FORBES, Charles (1773-1849), of Newe and Edinglassie, Aberdeen and 3 and 9 Fitzroy Square, Mdx.

Published in The History of Parliament: the House of Commons 1820-1832, ed. D.R. Fisher, 2009
Available from Cambridge University Press



1812 - 1818
1818 - 1832

Family and Education

b. 3 Apr. 1773, 2nd but 1st surv. s. of Rev. George Forbes of Leochel and Katharine, da. of Gordon Stewart of Drumin, Banff. educ. ?Aberdeen Univ. m. 28 Feb. 1800, Elizabeth, da. of Maj. John Cotgrave, E.I. Co. service, wid. of William Ashburner, 4s. (1 d.v.p.) 2da. suc. fa. 1799; uncle John Forbes to Newe 1821; cr. bt. 4 Nov. 1823; served heir male general to Alexander Forbes, 3rd Lord Pitsligo [S], 1833. d. 20 Nov. 1849.

Offices Held

Rect. Marischal Coll. Aberdeen 1814-18, 1822, 1833; gov. Foundling Hosp. 1817-36, v.-pres 1836-d.

V.-pres. European Insurance Co. 1825, pres. 1829.


Descended from a cadet branch of the family of the Lords Forbes and, more recently, of that of the Forbes of Pitsligo, Forbes returned from India in 1811 and established himself at Newe, where he built a castle and acquired other lands.1 He remained the senior partner in the leading agency house of Forbes and Company of Bombay and was a prominent member of the court of proprietors of the East India Company.2 He acquired a seat in Parliament for Beverley in 1812 and transferred in 1818 to Malmesbury, where he was again returned unopposed as a paying guest of the patron Joseph Pitt* at the general election of 1820. A man whose ‘essential kindness was almost unexampled’, he was respected for the integrity of his opinions, yet he sometimes rendered himself ludicrous by the idiosyncrasies of his campaigning style. In politics he pursued a non-partisan, but not inconsistent, line, being a pro-Catholic supporter of the Liverpool ministry, who favoured some economies and legal reforms and was always hostile to extensive parliamentary reform. He was an active defender of the interests of the subcontinent and made frequent interventions in the House on aspects of Indian as well as Scottish affairs, serving on several select committees related to these and other matters.3

Forbes, who was granted one month’s sick leave, 26 May 1820, made no known speeches or votes during that session. He supported the Aberdeenshire petition in praise of ministers’ conduct towards Queen Caroline, 31 Jan., and voted in this sense, 6 Feb., but on the question of her grant, 1 Feb. 1821, he stated that

many reasons had hitherto induced him to support the smaller, rather than the larger sum; but on further consideration, he had thought it advisable to give way to his feelings, which were, however, in this case, still in opposition to his sounder judgement.

He condemned the reduction of Britain’s naval forces, 2 Feb. He voted against a proposal to disqualify civil officers of the ordnance from voting in parliamentary elections, 12 Apr., and reform of the Scottish county representation, 10 May. He sided with opposition for repeal of the additional malt duty, 21 Mar., 3 Apr., and divided for economies in the armed services, 30 Apr., 4, 25 May, and against further pensions from the four-and-a-half per cent Barbados fund, 24 May. According to Henry Grey Bennet’s* diary for 4 June, Forbes, ‘a staunch friend of the government’, declared he would ‘sit in the House to the last to stop the jobs they were in the habit of introducing at that period of the session’.4 He voted for the third reading of the forgery punishment mitigation bill that day and divided for inquiry into the administration of justice in Tobago, 6 June. He complained that the duke of Cumberland was unfairly treated in the allocation of grants to members of the royal family, 6, 8 June, and voted against paying arrears to the duke of Clarence, 8, 18 June. He urged abolition of the agricultural horse tax and objected to the report on the East India Sugar Acts, 14 June, advocated compensation for General Desfourneaux, 15 June, and suggested economies in the Ophthalmic Institution, 10 July.5 On the death of his uncle, the former Bombay merchant John Forbes, in June 1821, he formally succeeded to Newe and inherited part of his estate, which included personal wealth sworn under £350,000.6

