David McHattie Forbes

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David McHattie Forbes
David McHattie Forbes (vol. 1, 1917).jpg
Born July 21, 1863
Whitemire, Scotland
Died March 23, 1937 (age 73)
Hilo, Hawaii
Education Common and Night Schools in Scotland
Occupation Botanist, Collector, South Kohala District Forester and Magistrate of Waimea, Hawaii
Spouse(s) Catherine Lougher
Children Blodwyn, David Merlyn, Allister, Dyfrig, Mary Elizabeth
Parent(s) Alexander Forbes, Mary McHattie

David McHattie Forbes (July 21, 1863 – March 23, 1937) was a Scottish botanist, ethnologist, sugarcane plantation manager and explorer on the island of Hawai'i. He practised forestry, agronomy, and horticulture and served as the first district forester of South Kohala in 1905, and twenty years later was appointed a judge in Waimea.

In 1905, he was the discoverer, with two colleagues, of the greatest collection of Polynesian artifacts ever found. The location of the find became known as the Forbes Cave and his family preserved his third of the found objects for half a century until they donated them to the Volcanoes National Park in 1956. The Forbes Collection was on public view for 34 years until 1990, when the NAGPRA legislation was passed and each item was evaluated. They were found to be priceless cultural artefacts but also to be subject to repatriation and they were removed permanently from public viewing. The other two-thirds of the found objects were sold to the Bishop Museum by Forbes' two expedition partners: Wilhelm Wagener and Friedrich Haehnisch.[1]

Early years[edit]

Born in Scotland, the son of Alexander and Mary (McHattie) Forbes, he was educated in the local schools.


He began working in the private estate nurseries of Moray, Scotland in 1879 and later in the forests of the same estate. In 1882, he worked in the nurseries of Dixon & Co., Edinburgh. In 1883 he became the Foreman Forester for the estate of Fletcher's Saltoun Hall, the seat of the oldest and largest private library in Scotland.

In 1887, at the behest of William H. Purvis, he traveled to Kukuihaele near Waipio Valley, Hawaii, via Cape Horn, to manage an experiment in cinchona cultivation above the sugar line. Purvis, who had already introduced the macadamia nut from Australia, recognized the potential benefits to finding a species of tree that would thrive in the land above the sugarcane, and the bark of the cinchona he imported from Ceylon had a promising yield ratio between bark and quinine. When Purvis' plantation was transferred to the Pacific Sugar Mill Company, in which Samuel Parker invested in 1879, D. M. Forbes succeeded C. Von Mengersen as manager, running the Pacific Sugar Mill from 1893–1907.[2]

Forbes returned to Scotland in 1910 but did not remain. By 1912, he was back in Hawaii, in Waiakea, in Hilo, where he took the position of manager of the Waiakea Mill Company of Hilo. Finally, he settled in Waimea. In 1929, he was appointed to the rank of District Magistrate, South Kohala,[3] and was reappointed in 1932.[4] He was also the founder of Scouting in Waimea.[5] He died, in Hilo, in 1937.



He married Catherine Lougher at Waiakea, Hilo, on August 7, 1895. They had five children, Blodwyn, Merlyn, Allister, Dyfrig and Elizabeth.


Kukuihaele is the site of the original Hawaiian Island stand of cinchona trees, from which quinine is made.[9] They were planted by David McHattie Forbes in 1887 on the forest lands of the Pacific Sugar Mill Company, one patch of approximately 3 acres (12,000 m2) extent at an elevation of 2,000 feet (610 m), the other patch of 10 to 12 acres (49,000 m2) is at 2,200 feet (670 m) elevation. Despite the best available location, ample drainage and good soil, the Cinchona trees did not grow as healthy as most exotic plants introduced from a warm climate. Their value became so low compared to the price of labor that the attempt was abandoned in 1905.[10]

A Banyan Tree still stands in David McHattie Forbes honor at Banyan Drive in Hilo, Hawaii, known as the "Hilo Walk of Fame." Next to Forbes, visitors will find such names as Amelia Earhart, Babe Ruth, and Franklin Delano Roosevelt on plaques affixed to the trees.

Forbes originated the "Waimea Vegetable and Flower Show" which developed under his leadership into the principal annual horticultural show in West Hawaii.

Forbes planted some camphorwood seedlings in the grounds of the manager's house of the Pacific Sugar Mill Company in the 1880s. Half a century later he used the fragrant wood of these same trees to carve the altar for the Imiola Church in Waimea. Carving of the altar was completed after his death by his son David Merlyn Lougher Forbes.

He introduced the Jack Fruit tree to Hawaii.


  1. ^ "Paradise Almost Lost". Christopher Pala. In: Museum - March/April Issue 2008 | http://www.aam-us.org/pubs/mn/nagpra.cfm
  2. ^ "Pacific Sugar Mill History". Hawaiian Sugar Planters' Association Plantation Archives. University of Hawaii. Retrieved 2010-03-25. 
  3. ^ "Annual Report of the Governor of Hawaii to the Secretary of the Interior for the Fiscal Year Ending June 30, 1929"
  4. ^ "Annual Report of the Governor of Hawaii to the Secretary of the Interior for the Fiscal Year Ending June 30, 1932"
  5. ^ Catherine Lougher: a biography, page 2, written by Thomas H. Lougher
  6. ^ "Annual Report of the Governor of Hawaii to the Secretary of the Interior for the Fiscal Year Ending June 30, 1922 and 1924"
  7. ^ "Forbes, David McHattie office record". state archives digital collections. state of Hawaii. Archived from the original on 2010-01-08. Retrieved 2009-12-07. 
  8. ^ John William Siddall, ed. (1921). Men of Hawaii: being a biographical reference library, complete and authentic, of the men of note and substantial achievement in the Hawaiian Islands. Honolulu Star-Bulletin. p. 151. 
  9. ^ Hawaii City Data
  10. ^ Een en ander over kina en overzicht der cultuur van kina. By Pieter van der Wielen (Amsterdam: 1905), pp. 31-32