Robert Bennet Forbes
|Captain Robert Bennet Forbes|
Jamaica Plain, Boston, Massachusetts
|Died||November 23, 1889
|Parent(s)||Ralph Bennet Forbes
Captain Robert Bennet Forbes (1804 – November 23, 1889), was a sea captain, China merchant, ship owner, and writer. He was active in ship construction, maritime safety, the opium trade, and charitable activities, including food aid to Ireland, which became known as America’s first major disaster relief effort. "As a member of the Forbes family of Boston, much of his wealth was derived from the opium and China Trade and he played a prominent role in the outbreak of the Opium War. Despite the ethical problems of dealing in opium, he was known to engage in humanitarian activities, such as commandeering the USS Jamestown to send food to Irish famine sufferers in 1847."
On October 19, 1817 at age 13 he joined the crew of the Canton Packet and made his first voyage to China. He arrived in Canton, China in March 1818 using the eastern route. In June 1818, he returned to Boston.
Aboard the Nile he sailed for Manila. Previous to this time he had been ship's master of the Levant. He became a full captain before he was 20 years old. From Manila the Nile went to China, then to California, and from there to Buenos Aires, Argentina.
About 1832 he made his last voyage to China and in 1840 became head of Russell & Company, the largest American commercial house in China. Of his large means he made generous provision for his mother and younger brother. He visited China several times and became the American vice consul at Canton.
In 1834 he married Rose Greene Smith and they had three children: Robert Bennet Forbes (1837-1891), Edith Forbes who married Charles Eliot Perkins, and James Murray Forbes (1845-1885).
Captain Forbes owned or was involved in the construction of approximately seventy vessels.
His first ship was the Lintin, a 390-ton bark built by Sprague and James in Medford, Mass., in 1830. Forbes owned the Lintin from 1830–1832, after which time she sailed in Chinese waters. Forbes also owned the Paul Jones, which took the first cargo of ice to China. "During the Civil War he was employed as a volunteer by the government to inspect the building of nine gunboats and at the same time built for himself and others the Meteor, of 1500 tons."
The Forbes rig was also well received on the Mermaid, as this 1852 excerpt from the "Boston Atlas" transcribed by Bruzelius shows:
THE CLIPPER BARQUE MERMAID, Captain Smith, recently arrived, made the passage from Canton to New York in 87 days. The telegraph, when she arrived, reported Capt. Forbes as her commander, instead, no doubt of stating that she had Forbes's rig. This rig is working its way slowly into favor with ship-owners, and when its advantages are known, it will soon be universally adopted. It is the proper rig for large clippers ... The Mermaid ... has tested it in a voyage around the world, and like other vessels with it, has sailed with less men, than if she had been rigged in the usual style.
Captain Forbes was a member and an officer of the Massachusetts Humane Society, one of the Boston pilot commissioners, member of the government of the Board of Trade, one of the vestry of King's Chapel, member of the Boston Port Society, and at one time and another a director of various railroad and insurance companies.
Captain Forbes was awarded the medal of the Liverpool Shipwreck and Humane Society in 1849 for gallant conduct. The Cunard steamship Europa, on which Forbes was a passenger, ran down and sank an emigrant ship, Charles Bartlett. Forbes jumped from the bulwarks of the Europa into the water and rescued first a woman and child, and then a man.
Forbes' writings, most of them pamphlets, include:
- Forbes, Robert Bennet (1844). Remarks on China and the China Trade. Boston: Samuel N. Dickinson, printer.
- Forbes, Robert Bennet (1847). The Voyage of the Jamestown on Her Errand of Mercy. Boston: Eastburn Press.
- An Appeal to Merchants and Ship Owners, on the Subject of Seamen (1854)
- On the Establishment of a Line of Mail Steamers . . . to China (1855)
- Remarks on Ocean Steam Navigation (1855)
- Remarks on Magnetism and Local Attraction (1875)
- The Forbes Rig (1862)
- Means for Making the Highways of the Ocean more Safe (1867)
- Forbes, Robert Bennet (1882 2nd ed.; 1876 1st ed., 1892 3rd ed.). Personal Reminiscences. Boston: Little, Brown, and Company. Check date values in:
- The Lifeboat and other Life-saving Inventions (1880)
- New Rig for Steamers (1883)
- Notes on Navigation (1884)
- Loss of Life and Property in the Fisheries (1884)
- Forbes, Robert Bennet (1888). Notes on Ships of the Past. Boston: [s.n.]
- "Robert B. Forbes Dead". New York Times. November 24, 1889. Retrieved 2014-08-29.
Capt. Robert B. Forbes, who died yesterday at his residence in Milton, Mass., was one of the old merchants of Boston, and was closely identified with the shipping interests of days gone by. He was born at Jamaica Plain in 1804, and began his career on the...
- Sammarco, Anthony. "Historic Forest Hills Cemetery". January 7, 2010 blog entry. The Forest Hills Educational Trust,. Retrieved May 22, 2010.
- Cutter, William Richard; Adams, William Frederick (1910). Genealogical and personal memoirs relating to the families of the state of Massachusetts. V. 3. New York. pp. 1478–1480.
- Gleason, Hall (1937). Old Ships and Ship-Building Days of Medford. Medford, MA: J.C. Miller. p. 59.
- Bruzelius, Lars (2002-03-13). "Sailing Ships: Great Republic (1853)". Great Republic. The Maritime History Virtual Archives. Retrieved May 4, 2010.
- Bruzelius, Lars (1997). "The Clipper Barque Mermaid". The Clipper Barque Mermaid. The Maritime History Virtual Archives. Retrieved May 4, 2010.
- Bruzelius, Lars (1996). "The Forbes and the Howe Rig". The Forbes and the Howe Rig. The Maritime History Virtual Archives. Retrieved May 4, 2010.
- Bruzelius, Lars (1996). "Letter from R.B. Forbes to Captain Bradbury, 1855". Letter from R.B. Forbes to Captain Bradbury, 1855. The Maritime History Virtual Archives. Retrieved May 4, 2010.
- Bruzelius, Lars (1996). "A Letter from Geo. H. Bradbury to R.B. Forbes, 1855". A Letter from Geo. H. Bradbury to R.B. Forbes, 1855. The Maritime History Virtual Archives. Retrieved May 4, 2010.
- Sailors' Snug Harbor of Boston Records, 1852-1975 at the Massachusetts Historical Society
- Website of the Captain Forbes House Museum
- The Forbes and the Howe Rig, 1855
- Howe's Patent Rig
- Letter from R.B. Forbes to Captain Bradbury, ship N.B. Palmer, New York, 1855
- A Letter from Geo. H. Bradbury to R.B. Forbes, 1855
- Forbes biography, Answers.com
- The Warship Of Peace That Fed Famine-Stricken Ireland