Forbes voted against opposition motions for more extensive tax reductions to relieve distress, 11, 21 Feb., but for reducing the number of junior lords of the admiralty, 1 Mar. (when he supported the naval estimates), and abolition of one of the joint-postmasterships, 2 May 1822.7 He vindicated the respectability of Aberdeen burgh, 20 Feb., was a teller for adding James Drummond to the select committee on foreign trade, 28 Feb. (when the House was counted out), and called for the restoration of Captain Romeo’s pension, 25 Mar. He sided with opposition for reform of the criminal law, 4 June, and against the second reading of the Irish constables bill, 7 June. He was refused a hearing on the corn bill, 10 June, when he voted in the minority of 21 for permitting the grinding and export as flour of bonded corn.8 He voted against inquiry into the lord advocate’s conduct relative to the press in Scotland, 25 June, and on James Abercromby being cautioned by the Speaker not to prosecute any private quarrel as a result of the proceedings, 12 July, he made one of his favourite remarks, that Members should not say in the House what they were not prepared to repeat outside it. He sided with ministers for going into committee on the Canada bill, 18 July, and for the grant for government proclamations in the Irish newspapers, 22 July. He was appointed to the select committee on the petition from bankers in Calcutta, 4 July, and defended their right to seek redress from Parliament, 29 July. He brought up a petition from certain persons interested in remittances from India against further restrictions on sugar, 12 July, and only reluctantly withdrew his motion for an instruction, on the price at which to impose a duty, to the committee on the East India sugar bill, 25 July 1822.9 That day he also complained of the lack of attention shown to Indian questions, and reiterated one of his standard arguments (which he had made, for instance, in the East India House, 12 June), that Indian interests were insufficiently represented in the Commons.10

He voted against parliamentary reform, 20 Feb., ridiculed Lord Archibald Hamilton’s attempts to reform the Scottish burghs, 26 Mar., and divided against his motion for alteration of the Scottish representative system, 2 June 1823. He added his voice to those claiming that ministers had pledged themselves to appoint a select committee on the equalization of East and West Indian sugar duties, 3 Mar., when he described it as a question ‘of paramount interest to the public at large’.11 He divided against Hume’s motions on the sinking fund, 3, 13 Mar., and other opposition motions for lower taxation, 10, 18 Mar. He voted against the production of papers on the plot to murder the Irish lord lieutenant, 24 Mar., and the grant for Irish churches and glebe houses, 11 Apr. He also sided with ministers against repeal of the Foreign Enlistment Act, 16 Apr., and inquiry into the currency, 12 June. He expressed the hope that Indian shipping and seamen would be placed on the same footing as their English counterparts, 21 May, and, having voted in the minority for inquiry into the sugar duties, 22 May, he again complained that the East Indian cause was unjustly neglected, 23 May. He voted for the second reading of the Scottish juries bill, 20 June, and spoke in its favour, 30 June. He raised objections to the New South Wales jurisdiction bill, 2 July, successfully moved an address for producing the instructions given to its governor, 3 July, and voted for an amendment to introduce trial by jury, 7 July.12 His only other known votes that session were for receiving a petition of complaint against James Crosbie*, 1 July, and for further proceedings against Standish O’Grady, the Irish chief baron of exchequer, 9 July. In November 1823 he received the baronetcy which the king had promised him the previous year, and his tenants thereafter erected a cairn to him on Lonach hill in testimony of their ‘affection and gratitude’ for their ‘highly distinguished and beloved landlord’.13

Forbes voted with ministers against the production of papers on Catholic office-holders, 19 Feb., and reform of the representation of Edinburgh, 26 Feb. 1824. He divided for permitting defence by counsel in felony cases, 6 Apr. Though not in favour of unrestricted freedom of the press in India, he called the existing limitations, especially the power of deportation, unnecessary and impolitic, 25 May; on this subject a Letter to Sir Charles Forbes and a Second Letter were addressed to him that year. He deplored the practice of Members voting in private bill committees and on the floor of the House when they had not heard the preceding debate, 27 May.14 He spoke, and presumably voted in the minority, against the committal of the marine insurance bill, 3 June. He divided against condemning the trial of the Methodist missionary John Smith in Demerara, 11 June, and insisted on 15 June that

missionaries, if not narrowly watched, would cause our expulsion, not only from the West, but from the East Indies. In that opinion he knew he was not singular: nay, he would venture to say, that the majority of the House were of the same sentiments, if they had only the candour to avow them.

He voted with ministers for the second reading of the Irish insurrection bill, 14 June. He cast aspersions on the negotiations conducted with the Dutch over the East Indies, 17 June, when he suggested that the secretary of the board of control be granted a pension. He moved for papers to vindicate the conduct of the recorder of Bombay, 21 June 1824, but the previous question was passed against him.15

