Online gem No. 4: Medico-Legal Society of Victoria

Online gem No. 4: Medico-Legal Society of Victoria (26 October 2015)

The Medico-Legal Society of Victoria, founded in Melbourne in 1931, was intended as a common meeting ground for the legal and medical professions and to promote discussion and understanding of issues and problems of common interest. The first meeting of the Society was held on 29 August 1931 with Dr Frederic Wood Jones, Professor of Anatomy at the University of Melbourne, speaking on the topic ‘The medico-legal aspect of judicial hanging’.

The Society is remarkable for its longevity and has organised regular meetings with speakers on topics of general interest, as well on more specialised medical, legal or medico-legal matters. The Society’s website carries the majority of papers delivered at meetings since 1931 and attests to the variety of topics covered.

Papers on criminal justice topics have included ‘Medical murderers, presented by the Melbourne barrister Eugene Gorman (later Sir Eugene) at a meeting on 23 October 1931, and ‘Capital punishment’ by Dr John Adey on 16 June 1956.

Some topics were controversial, as was the paper by the Melbourne barrister John Vincent Barry (later Sir John Barry), ‘The law of therapeutic abortion, read on 26 November 1938. It is a reflection of the quality of Barry’s contribution that, more than 30 years later when abortion was once again being discussed at a meeting of the Society, attention was drawn to Barry’s paper.

Some of the Society’s papers cover specifically Australian topics, including Dr Bryan Gandevia, on ‘Medico-legal crimes in nineteenth-century Melbourne (12 October 1962) and Dr Gandevia again on ‘Secondary punishment in the penal period in Australia 1788-c. 1850 (28 May 1977). Dr Frank Forster presented a paper, ‘The female factorieson 21 October 1972.

Occasionally, there was a presentation on a topic of broader public interest, that is, not specifically legal or medical in content, such as the paper by Professor JAL Matheson (later Sir Louis), Vice-Chancellor of Monash University, on ‘Student proteston 16 August 1969. He was eminently well qualified to speak on this topic.

Student-radicalismStudent protest (collage), Monash University, c. 1969 (Red Flag)

This is one of a series contributed by John Myrtle ( from his database of material relating to 1900 to the early 1970s.


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