Select Forbes Miscellany

Here are some Forbes stories and accounts over the years:

Forbes Name Origins

The traditions regarding the origin of the Forbes surname are various; and some of them quite fanciful.

The principal tradition states that this name was first assumed by one Ochonchar from Ireland who, having slain a ferocious bear in that district, took the name of Forbear, now spelled and pronounced Forbes, in two syllables; although the English, in pronunciation, made it only one.  In consequence of this feat the Forbes carry in their arms the heads of three bears. 

A variation of this story has it that the actor in this daring exploit was desirous of exhibiting his courage to a young and beautiful heiress named Bess.  On receiving her hand as his reward, he assumed it to commemorate his "having the bear 'for Bess.'"

Another tradition maintains that the name of the founder of the family was originally Bois, a follower of one of the early Scots kings.  On granting him certain lands for some extraordinary service, his Majesty observed that they were "for Boice."  The surname here is territorial and said to be Celtic from the Gaelic word ferbash or ferbasach, a bold man.

It seems more likely to have been originally forbois, of Latin-French derivation, signifying a wild wood country where bears abounded.  According to Skene in his treatise De Verborum Significatione, Duncan Forbois got from King Alexander (but from which of the three kings of that name is not mentioned) a charter of the lands and heritage of Forbois in Aberdeenshire, whence the surname.

In the reign of King William the Lion, John de Forbes possessed the lands of that name.  His son, Fergus de Forbes, had a charter of the same from Alexander Earl of Buchan, around 1296.

The Forbes and the Gordons

The principal enemy of the Forbeses seems to have been the Gordons, who were Catholic and rebellious by nature.  The Forbes meanwhile had accepted the reformed faith. 

In 1533 the 6th Lord Forbes stood trial in Aberdeen for having set fire, under cloud of night, to certain sheep pens belonging to the Earl of Huntly (i.e. the Gordons).  Three years later the Huntlys accused him of treasonable conspiracy against the King of Scotland.  For this crime Forbes was found guilty and he was beheaded in 1537. 

There was a rapprochement of sorts when the 8th Lord Forbes married Lady Margaret Gordon, eldest daughter of the 4th Earl of Huntly.  However, their son turned Catholic, entering a religious order, and Forbes disowned his wife.  This led to a clan battle in 1572 at Catt in Aberdeenshire in which the Gordons had the better of the day, killing Lord Forbes's brother. 

Lord Forbes subsequently married Janet Seton of Touch.  In 1595 he gained a measure of revenge, being appointed by the King as one of the lieutenants of the northern counties to suppress Catholic lords such as the Huntlys.    

Bumper John Forbes

In 1625 Duncan Forbes purchased Culloden House in Inverness from the Macintosh chieftain and the Forbes family began their nearly 300 year history with it.  Descended from the Forbes of Tolquhoun, he was an example of a wealthy urban merchant leaving trade to set his family up as landowners and lairds.

The Forbes were known for their lavish lifestyle and generous hospitality.  The 4th Laird of Culloden's nickname "Bumper John" came from his fondness for French wines.  Around 1730, the author of the book Letters from A Gentleman in the North of Scotland wrote the following about Bumper John:

"There lives in a house or castle called Culloden, a gentleman whose hospitality is almost without bounds.  It is the custom of that house at the first visit or introduction to take up your freedom by cracking his nut (as he terms it), - that is a coconut shell which holds a pint filled with champagne or such other sort of wine as you shall choose. 

You may guess that few go away sober at any time; and for the greatest part of his guests, in that conclusion, they cannot go at all.  A hogshead of fine claret was kept in the hall so that guests or even passer-bys could refresh themselves with a pint of claret."

Castle Forbes' Graveyard

Behind the castle in Newtown-Forbes in county Longford was the legendary graveyard.  In early times the deceased of the parish were buried there.  However, the 4th Earl of Granard passed a rule that said that only his family could be buried there.

The law made a lot of people angry.  Some even buried their relatives there under the cover of darkness. Usually Lord Granard found out about this and had the corpse thrown off the castles property and onto the roadside. 

There was one man of the parish who fell sick and, when dying, asked his sons to bury him in the graveyard where his father had rested before him.  He also requested that a blackthorn stick be put in his right hand so that if anyone should disturb him people would hear about it.  The man died and his directions were faithfully carried out.  Lord Granard found the corpse and ordered it to be removed.  The next day the people learnt that the Earl of Granard was dead.

The Forbes and the Emersons

Edward Waldo Emerson, Ralph Waldo Emerson's son, published a biography of John Murray Forbes in the September 1899 issue of Atlantic magazine.  The Emerson and Forbes families were close.  John Murray's son, William Forbes, had married Ralph's daughter, Edith Emerson.

In Letters and Social Aims, Ralph Waldo Emerson had written somewhat flatteringly of Forbes as follows:

"Never was such force, good meaning, good sense, good action, combined with such domestic lovely behavior, such modesty and persistent preference for others.  Wherever he moved he was the benefactor.   How little this man suspects, with his sympathy for men and his respect for lettered and scientific people, that he is not likely, in any company, to meet a man superior to himself.  I think this is a good country that can bear such a creature as he."

James Alexander Forbes in California

In 1834 James married Ana Marķa Galindo, daughter of the majordomo of Mission Santa Clara de Asis.  The Forbes family lived on Rancho Potrero de Santa Clara, a 1,940 acre Mexican land grant near San Jose received from Governor Micheltorena in 1844.  The rancho and cattle were sold in 1847 to American Commodore Robert F. Stockton for $10,500, a high price for the time.

The couple had a total of twelve children, three daughters and nine sons.  In 1851 he persuaded the Jesuits to establish a school at Mission Santa Clara to educate his sons.  This school formed the basis of what would become Santa Clara University.  Five of the Forbes sons were part of the first class at Santa Clara College.

However, his principal commercial venture, the flour mill that he built outside San Jose, ended in failure.

Castle Forbes, Australia

In Aberdeen James Mudie was given the opportunity for a new life when Sir Charles Forbes offered him a free passage to New South Wales.   Grateful to Forbes, Mudie arrived there with his four children in July 1822.  He soon received a land grant in the Hunter valley which he named Castle Forbes in honor of his patron.

Mudie was reportedly a cruel man to his servants and in 1833 Castle Forbes was the scene of a convict uprising that was savagely put down.  The incident, however, led to a lot of publicity about the cruel treatment to convicts.

The Castle Forbes estate was broken up and sold off in small lots around 1840.

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