He intervened on the address, to attack the prosecution and incompetent handling of the Burmese war, 4 Feb., and criticized the failure of ministers to reduce duties on Indian commodities, 28 Feb. 1825. He divided for the Irish unlawful societies bill, 25 Feb. Named as a defaulter on the call on Catholic relief, 28 Feb., he was present to be excused, 1 Mar., when he explained that, although he had supported the moderately espoused cause for 13 years, he would not be bullied by the Catholic Association.16 He therefore voted against the Catholics that day, as he did on 21 Apr., 10 May, and he also divided against the Irish franchise bill, 26 Apr. He expressed his disgust at the British aggression which had precipitated an unwinnable war in Burma, and his abomination of the practice of sending out Company ships singly and dangerously overloaded with troops, 7 Mar. He condemned Lord Amherst’s suppression of the mutiny at Barrackpoor as ‘one of the most barbarous murders that had ever been perpetrated’, 24 Mar., and urged his replacement as governor-general. He added that the situation was exacerbated by the local press, which was ‘the defender of tyranny and oppression, instead of being, as it was in this country, the detector of abuses’, and concluded that ‘as well as he could judge, India, at no former period, had been in so perilous a position’. He duly voted in the minority for information on the reorganization of the Indian army that day. Speaking in the court of proprietors, he said that ‘he had observed that bills which concerned India were constantly introduced at a late period of the session and were regularly passed at a late hour of the night’.17 In the Commons, he urged protection for the natives of India against the tyranny of their governors, 13 May, when he successfully moved two amendments to the East India judges bill. He asked that the increase in judges’ salaries be extended to Scottish courts, 16 May, voted against the report stage of the Leith docks bill, 20 May, and drew attention to the cost of the production of the papers on Sierra Leone called for by Hume, 26 May.18 He defended the grant for Cumberland, 27 May, 6 June, and voted in its favour, 30 May, 6, 10 June. He divided for the second reading of the St. Olave (Hart Street) tithe bill, 6 June, when he also made one of his not infrequent calls for government intervention to suppress the practice of burning Hindu widows. Annoyed by the general lack of discussion accorded to Indian issues, 7 June, he retorted to Canning, the foreign secretary, that ‘he would venture to tell the right honourable gentleman that which his friends, perhaps, would be slow in telling him - that his wit was often misapplied and did much injury to the cause he would serve’, and he divided in the minority for information on the appointment of the Rev. Bryse as clerk to the committee of stationery in Bengal. He voted to abolish flogging in the navy, 9 June, and for prior inquiry before agreeing a grant to encourage Irish emigration to Canada, 13 June. He favoured allowing Indians to serve on juries, 13 June, called the deportation of two men from Jamaica ‘a case of greater oppression than any he had ever heard of in the East Indies’, 16 June, and regretted that the House should rise without the production of further papers on Indian affairs, 1 July 1825.19

He repeated his concerns about India in the debate on the address, 3 Feb. 1826. He stated his opposition to government plans to alter the system of Scottish banks, 13 Mar., but, although he was against the idea of a select committee on small notes, 16 Mar., he declared that ‘he approved so highly of the plain, downright, John Bull statements of the chancellor of the exchequer [Robinson] on most occasions, that he would not now oppose him’.20 On 11 May he was added to the select committee on the petition of James Silk Buckingham*, whose cause he had supported at East India House.21 Hudson Gurney* recorded in his diary, 7 May, that at a ministerial dinner at Canning’s, ‘[William] Madocks* the radical reformer, Sir Charles Forbes and myself [were] the only ones not dead votes’.22 He voted in the minority for the clause in the alehouses licensing bill to permit adjourned meetings for granting licences, 12 May, and against Lord John Russell’s resolutions on electoral bribery, 26 May. He was returned unopposed with his son John for Malmesbury at the general election that summer, having presumably purchased both seats. One of the defeated Charles Palmer’s* committee at Bath, he spoke at a dinner there in his honour, 21 June, when he praised his independence:

Being of no party, and anxious only to do my duty conscientiously towards my king and country, I think I may be permitted to say ... when a man enters that House, he ought to divest himself of all feelings and considerations, except those which may conduce to the welfare of the nation. Upon this principle I have endeavoured to act.23

Forbes contended for the impartial system of distributing patronage in the army to be extended to the navy, 30 Nov. 1826.24 Detailing alleged abuses by a company in New South Wales, he called for inquiry into transactions relating to joint-stock companies, 5 Dec. 1826. John Macarthur junior reported to his mother that month that

Forbes has engaged to retract, in his place in the House of Commons, the observations he made against the company and has expressed his regret to me ... for any offence he may have given me from his supposed allusion to my family. This was all that could be desired. He is a very indiscreet and absurd old man to whom no one pays attention in the House, and he was certainly scarcely heeded, although deservedly so, at the time he made his observation.25

