FORBES, John (1801-1840), of 15 Harley Street, Mdx.

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



1826 - 1832

Family and Education

b. 15 Dec. 1801, 1st s. of Charles Forbes* and Elizabeth, da. of Maj. John Cotgrave, E.I. Co. service, wid. of William Ashburner.  educ. ?Aberdeen g.s.; Magdalen, Oxf. 1821.  m. 10 Dec. 1828, Mary Jane, da. of Henry Lannoy Hunter of Beech Hill, Berks., 1s. 5da.  d.v.p. 26 Dec. 1840.

Offices Held

Dir. E.I. Co. 1830-d.


Forbes, who always suffered from poor health, was the eldest son of the East Indian agent and proprietor, Charles Forbes of Bombay, and lived his life almost entirely in his father’s shadow. Possibly born in India, he was sent to England in 1809, and educated in London under one Pearson.1 His father followed two years later and took up residence at Newe, Aberdeenshire, so John may have been one of the ‘John Forbes’ listed as attending Aberdeen grammar school in the 1810s. He was probably associated with his father’s Indian concerns, and evidently became a proprietor of East India stock soon after the death of his relation and namesake in 1821, as, in his will, he left £3,000 to his father ‘by way of restoring to him the first vote he gave me in the India Company’s affairs by appropriating one fifth of his legacy from my great-uncle amounting to £12,000 to that purpose’.2 His father, who had been a Member since 1812 and had received a baronetcy in 1823, presumably bought him the second seat for his own borough, Malmesbury, from the proprietor Joseph Pitt* at the general election of 1826.

In the House he was an almost entirely silent Member, who, when present, contented himself with copying his father’s independent line. He voted for Catholic relief, 6 Mar. 1827. He sided with opposition for inquiry into the allegations against the corporation of Leicester, 15 Mar., but divided in the majority for the duke of Clarence’s grant, 16 Mar. He made his only known speech, 22 Mar., on the mutiny at Barrackpoor, one of his father’s causes célèbres, when he

considered that the papers called for were absolutely requisite, to show whether a case of sufficient necessity really did arise, for the dreadful massacre in which, not only 160 of the native soldiers lost their lives, but many women and children residing in their huts were sacrificed also.

Like his father, he voted that day in the minority for the production of information on this. He divided against the Canning administration to consider separating bankruptcy jurisdiction from chancery, 22 May, but voted against the third reading of the Penryn election bill, 7 June. He also sided with ministers in favour of the grant to improve water communications in Canada, 12 June, but with Hume against the committal to Newgate of Thomas Flanagan on a charge of forgery, 19 June 1827. In the unusual absence of his father, he voted for repeal of the Test Acts, 26 Feb., Catholic relief (for which his father paired), 12 May, a lower pivot price for corn imports, 22 Apr., and to condemn chancery delays, 24 Apr. 1828. Unless it was his father (riding another of his hobby-horses), he spoke in praise of shipbuilding at Bombay, 19 May. (A second speech credited to ‘Mr. Forbes’ on 22 May was certainly one of his father’s.) In December 1828 he married the sister of a junior clerk at the board of control. Listed by Planta, the Wellington ministry’s patronage secretary, in February 1829, as likely to be ‘with government’ on the Catholic question, he voted for emancipation, 6, 30 Mar. He divided in the minority for allowing Daniel O’Connell to take his seat without first swearing the oath of supremacy, 18 May 1829. He paired in favour of Jewish emancipation, 5 Apr., and voted for it, 17 May 1830. He registered another of the votes which he cast unaccompanied by his father, 7 June 1830, when he joined the majority in favour of abolishing the death penalty for forgery.

Forbes was elected to the court of directors of the East India Company in April 1830, one of only two connections of agency houses to be so represented, but he was out by rotation until the following year.3 He was again returned unopposed for Malmesbury at the general election that summer. Listed by ministers among the ‘doubtful doubtfuls’ and marked, like his father, ‘more yes than no’, he would have divided in their favour, but was ‘shut out’ of the division on the civil list, 15 Nov. 1830. He divided against the second reading of the Grey ministry’s reform bill, 22 Mar., and for Gascoyne’s wrecking amendment, 19 Apr. 1831. With his father, who was soon to declare his decision not to stand again, he was elected for Malmesbury at the ensuing general election, despite a show of opposition.4 He voted against the second reading of the reintroduced reform bill, 6 July, to postpone consideration of the partial disfranchisement of Chippenham, 27 July, and against the third reading, 19 Sept., and passage of the bill, 21 Sept. He divided for Hunt’s motion for receiving the Preston petition on the corn laws, 12 Aug., and with opposition on the Dublin election, 23 Aug. He voted against the second reading of the revised reform bill, 17 Dec. 1831, and going into committee on it, 20 Jan. 1832. Although not so listed in the Journal, he was apparently appointed to the select committee on the East India Company, 27 Jan., as he was named as being present at sittings of the subcommittee on its political affairs.5 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 voted against the enfranchisement of Tower Hamlets, 28 Feb., the last of the only five known occasions on which his father was presumably absent. He voted against the third reading of the reform bill, 22 Mar., and the second reading of the Irish bill, 25 May. He divided in favour of permanent provision being made for the Irish poor by a tax on absentees, 19 June. His only other known vote was with opposition on the Russian-Dutch loan, 26 Jan., and he was listed as an ‘anti-reformer absent’ on this, 12 July. Sir Charles Forbes apparently made no provision for his son at the dissolution of 1832 and he never sat again.

He died at Ventnor, Isle of Wight, in December 1840, as a result of a ‘rapid decline’ caused by consumption. By his will, dated 30 May 1835 with one codicil, he left his library at Newe to his father, and the rest of his estate, which included personalty sworn under £9,000 in the province of Canterbury and at £5,092 in Edinburgh, in trust, to be divided among his children, who were all more or less consumptive.6 His only son Charles (b. 1832), who succeeded to his grandfather’s baronetcy in 1849, died unmarried at Madeira in 1852.7

Ref Volumes: 1820-1832

Author: Stephen Farrell


  • 1. A. and H. Tayler, House of Forbes, 379, 381.
  • 2. PROB 11/1945/331.
  • 3. C.H. Philips, E.I. Co. 278, 336.
  • 4. Devizes Gazette, 5, 19 May 1831.
  • 5. PP (1831-2), xiv. 11.
  • 6. Tayler, 380; PROB 11/1945/331; IR26/1574/269.
  • 7. Gent. Mag. (1852), ii. 103.