History of the Society

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

The Society was formed by Dr James Bowman, Dr Henry Douglass, both medical practitioners, Judge Barron Field, a justice of the Supreme Court, Major Frederick Goulburn, the Colonial Secretary, Captain Francis Irvine, an Army officer and farmer, and Edward Wollstonecraft, a merchant, “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, with the encouragement of Dr Douglass, the Society was revitalised and renamed the Australian Philosophical Society on 19 January 1850.  In 1855, the year of the establishment of the Parliament of NSW, the Society was renamed The Philosophical Society of New South Wales.  On 12 December 1866, Queen Victoria granted Royal Assent to the Society and it was renamed again as The Royal Society of New South Wales.  The Society was incorporated by an Act of the New South Wales Parliament in 1881.

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.

For a more complete early history, see Tyler (2010) "Science for Gentlemen – The Royal Society of New South Wales in the Nineteenth Century".

about logoThe original seal of the Society was designed by Archibald Liversidge, who, at the time of incorporation (16 December 1881), was Honorary Secretary of the Society.  On 27 April 2011, the Council adopted the motto "omnia quaerite" (question everything).  A more detailed history of the seal, together with the meanings of the symbols, may be downloaded here.

Presidents of the Society

A list of all Presidents of the Society, previous and current is available from this link. 

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Distinguished Fellows


List of Presidents

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ACNC TickWe are a registered charity and very much welcome your support through donations or a bequest. Donations in support of our Scholarship and Library programs are tax-deductible in Australia.

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