Papers of Professor Edward Forbes (1815-1854)

  • This material is held at
  • Reference
      GB 237 Coll-133
  • Dates of Creation
  • Language of Material
  • Physical Description
      1 volume, 10 letters, 1 drawing.
  • Location
      Dc.6.91; Dc.4.101-103 Forbes; Gen. 784/1/12; Gen. 1731 Forbes; Gen. 1790, no. 26; E2006.12-13

Scope and Content

The papers of Professor Edward Forbes include: a journal of travels in Norway, 1833, occasionally illustrated with sketches, at Dc.6.91; an original pen and ink drawing symbolising the Oineromathic Society as a frontispiece for the University Maga 1838, a letter to Dr. Charles Bell, 1854, a letter originally bound in with 'An inaugural letter on botany ... read in King's College, London, May 8th, 1843, by Edward Forbes', two letters to Professor H. Milne Edwards about various subjects including engravings of corals, 1848 and 1851, at Dc.4.101 Forbes; a letter to John Phillips, 1843, at Gen. 784/1/12; a letter dated 29 August 1845 referring to a visit to town by the Belgian naturalist Van Beneden, and a letter to Sir Thomas declining an invitation because he is to be 'with a Chiswick party', at Gen. 1731/18-19 Forbes; two letters to Edward Wood relating to fossils, at E2006.12-13; and, a note to Dear Carpenter, at Gen. 1796, no.26.

Administrative / Biographical History

The naturalist Edward Forbes was born in Douglas, Isle of Man, on 12 February 1815. He was educated on the island and, showing a certain artistic talent, he was sent to London at the age of sixteen to study art. Refused entrance however to the Royal Academy School, Forbes entered Edinburgh University as a medical student in 1831. He attended classes in anatomy, chemistry, botany and natural history, and during the vacation of 1832 he studied the natural history of the Isle of Man. His artistic talent was utilised in the production of a student organ entitled University Maga. On his return to Edinburgh, Forbes had turned away from the notion of a career in medicine, but he did not resign his course of study until 1836. Prior to that, his vacations were spent on natural history studies and travel - to Arendal in Norway, to Oslo and Copenhagen, to France, Germany and Switzerland. In 1836-1837 he travelled to the south of France and to Algeria. On his return to Edinburgh he published a small work on Manx mollusca and continued to involve himself in student activities. In 1838, after a trip to Austria, he read a paper before the British Association in Newcastle On the distribution of terrestrial pulmonifera in Europe. This was followed by another paper on the pulmoniferous mollusca in the British Isles, and a study of the star-fish of the Irish Sea. In 1839, Forbes began a series of lectures to the Edinburgh Philosophical Association on The natural history of the animals of the British seas. He continued lecturing throughout 1839 and 1840, and also carried on publishing and researching. In 1839, he was given a grant for dredging researches around the seas of Britain and in 1841 he was appointed as the naturalist on board HMS Beacon which was engaged in surveying work in the eastern Mediterranean. While with the vessel he studied the natural history of the Aegean Sea and its islands, and also travelled in southwestern Turkey (ancient Lycia). In 1842, Forbes was elected to the Chair of Botany at King's College, London, but because of a higher remuneration attached to the post of Curator at the museum of the Geological Society, he chose the latter instead. In 1844 he was appointed as the Paleaontologist to the Society. The same year he delivered an important lecture to the Royal Institution on his discoveries about littoral zones, the characteristics of deposits formed at various depths in the oceans, and the migration of mollusca. At this time too he was involved with the work of the Geological Survey. Lecturing continued to take up his time, as did a dredging expedition in the waters of western Scotland, and a survey in the mountains of north Wales. Forbes was instrumental in the establishment of the Paleaontographical Society in 1847, and in 1849 he made important discoveries in relation to the true position of the Purbeck beds. A dredging expedition in the Hebrides followed, and yet another lecturing series. In 1853, Forbes was elected President of the Geological Society and in spring 1854 he became Professor of Natural History at Edinburgh University. Other publications, either separate works or submissions to journals, included those on his travels in Lycia, mollusca of the Aegean, cretaceous fossils of southern India, Australian mollusca, Arctic echinoderms, and the fluvio-marine tertiaries of the Isle of Wight. Within months of his appointment to the Chair of Natural History in Edinburgh, Professor Edward Forbes died on 18 November 1854

Access Information

Generally open for consultation to bona fide researchers, but please contact repository for details in advance.

Acquisition Information

Letter to Phillips acquired 1964, Accession no. E64.64; Letters to Edward Wood acquired May 2006, Accession Nos. E2006.12 and E2006.13


The biographical/administrative history was compiled using the following material: (1) Stephen Leslie. and Lee, Sidney (eds.). Dictionary of national biography. London: Smith, Elder and Co., 1908. (2)

Compiled by Graeme D Eddie, Edinburgh University Library, Special Collections Division.

Other Finding Aids

Important finding aids generally are: the alphabetical Index to Manuscripts held at Edinburgh University Library, Special Collections and Archives, consisting of typed slips in sheaf binders and to which additions were made until 1987; and the Index to Accessions Since 1987.

Related Material

The local Indexes show other references to Forbes related material (check the Indexes for more details): letters from Sir J.Y. Simpson at Dc.2.85/7; letters to Sir William Jardine, circa 1839-1841, at Dk.6.20/98-99, and mention of Forbes in various Jardine letters, at Dk.6.20/161-86 and Dk.6.20/275; also letters to Sir Archibald Geikie, at Gen. 524/3 and at Gen. 1426; letters to his uncle Mr. Corlett, at Gen. 1425/390, and to an uncle at Gen. 1426/195; letter to Sir A. C. Ramsay at Gen. 1426/194; lecture notes at Gen. 1426/196; letters in the Charles Lyell collection at Gen. 1429/4, f.64; letter to Forbes from Thomas davidson at Gen. 1733/114; letters in the Robert Jameson collection, at Gen. 1999/1/7, and Gen. 1999/9/3; letter to Professor G.A. Shepperson at Gen. 2212/10; and, mentioned in various letters, at Gen. 1426/202, Gen. 1996/12/49, Dc.2.76/22. In addition, the UK National Register of Archives (NRA), updated by the Historical Manuscripts Commission, notes many resources in the UK or British Isles. Those in Scotland and the Isle of Man include: letters and papers, 1841-1854, National Library of Scotland, Manuscripts Division, see HMC MS papers of British scientists 1600-1940, 1982; lecture notes, 1854-1855, Royal College of Physicians of Edinburgh, Ref. Forbes NRA 16015 Coll of Physicians; papers relating to the Isle of Man, c.1836, Royal Botanic Garden, Edinburgh, see Bridson, Natural history MS resources 1980; and, letters and papers, Manx National Heritage Library NRA 9189 Forbes, and letters to William Thompson, 1840-1851, Ref. 2148A NRA 9189 Forbes.

Corporate Names