John Forbes (Gaelic scholar)

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John Forbes
Native name
Iain Foirbeis
Died1863 (aged 44–45)
Alma materUniversity of Edinburgh
OccupationChurch minister
Notable work
A double grammar English and Gaelic

Reverend John Forbes (1818-1863) was a minister of the Church of Scotland in Kilmore, Isle of Skye and a prominent Gaelic scholar. He is known for his work on the grammar of Scottish Gaelic, A double grammar English and Gaelic.


John Forbes was born in Strathglass, in the North West Highlands of Scotland, in 1818. He was educated at the University of Edinburgh and then worked as a teacher for several years. He was the schoolmaster of Fort Augustus in 1843 and one of the masters at the Normal Institute, Edinburgh in 1848. Between the years 1849 and 1851 he worked as an assistant at St Stephens in Edinburgh.[1]

In 1851 he was presented to Queen Victoria, and also ordained as a minister of the Church of Scotland.[1] Forbes was minister in Kilmore, Sleat, on the Isle of Skye during a time of famine and poverty where he provided relief to his parishioners. He provided boys with an education and supported them in gaining entry to university. He retrieved young girls who had been lured to the mills in Manchester with false promises of well-paid work[2] and wrote Weeping in the Isles, an exposé of the death of two girls and testimony from other girls returned to Skye. He also did his best to suppress sexual impropriety on the island.[2]

He married Jane Smith (d. 1874),[1] whom he cut out of his will due to her alcohol consumption: "To my beloved wife personally I cannot entrust anything. Prudence and my sense of duty forbid it. I do it with grief and pain, because she has, during the last 18 years, proved herself utterly unworthy of trust or confidence, being unfortunately addicted to the vice of intemperance."[2] They had one son, Alexander Robert, an assistant keeper of the Court of Session's minute book and Gaelic scholar who published Gaelic names of beasts (mammalia), birds, fishes, insects, reptiles, etc. and Place-names of Skye and adjacent islands. Forbes died on 21 January 1863[1] and is buried in the graveyard of the old parish church of Kilmore, Isle of Skye.[3]

Forbes is the great great- great- great- grandfather of British actor and comedian David Mitchell. Their connection was explored on the television series Who do you think you are.[2][3]

He was among one of the best Gaelic scholars of his time.[1] He wrote books on Gaelic grammar and published Gaelic poetry. He also made several translations of works into Gaelic.

Published works[edit]

1843: A double grammar, of English and Gaelic / Gràmar Dùbailt, Beurla 'us Gàelig (English and Gaelic)

1848: The principles of Gaelic grammar / Stéidhean a' Ghràmair Ghaëlig (English and Gaelic)

1853: Weeping in the Isles, or, The death of three of the girls who were taken from the Isle of Skye to England in May, 1852

1853: Am ministear air "An lair mhaide" (Gaelic)

1853: An lochran (Gaelic) 1853: The clergyman on the see-saw

1857: Catechism on baptism 1858: The two servants

Comhradh nan Cnoc, no Fead air na Fithich (Gaelic)

The white ship


1845: Muir, William,Co-'rian de 'leasanaibh Sabaid air-son sgoilean agus theaghlaichean / A system of Sabbath Lesson for schools and families (Gaelic)

1859: Blakeney, Richard P., An leabhar-cheist Protastananch / Protestant catechism (Gaelic)

1862: Baxter, Richard, Fois shìorruidh nan naomh / Saints' everlasting rest (Gaelic)


  1. ^ a b c d e Scott, Hew (1928). Fasti ecclesiae Scoticanae : the succession of ministers in the Church of Scotland from the Reformation. Volume VII, Synods of Ross, Sutherland and Caithness, Glenelg, Orkney and of Shetland, the Church in England, Ireland and overseas. Edinburgh: Oliver and Boyd. pp. 172–176.
  2. ^ a b c d Banks-Smith, Nancy (2009-08-05). "Who Do You Think You Are? | Spanish Flu: The Forgotten Fallen | TV Review". The Guardian. ISSN 0261-3077. Retrieved 2019-03-20.
  3. ^ a b "David Mitchell Episode Guide | Who Do You Think You Are Magazine". Retrieved 2019-03-20.