMathematics
1971M.J. PuttockMetrologist
1972J.C. CameronGeologySecretary 1969
1973J.P. PollardMathematics/Statistics
1974J.W. PickettPalaeontology
1975E.K. ChafferGeologySecretary 1970-1
1976D.J. SwaineChemistrySecretary 1986-8
1977W.H. RobertsonAstronomy
1978F.C. BeavisGeology
1979D.H. NapperChemistry
1980G.S. GibbonsGeology
1981B.A. WarrenPathology
1982T.W. ColeEngineering
1983R.S. VaggChemistry
1984R.S. BhathalAstronomySecretary 1989-91
1985J.H. LoxtonMathematics
1986M.A. Stubbs-RaceEngineering
1987F.L. SutherlandGeologyFirst of two terms
1988D.E. WinchMathematics
1989H.S. HancockGeology
1990G.W.K. FordNuclear ScienceSecretary 1993-
1991E.C. PotterChemistryFirst of two terms
1992F.L. SutherlandGeologySecond term
1993R.A.L. OsborneGeology
1994J.R. HardieGeology/EducationSecretary 1992 - First of six terms
1995Dr D.F. BranaganGeology
1996K.L. GroseAncient History
1997E.C. PotterChemistrySecond term
1998D.J. O'ConnorPhysics
1999A.T. BakerChemistry
2000P.A. WilliamsGeology
2001-2D.A. CraddockAeronauticsTwo terms
2003-4K. KellyScience JournalismTwo terms
2005-6Prof. J.C. KellyPhysicsTwo terms
2007-11J.R. HardieGeology/EducationSecond to sixth terms
2012-16Dr Donald Hector AM FRSNEngineeringEditor of Journal & Proceedings 2011-2012
2016-17Em. Prof D.B. Hibbert AM FRSNAnalytical ChemistryVice President 2014-2015
2018-Prof I.H. Sloan AO FRSNMathematicsVice President 2017-2018


  1. "List of Presidents - The Royal Society of NSW". Retrieved 16 June 2018.
  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
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