Collection OM/201 - George Forbes papers

Identity area

Reference code

GB 249 OM/201


George Forbes papers


  • 1864 - 1987 (Creation)

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0.5 metres

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Name of creator


Biographical history

George Forbes was born in Edinburgh in 1849, the younger son of James David Forbes (later Principal of St Andrews University) and his wife, Alicia. Forbes was educated at Edinburgh Academy, and St Andrews and Cambridge universities, and graduated BA in 1871. From 1872 to 1880 he was Professor of Natural Philosophy at Anderson's University, where he collaborated with James Young on research into the velocity of light. He took a keen interest in astronomy, and led the British expedition to Hawaii in 1874 to observe the transit of Venus, returning to Scotland via Beijing and St Petersburg. Through contacts made during this journey, Forbes returned as a war correspondent with the Russian Army during the Russo-Turkish War of 1877-1878, reporting for 'The Times'. In the 1880s and 1890s, Forbes worked extensively on electrical power engineering and advocated the use of carbon brushes in electric motors rather than the wire or gauze which were then employed. From 1891 to 1895 Forbes was Consulting Engineer on the Niagara Falls hydroelectric scheme and advised on other schemes in India, South Africa, New Zealand and Upper Egypt. In the early 20th century Forbes became interested in military engineering and developed rangefinders and methods of signalling for submarines. He also returned to his early love of astronomy and delivered the David Elder Lectures on Astronomy at the Royal Technical College, Glasgow, the successor to Anderson's University. Forbes published extensively, received many honours and was a member of many distinguished learned societies worldwide. He was elected Fellow of the Royal Society in 1887. In later life he lived modestly in his 'Shed' at Pitlochry, overlooking the hydroelectric dam at Loch Faskally.

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Scope and content

Material by and about George Forbes including publications and reports by Forbes; maps belonging to Forbes; testimonials for Forbes; recollections of Forbes by Jen Stockdale; articles on Forbes' carbon brushes; biographical information; bibliography of Forbes' writings; rules of University Club, Edinburgh and of New Club, North Berwick; Forbes' calling card; reprint of articles by James D. Forbes, Principal of St Andrews University.

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Language of material

  • English

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Related units of description

Photographs of George Forbes (ref: GB 249 OP/4/67-68)

Papers of James David Forbes, 1872-1929 (ref: GB 227/msdep7) (St Andrews University Library)

Letters from George Forbes to Royal Astronomical Society, 1873-1910 (ref: GB 112 RAS) (Royal Astronomical Society Library)

Letters from George Forbes to Sir George Stokes, 1871-1882 (ref: GB 12 Add 7342, 7656) (Cambridge University Library)

Letter from George Forbes to Sir Archibald Geikie, 1872 (ref: GB 237 Sir Archibald Geikie Gen. 524)

Letters to Blackwoods, the Edinburgh publishers, 1875-1900 (ref: MSS 4331, 4345, 4359, 4389, 4405, 4629, 4658, 4700) (National Library of Scotland)

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