He spoke in praise of shipbuilding at Bombay, 12 Feb. 1827, and the following day urged an improvement in humane discipline on Company ships and the ending of impressment.26 Amid cries of ‘question’, at the end of the debate on Sir Francis Burdett’s motion on the ‘necessity of taking into consideration the laws imposing civil disabilities’ against the Catholics, 6 Mar., Forbes rose only to explain that two years before ‘he had then thought that the time was not a fit one’, but had now reverted to his former opinion. He asked for the word ‘necessity’ to be changed to ‘expediency’: Burdett concurred and Forbes voted in the minority for the amended motion. He sided with opposition for inquiry into the allegations against the corporation of Leicester, 15 Mar., but was in the majority for Clarence’s annuity bill, 16 Mar. Having at East India House pledged to persist in bringing the mutiny at Barrackpoor before the Commons,27 he again condemned it at length, on Hume’s motion, 22 Mar., arguing that ‘there was only one way to prevent mutiny among the native troops, and that was to do them justice and to use them well’, adding that, ‘if we wished to preserve our empire in India, we must establish it in the affections of the people, for it would be impossible to maintain it through their fears’. He ended by promising that, ‘notwithstanding all that had been said of the danger likely to result from agitating this question, he should never cease, as long as he had a seat in that House, to bring under its notice, session after session, the massacre’, and he duly divided in the minority for further information. He said a few words in favour of the grant to Protestant Dissenting ministers, 14 May, and the next day stated that he had the ‘greatest confidence’ in Huskisson’s handling of Indian matters and therefore opposed the idea of a select committee on its commerce.28 However, he divided against the Canning administration to consider separating bankruptcy jurisdiction from chancery, 22 May. He voted against the disfranchisement of Penryn, 28 May (when he also divided against Lord Althorp’s election expenses bill), and again, 7 June, when he condemned ministers’ change of heart on the subject. He made clear that day that

whenever questions of this description came before the House, he invariably voted against them. He opposed them because he could never bring himself to punish partial, petty cases of alleged corruption, and leave the enormous ones untouched.

He declared that it would be fairer to introduce a general plan of reform, which he would then support, and he damned the hypocrisy of Members pretending that the representation was immaculate, and

that they never heard of such a thing as paying for votes, that they never heard of places where, not merely money, but conscience was sacrificed, where candidates were bound down, on pain of forfeiting their seats, to vote, whatever the case might be, in favour of the minister.

He used very similar arguments in opposing the East Retford disfranchisement bill, since it was a case of ‘punishing people, not because they were guilty, but because they were found out’, 11 June, and he opposed the transfer of the seats to Birmingham, ‘as manufacturing towns were the very hot-beds of corruption’, 22 June, when he was teller for the minority against the bill’s second reading. On the Preston election bill, 14 June, he again objected not to reform as such, but to ‘this pettifogging mode of effecting it’, and he suggested that every Member on entering the House should swear an oath that he had not obtained his seat by corrupt means. He presented an East Retford petition for the suppression of suttee, 16 June. He divided with ministers in favour of the grant to improve water communications in Canada, 12 June, and against the third reading of the Coventry magistracy bill, 18 June. He asserted that anyone found guilty of forging signatures on an election petition should be ‘served with the same sauce’ as Thomas Flanagan, 19 June 1827, but apparently voted in the minority of seven against his committal to Newgate.29

He paired in favour of Catholic claims, 12 May 1828. He may have been the ‘Mr. Forbes’ who defended the Bombay shipping interest, 19 May, and it was certainly he who spoke of his 25 years’ experience of life in India when urging the inclusion of natives on grand juries, 22 May 1828. The duke of Wellington, the prime minister, dismissed out of hand a suggestion made that autumn that Forbes should be appointed president of the board of control.30 In February 1829 he was listed by Planta, the patronage secretary, as likely to vote ‘with government’ on Catholic emancipation, and he duly did so, 6, 30 Mar. He supported the issue of the East Retford writ, arguing that it was unfair to leave the borough unrepresented, 5 May, and spoke against the tailzies regulation bill, 11 May. Accepting ministers’ decision to delay the appointment of a select committee on Indian trade to the following session, 14 May, he urged that the House provide itself with fuller information, that the political and commercial aspects of the Company be separated and that the China (though not the Indian) monopoly be protected. He objected to the anatomy bill, 15, 18, 19 May, especially the dissection of corpses of members of the lower class without regard to the wishes of their relatives. He divided in the minority for allowing Daniel O’Connell to take his seat unimpeded, 18 May. He supported a petition in favour of the admission of Indians to juries and advocated the suppression of suttee, 5 June 1829. He reprobated the reforms of the Scottish judicial system, 1 Apr. 1830, when (as on 13 May) he suggested that the salaries of Scottish judges should be raised. He paired in favour of Jewish emancipation, 5 Apr., and voted for this, 17 May. He defended the interests of the subcontinent, 4 May, stating that ‘the more I see of my own countrymen, the more I like the natives of India’. He expressed his approval of the Edinburgh petition against the capital penalty for forgery, 13 May, but again opposed changes to the legal system there, 27 May, favouring the retention of the ‘old Scotch practice’ of allowing majority verdicts in civil cases. He spoke and voted for inquiry into the commerce, revenue and expenditure of Ceylon, 27 May 1830. With his son, he was returned unopposed for Malmesbury at the general election that year.

