These papers cover the period 1746 - 1886, but largely date from the purchase of the Seaton Estate, Old Aberdeen, by James Forbes, c. 1782. There is no clear distinction between the papers of the Forbes and those of the Hays, which would seem to reflect the gradual transfer of influence over the Seaton Estate from James Forbes to his daughter and her husband.
The papers are arranged in ten series, as outlined in system of arrangement. Of most interest in the main series of accounts (series 1) are the records of Lord and Lady James Hay, which reflect their extensive travels through Europe between 1830 and 1861. Frequent references are found in both accounts and correspondence to their daughter Marguerite Louise, wife of Baron Gudin, and there are occasional receipts and requests for payment in French. A separate series containing other financial papers (series 2), includes estate rentals, crop books, and other estate, household and personal accounts for the period 1773 - 1886. A corresponding series of accounts for the family and estate, 1782 - 1861, was deposited later, and has been listed separately (GB 231 MS 2414). See Related Units of Description for further details.
Further papers relating to the management of the estate are found in series 4 and 5. Series 4 consists mostly of tacks and related papers, including correspondence and memoranda of leases for areas of land on Donside, including Mugiemoss, Stoneywood and Balgownie, 1767 - 1834. There is also an abstract of Kettocks Mill accounts and notes on the mill, 1804. Series 5 is concerned with fishing rights on the River Don, and includes leases, correspondence, case papers and minutes, 1766 - 1850.
The business interests of James Forbes and Lord James Hay are reflected in series 6 and 7- papers relating to the Aberdeenshire Canal, 1800 - 1809, and Aberdeen Railway Company, 1846 - 1879, respectively. Items of interest therein include reports on the Aberdeenshire Canal by W. Jessop and Thomas Telford of Edinburgh, 1805 and 1809, and a sketch of the wharf, 1800 - 1809. Papers relating to Lord James Hay's interests in the Aberdeen Railway Company include statements and reports of the Board of Directors, 1846 - 1855; correspondence of Lord James Hay, as Chairman of Directors, 1848 - 1854; proposals for clearing debt, 1852; schedule of purchase of land owned by Hay of Seaton for railway, 1850s; Aberdeen Railway Act, 1850 and 1853; The Great North of Scotland Railway Amendment Act, 1854; plans of proposed line from Murtle to Kintore, 1852; and the Aberdeen and Peterhead Railway from Kittybrewster to Broadford, n.d.
Four boxes of correspondence, arranged in 43 original bundles, concern family and estate matters for the period 1746 - 1879 (series 8). Letters cover many subjects, including leases, tenants, state of land, measurement of land, building of houses on estates, disputes over mining, fishing and rights of way, inventories of property and machinery at mills and bleachfields (notably Muggiemoss Mill), Auchmull House, state of roads, quarries (including enquiries about the possibility of quarrying granite to be used for London Bridge (1823) and the roads of the metropolis (1828)), Aberdeenshire Canal, activities of Forbes as executor for Charles Ogilvy, payment of bills, debts, investments, parliamentary candidates, etc.
The military correspondence of Lord James Hay (series 9), 1814 - 1858, is mostly minor, concerning clothing, leave of absence, recommendations, appointments, pensions, etc. but is of interest in as much as it reflects the personal influence which Lord Hay held in such matters. Included with this correspondence is a sketch showing the position of investing corps of allied armies before Sebastopol by Captain Biddulph, R.A., Oct 1845.
Although Series 3 is described as Family papers, this is slightly misleading, for it comprises 4 family settlements relating to monies and lands, 1755 - 1767, and the most informative records relating to the family are actually found dispersed amongst the accounts and correspondence described above.