David Forbes' Analysis Books

Scope and Content

Contents: Two analysis books of David Forbes. Eng MS 1417 is a notebook of analyses of nickel ores conducted by Forbes in Norway in 1849-50. Eng MS 1418 is a notebook which consists primarily of qualitative and quantitative chemical analyses of chemical substances and natural products.

Administrative / Biographical History

David Forbes was born at Douglas on the Isle of Man on 6 September 1828. He was the son of Edward Forbes, a local banker, and his wife Jane. He was educated locally at Athole Academy, before going to Brentwood School, Essex. In 1844 Forbes entered Edinburgh University, where he studied chemistry, but did not take a degree.

Forbes spent some time working in the metallurgical laboratory of John Percy in Birmingham. It was here he met Brook Evans (1797-1862), a local metal refiner, who employed him in his firm. In 1848 Evans and Forbes visited Norway, where Forbes was put in charge of Evans' nickel mines. Forbes spent a decade in Norway developing these facilities, and as a result, was made a partner in Evans' firm in 1856. By the time he left Norway, Forbes had become an expert on the country's geology, and was appointed FRS in 1858 in recognition of his research there.

Forbes then spent several years in South America in prospecting and mining ventures, followed by periods of similar work in Africa and Europe. In 1866, he returned to Britain, and became a successful freelance geological consultant.

Forbes' geological interests focussed particularly on petrology and geochemistry. He was considered to be a pioneer in the application of chemical knowledge to geology, and he also promoted the use of microscopy in studying rocks. Forbes was active in professional geological and metallurgical bodies; he was senior secretary of the Geological Society from 1871 to 1876, a member of the Council of the Institution of Civil Engineers (1872-1873) and foreign secretary of the Iron and Steel Institute (1869-1876). He also a regular contributor to the Chemical News and Geological Magazine, and was planning a large-scale study of petrology, which was unfinished on his death. Forbes died on 11 December 1876 at his home in London, possibly as a consequence of malarial fever he had caught while working in South America.

Access Information

The manuscript is available for consultation by any accredited reader.

Acquisition Information

The manuscripts were acquired as part of the Forbes Library, which was purchased by Owens College in 1879 (Accession reference 23350).

Conditions Governing Use

Photocopies and photographic copies of material in the manuscript can be supplied for private research and study purposes only, depending on the condition of the manuscript.

Prior written permission must be obtained from the Library for publication or reproduction of any material within the manuscript. Please contact the Head of Special Collections, The John Rylands Library, 150 Deansgate, Manchester, M3 3EH.

Related Material

The Library has custody of several other geological-related archives and manuscripts including the papers of Sir William Boyd Dawkins, the field notebook of Edward Binney, a manuscript of Robert Bakewell's Introduction to Geology, and George Cumberland's album on fossil crinoids.


See W. H. Brock, 'Forbes, David (1828-1876)', Oxford Dictionary of National Biography, Oxford University Press, 2004; online edn, Jan 2011 [http://www.oxforddnb.com/view/article/9820, accessed 11 Aug 2016]

Geographical Names