Forbes was listed by ministers among the ‘doubtful doubtfuls’ and marked ‘more yes than no’. He declared that despite the feelings of the House, 8 Nov. 1830, Wellington was worthy of respect for his military prowess and conversion to the cause of Catholic emancipation. He divided with ministers on the civil list, 15 Nov. 1830, when he teased Hume for his former dependence on Brechin burgh, and referred critically to the Perth Burghs election (as he did again, 8, 10 Feb. 1831). He was appointed to the select committee on the East India Company, 4 Feb. On Evesham, 17 Feb., he made his by now customary remarks against the disfranchisement of individual boroughs, and, in what Thomas Gladstone* described to his father John Gladstone* the next day as ‘a foolish speech’, he insisted that he could compile a lexicon of boroughs which Members knew to be corrupt. He told the chancellor, Althorp, that in ‘endeavouring to benefit everyone, he pleased nobody’, but in advising him to persist in his plan to tax steam vessels, he was the only Member not to be ‘upon him’ that day.31 Wishing that every part of the empire was as prosperous as Scotland, he insisted that reform was unnecessary, 16 Feb., and he made the first of his vociferous declarations of staunch and defiant opposition to government’s reform proposals ‘as radically bad, and as tending to subvert the constitution’, 7 Mar. He complained of the lack of discussion accorded the introduction of the Scottish reform bill, 9 Mar., and objected to the lemming-like character of the pro-reform petitions from that country, 14 Mar. Having again condemned reform, 18 Mar., he had a furious exchange with John Cam Hobhouse, who reminded him that he had often suggested the adoption of a general measure instead of piecemeal alterations, to which he answered that ‘I always had, and always shall have, a wish for a general reform, but I have no wish for a revolution’.32 He gave his support to Sir Robert Inglis’s motion, 21 Mar., complaining of a breach of privilege by The Times, an editorial from which he had himself nearly brought before the House on the 3rd. He also stated that if the bill ‘should be carried, I shall have no desire to enter the House so constituted, as it then must be; and I believe that in such an event seats will not be so much sought after, as formerly, by those men who have been the ornaments of the House’. He voted against the second reading of the bill, 22 Mar. He denounced the treatment of Durham city as a case of ministers ‘taking care of their own household’, 25 Mar., when he advised them to scrap the bill and start again rather than see it pulled to pieces in committee. He made a joke at the expense of Jeffrey, the lord advocate, who was unseated from Perth Burghs on petition, 28 Mar., saying that he would now discover the usefulness of those rotten boroughs condemned by Russell. He regretted the announcement that expenditure on shipbuilding at Bombay would soon cease, 28 Mar., and spoke in favour of Hutchinson’s claim against the East India Company, 29 Mar. In evidence to the select committee on Indian affairs, 14, 18, 21 Apr., he argued that a separation of the Company’s political and commercial functions would lead to better management and fewer abuses, and he urged the abolition of its monopoly.33 On 12 Apr. he observed that the reform bill, which he would have preferred to have seen thrown out on the first night, had had an inflammatory effect in Scotland, the reform petitions from which he believed were not representative of opinion there. He divided for Gascoyne’s wrecking amendment, 19 Apr., and congratulated ministers on withdrawing the bill, 21 Apr. 1831, when he hoped that they would also resign.

Forbes was elected for Malmesbury in absentia, despite an opposition, at the subsequent general election, and, expecting a short Parliament, he refused to pay as much as he had previously done for the seat.34 He objected to the Canton merchants’ petition for alteration of the laws relating to trade with the Chinese, 28 June, when he complained of the erratic attendance of Members on the Indian committee, to which he was reappointed that day. He was called to order by the Speaker when he attempted to ask a question on the duchy of Cornwall, 29 June. He voted against the second reading of the reintroduced reform bill, 6 July. On Hunt presenting a reform petition from Manchester, 8 July, he asserted that the bill would only lead to more radical measures, and he commented that the ‘absurd’ and ‘utterly incomprehensible’ £10 franchise ‘will do incalculable evil, and among other things will operate as an inducement to people not to pay their rents’. However, that day he also urged giving the vote to women, as happened at East India House, and criticized the bill because ‘it gives the elective franchise to one class, and there is no reason why it should not be given to the class immediately below’. He spoke for the issue of the Liverpool writ, 8 July. He voted at least five times to adjourn proceedings on the reform bill, 12 July, and, as Peel was leaving the House, he pointedly observed that he ‘would fight under an able leader, if one could be found’, his object being ‘to throw out the bill and ministers too’.35 He voted for using the 1831 census to determine the boroughs in schedules A and B, 19 July. He spoke and presumably divided in the minority against the lord steward bill, 20 July. He defended the representation of Beverley, 22 July, and Old Sarum, 26 July, voted to postpone consideration of the partial disfranchisement of Chippenham, 27 July, and vindicated the proceedings at recent Malmesbury elections, 30 July, when he also ostentatiously paraded his status as an independently elected Member. He denied that any unfair obstructions were being put in the way of the reform bill, 29 July, argued that it was not the slowness but the speed of its passage that provided grounds for complaint, 4 Aug., and briefly threatened to force a division against the House sitting on Saturdays, 5 Aug. 1831.

He sided with opposition against O’Connell’s motion that the original Dublin election committee be sworn, 29 July 1831, and, having called for an inquiry, voted in the minority for postponing the writ, 8 Aug. He divided in the minority of six in favour of Hunt’s motion for receiving the Preston petition on the corn laws, 12 Aug. He strongly advocated the provision of colonial constituencies, 16 Aug., claiming that Hume’s proposal to introduce four Members for India was inadequate and that, if the existing bill passed, its interests ‘would at once be cut off from any kind of representation in the House’. He voted in the majority against the second reading of the Irish union of parishes bill, 19 Aug. He was listed as voting with ministers for the prosecution of those guilty of bribery at the Dublin election, 23 Aug., but that day he also voted in the minority for Robert Gordon’s motion to censure the conduct of the Irish government. He sided with opposition to preserve the existing rights of voting, 27 Aug., to allow non-resident freeholders to remain voters for their lives, 30 Aug., and to continue as electors the non-resident voters of Aylesbury, Cricklade, East Retford and New Shoreham, 2 Sept. He divided in favour of making legal provision for the poor of Ireland, 29 Aug. He presented and endorsed a petition from the natives of India to allow them to serve on grand juries, 1 Sept., when he noted that there would be insufficient seating for Members at the coronation. He remarked that it was ‘a rather curious instance of inconsistency’ that ministers had ‘proposed uniting the Scottish counties whilst they are for dividing the English counties’, 3 Sept. He spoke in favour of Hume’s motion for a select committee on the discharge of small debtors, 6 Sept., and objected to the extension of the truck bill to Scotland, 13 Sept. He voted against the third reading, 19 Sept., and passage of the reform bill, 21 Sept. He complained of hasty progress on the Scottish bill, 23 Sept., when he voted against its second reading. He again opposed it, 26 Sept., and the following day asserted that

the freeholders of Scotland have just as good a right to their superiorities as any Member in this House has to his estate, and the legislature would be as much justified in depriving the one of his superiorities as the other of his land, for the right to vote and the right to sell that privilege have ever been annexed to the land. By depriving the freeholder of his superiority, you deteriorate the value of the land to the extent of the superiority.

He assured the House that his tenants had no wish for the vote and promised that ‘I will take care so to frame my leases that they shall not have a vote inflicted upon them. They shall not be liable to be carried away from their proper occupation, and from the care of their farms, to attend to elections’. On 4 Oct., when he said that the expressions ‘the people’ and ‘property’ were meaningless, he explained the system of superiorities, denied that he was a dealer in them and called for an increased county representation. He commented on the timing of the Irish reform bill, 27 Sept., supported maintaining the salary of the president of the board of control and praised the current governor-general, 29 Sept., spoke against the vestry bill, 30 Sept., agreed with the general register bill, 4 Oct., and opposed the bankruptcy court bill, 17 Oct. As a professed friend to the West India interest, he favoured the appointment of a select committee of inquiry, 6 Oct., and he supported the petition against the pilgrim tax in the East Indies, 14 Oct. On the Scottish exchequer court bill, 7 Oct., he stated that it would add to the destruction of ‘our ancient institutions’, told Peel that he had never set so bad an example, and asserted that ‘I am opposed to all reform and a change in the laws of my country’, the greatness of which he suspected would soon decline. He deprecated government intimidation of anti-reform independent Members, and the removal of office-holders who had voted against the bill, 20 Oct. 1831.

Forbes regretted that there was no mention of the East India Company in the king’s speech, 6 Dec. 1831. He rejected the revised reform bill as ‘nothing but an old monster with a new face’, 12 Dec., and voted against its second reading, 17 Dec. 1831. He rose immediately after the lord advocate to oppose leave for the Scottish bill, 19 Jan. 1832, because of the extensive Scottish opposition to the county representation and the annihilation of the rights of freeholders. He voted against going into committee on the English bill, 20 Jan., when he called for further information, and declared that, should Peel persist in his opposition, ‘I will remain by his side until seven in the morning’. He opposed the Vestry Act amendment bill as unnecessary and voted in the majority against its second reading, 23 Jan. On 27 Jan. he intervened on the general register bill, again condemned the Scottish reform bill and gave notice of a motion relating to the Deccan prize money, which, however, he did not press, 1 Feb. He was again reappointed to the select committee on the East India Company, 27 Jan., and was present at sittings of the subcommittee on its revenue affairs, to which he gave evidence on the opium trade at Bombay, 25 June.36 He divided with Hunt on his amendments to give the vote to all tax-paying households, 2 Feb., and to exempt Preston from the £10 householder clause in the reform bill, 3 Feb. He was a founder member of the Carlton Club in March. He voted against the third reading of the reform bill, 22 Mar. He objected to the grant of a pension to the retiring chief baron of exchequer in Scotland, 10 Apr., when he supported Hutchinson’s claim against the East India Company (as he did again, 14 June). He warned of the dangers of Russian expansion of its sphere of influence into Persia and India, 18 Apr., 7 Aug. 1832.

He gave his ‘unqualified dissent’ to the second reading of the Scottish reform bill, 21 May 1832, when he declared that

however His Majesty’s ministers, backed by the mob, may coerce this House, however they may coerce the votes of its Members, I tell them they shall not coerce me. I am well aware that my individual vote is of very little importance on this occasion to any party in the House, but ... it is of some importance to me that I should preserve my own consistency and my own character, and I should be ashamed of myself if I could sit in this House and allow this bill to pass without giving it my most decided opposition.

He insisted that he would divide the House on it, but apparently decided against doing this at Sir George Murray’s request. He voted against the second reading of the Irish bill, 25 May. He continued strenuously to oppose the Scottish bill in committee, 4 June, when he admitted that he had bought superiorities ‘for the purpose of supporting my friends in both Houses’, and 6 June, when he urged Scottish Members to ‘fight every inch for the honour, independence, and dignity of their native country’. He opposed delay of the Indian juries bill, 18 June, voted for permanent provision to be made for the Irish poor by a tax on absentees, 19 June, and suggested an amendment to the coroners bill, 20 June. He divided in minorities for creating a system of representation for New South Wales, 28 June, and preserving the rights of freemen under the Irish reform bill, 2 July. He urged reduction of the duties on East Indian commodities to increase the prosperity of trade there, 3, 25 July, though he acknowledged the validity of the competing West India interests and did not persist in his motions knowing that government had the matter under consideration. He spoke against part of the tithes prescription bill, 5 July, asked whether ministers would withdraw the Irish tithes bill in return for the support of Irish Members on the Russian-Dutch loan, 9 July, and praised a Preston petition against the sending of troops to Ireland to enforce tithes, 3 Aug. His only other known votes were with opposition against the Russian-Dutch loan, 26 Jan., 12 July, when he was also teller for the minority for the order of the day for a call of the House. However, he argued that Britain was honour bound to pay the loan, 16 July, and presumably voted in this sense, 16, 20 July. He criticized the appointment of military governors of colonies, 23 July, objected to Hume’s bill to disqualify the recorder of Dublin from sitting in Parliament, 24, 31 July, opposed the Aberdeen colleges bill, 1 and 3 Aug., and made suggestions about half-pay officers, 8 Aug. He supported the granting of compensation to Sir Abraham Bradley King, 3 Aug., to petitioners for Deccan prize money, 6, 7 Aug., and to the family of the Poona banker Outia for the illegal seizure of his property, 10 Aug. In his last known intervention in debate, 11 Aug. 1832, he said that he was not surprised if people had not paid their rates as Members had encouraged them to protest in this fashion, and it was their own fault if they now found themselves disfranchised.

Forbes was once described as ‘a perfect anomaly: as a politician, he is always wrong; as a private individual, full of good qualities’.37 He left the House at the dissolution, and made no attempt to contest the remaining seat at Malmesbury at the general election in December 1832. He did not apparently seek another one elsewhere, until approached at the last moment by the Conservative interest in Middlesex, where he joined another opponent of Hume and George Byng*. He was given a hostile reception on the hustings, but achieved a respectable third place behind his Liberal opponents, and it was supposed that, if he had entered earlier, he might have been successful. At the declaration he managed to gain a hearing, and stated that

he had been called all sorts of names, he had been loaded with abuse, but he treated the thing with contempt. His opponents might call him Tory, anti-reformer, Conservative, anything but Whig or Radical ... He had come forward, heart and purse, for the purpose of saving his country from the impending destruction which threatened it, to save it from the destruction which had been threatened to it by such men as Mr. Hume. All that remained of our religion or liberties he considered to be threatened ... He considered the reform bill, as he always had considered it, a revolutionary measure, the consequences of which we could not see. He trusted that the electors would consider that he had come forward only for the purpose of preserving them from the thraldom in which they were likely to be placed.38

He was considered as a possible Conservative candidate for Aberdeen or Edinburgh at the general election of 1835, but nothing came of this, and he never sat again.39

After a lengthy legal process he was finally denied his claim to the attainted peerage of Pitsligo, but was served heir male general in 1833.40 He continued to be active in defence of Indian interests, both in private correspondence with ministers and in public, for instance in rebutting the bishop of London’s speech in the Lords, 13 Aug. 1836, by writing to The Times that he had ‘perfect confidence in the honour and veracity of the natives of India’.41 On 6 Apr. 1840, at his house in Fitzroy Square, he was presented with an address, signed by over 1,000 of the principal native gentlemen and other inhabitants of Bombay, on the occasion of commissioning a statue of him, in appreciation of his continued efforts on their behalf.42 He died suddenly in November 1849. His obituary notices praised him for his earnest endeavours in the cause of India, and his extraordinary generosity to Indian and British charities, ‘which seemed neither limited in amount, nor confined to any particular locality or class, but in both respects were alike universal’.43 His baronetcy and estate were inherited by his young grandson, his late son John’s only son Charles (1832-52), and then by John’s younger brother Charles (1803-77).

Ref Volumes: 1820-1832

Author: Stephen Farrell


  • 1. A. Forbes, Mems of Fam. of Forbes of Freshfield, 32-33; A. and H. Tayler, House of Forbes, 380-1.
  • 2. C.H. Philips, E.I. Co. 243; Oxford DNB.
  • 3. HP Commons, 1790-1820, iii. 785-6; Highland Lady, 391; New Parl. (1826), 17; Oxford DNB.
  • 4. HLRO, Hist. Coll. 379, Grey Bennet diary, 96.
  • 5. The Times, 7, 15 June 1821.
  • 6. Gent. Mag. (1821), i. 574; PROB 11/1651/663; IR26/864/1225.
  • 7. The Times, 2 Mar. 1822.
  • 8. Ibid. 11 June 1822.
  • 9. Ibid. 13, 26, 30 July 1822.
  • 10. Philips, 250.
  • 11. The Times, 4 Mar. 1823.
  • 12. Ibid. 22 May, 1, 4 July 1823.
  • 13. Add. 40304, f. 150; Monuments and MI in Scotland ed. C. Rogers, ii. 344.
  • 14. The Times, 28 May 1824.
  • 15. Ibid. 19, 22 June 1824.
  • 16. Gurney diary.
  • 17. Debates in E.I. House, ii. 264-5 (BL OIOC W.2073).
  • 18. The Times, 14, 17, 27 May 1825.
  • 19. Ibid. 8, 14 June, 2 July 1825.
  • 20. Ibid. 14 Mar. 1826.
  • 21. Debates at E.I. House, ii. 360-1, 457, 482.
  • 22. Gurney diary.
  • 23. Bath and Cheltenham Gazette, 27 June 1826.
  • 24. The Times, 1 Dec. 1826.
  • 25. Mitchell Lib. Sydney, Macarthur mss ML A 2911.
  • 26. The Times, 13 Feb. 1827.
  • 27. Debates at E.I. House, ii (pt. 2), pp. 81-82, 97-99, 122-3.
  • 28. The Times, 15 May 1827.
  • 29. Ibid. 15, 18, 20 June 1827.
  • 30. Wellington mss WP1/964/29.
  • 31. St. Deiniol's Lib. Glynne-Gladstone mss 197.
  • 32. Wellington mss WP1/1179/2.
  • 33. PP (1831), v. 139-59.
  • 34. Devizes Gazette, 5, 19 May 1831.
  • 35. Ibid. 14 July 1831; Three Diaries, 104.
  • 36. PP (1831-2), xiv. 19, 273.
  • 37. The Times, 5 Aug. 1831.
  • 38. Ibid. 18, 19, 24, 25 Dec. 1832.
  • 39. Scottish Electoral Politics, 225-6.
  • 40. NLS mss 26.1.13; Forbes, 58-64, 82; Tayler, 374-6.
  • 41. Add. 40874, ff. 146, 150; The Times, 26 Aug., 3 Sept. 1836.
  • 42. The Times, 19 Aug. 1840.
  • 43. Ibid. 22, 23 Nov.; Aberdeen Jnl. 28 Nov. 1849; Gent. Mag. (1850), i. 208-9; Tayler, 381; DNB; Oxford DNB.