1902 Encyclopedia > Edward Forbes

Edward Forbes
English naturalist
(1815-54)




EDWARD FORBES, (1815-54), F.R.S., a celebrated naturalist, was born at Douglas, in the Isle of Man, Feb-ruary 12, 1815. While still a child, when not engaged in reading, or in the writing of verses and drawing of carica-tures—ever favourite recreations with him—he occupied himself with the collecting and arranging of insects, shells, minerals, fossils, specimens of plants, and other natural history objects. From his fifth to his eleventh year, delicacy of health precluded his attendance at any school, but in 1828 he became a day scholar at Athole House Academy in Douglas, where he was universally beloved by his companions, and was recognized by his master as an apt if not a good scholar. In June 1831 he left the Isle of Man for London, where during four months he studied drawing under Mr Sass, a well-known artist. In October, however, having given up all idea of making painting his profession, he returned home; and in the following month he matriculated as a student of medicine in the university of Edinburgh. During his first winter session there he attended lectures on anatomy, theoretical chemistry, and materia medica; and in the ensuing summer session botany, natural history, and practical chemistry claimed his attention. His vacation in 1832 he spent in diligent work on the natural history of the Isle of Man. In 1833 he made a tour in Norway, the botanical results of which were published in Loudon's Magazine of Natural History for 1835-36. In the summer of 1834 he visited the Isle of Man and Wales, and devoted much time to dredging in the Irish Sea ; and in the succeeding year he travelled in France, Switzerland, and Germany. Born a naturalist, and having no relish for the practical duties of the surgeon or physician, Forbes was no zealous student of medicine, and he finally in the spring of 1836 abandoned the idea of taking a medical degree, resolving to devote himself to science and literature. The winter of 1836-37 found him at Paris, where he attended the lectures at the Jardin des Plantes on natural history, comparative anatomy, geology, and mineralogy. Leaving Paris in April 1837, he repaired to the south of France, whence he went to Algiers, and during a month there spent he obtained materials for a paper on land and freshwater Mollusca, published in the Annals of Natural History, vol. ii. p. 250. In the autumn of the same year he registered at Edinburgh as a student of literature ; and in 1838 appeared his first volume, Malacologia Monensis, a synopsis of the species of Manx Mollusca. During the summer of 1838 he visited Styria and Carniola, and made extensive botanical collections. In the following autumn he read before the British Asso-ciation at Newcastle a paper on the distribution of terres-trial Pulmonifera in Europe, and was commissioned to pre-pare a similar report with reference to the British Isles. On returning to Edinburgh he delivered a course of 15 lec-tures on the natural history of the animals in the British seas. In 1841 was completed the publication of Forbes's great work, A History of British Star-fishes, embodying the results of researches carried on for a long series of years, and containing 120 illustrations, inclusive of humorous tail-pieces, all designed by the author. On April 17th of the same year Forbes, accompanied by his friend William Thompson, joined at MaltaH.M. surveying ship "Beacon," to which he had been appointed naturalist by her commander Captain Graves. From that date until October 1842 he was busily employed in investigating the botany, zoology, and geology of the Mediterranean region. The results of his researches were made known in his "Report on the Mol-lusca and Radiata of the /Egean Sea, presented to the British Association in 1843," and in Travels in Lycia, pub-lished in conjunction with Lieut. Spratt in 1846. In the former treatise he discussed the influence of climate and of the nature and depth of the sea bottom upon marine life, and divided the iEgean into eight biological zones; his conclusions with respect to bathymetrical distribution, however, have been shown by later investigators to require certain considerable modifications. Towards the end of the year 1842 Forbes, whom family misfortunes had now thrown upon his own resources for a means of livelihood, sought and obtained the curatorship of the collections of the Geological Society of London. To the duties of that post he, in May of the following year, added those of the professorship of botany at King's College, where he lectured with success to the second largest botanical class in London. On November 1, 1844, having resigned the curatorship of the Geological Society, he became palaeontologist to the Geological Survey, with a yearly salary of £300. In 1846 Forbes published in the Memoirs of the Geological Survey, i. 336, his important treatise " On the Connexion between the existing Fauna and Flora of the British Isles, and the Geographical Changes which have affected their Area." It is therein pointed out that, in accordance with the theory of their origin from various specific centres, the plants of Great Britain may be divided into five well-marked groups :—the W. and S.W. Irish, represented in the N. of Spain; the S.E. Irish and S.W. English, related to the flora of the Channel Isles and the neighbouring part of France ; the S.E. English, characterized by species occur-ring on the opposite French coast; a group peculiar to mountain summits, Scandinavian in type ; and, lastly, a general or Germanic flora. From a variety of arguments the conclusion is drawn that the greater part of the terrestrial animals and flowering plants of the British Islands migrated thitherward, over continuous land, at three distinct periods, before, during, and after the glacial epoch. In the autumn of 1848 Forbes married the daughter of General Sir C. Ash worth. The year 1851 witnessed the removal of the collections of the Geological Survey from Craig's Court to the new museum in Jermyn Street, and the appointment of Forbes as professor of natural history to the Royal School of Mines just established in conjunc-tion therewith. In 1852 was published the fourth and concluding volume of Forbes and Hanley's History of British Mollusca. In 1853 Forbes held the presidency of the Geological Society of London, and in the following year he obtained the fulfilment of a long-cherished wish in his appointment to the professorship of natural history in the university of Edinburgh, vacant by the death of Jameson, his former teacher, Since his return from the East in 1842, the determination and arrangement of fossils, the in vestigation of strata, frequent lectures, and incessant and wearing literary work, including the preparation of his admirable paloeontological memoirs, and of a variety of scientific articles and reviews, had precluded Forbes from giving that attention to the natural history pursuits of his earlier life which he had for years earnestly desired. It seemed that at length he was to find leisure to reduce to order and commit to the keeping of the press those vast stores of biological information of which long protracted and original research had made him the possessor. At Edinburgh, in the summer session of 1854, he lectured to a large and appreciative audience; and in September of that year he occupied the post of president of the geologi-cal section at the meeting of the British Association. He had already commenced his winter's course of lectures in Edinburgh when he was seized with feverishness, culminat-ing in an attack of nephritic disease, from which he had on several previous occasions been a sufferer. His symptoms soon became alarming, and after not many days' illness he expired at Wardie, near Edinburgh, Nov. 18, 1854, in the fortieth year of his age.

See Literary Gazette, November 25, 1854; Edinburgh New Philosophical Journal (NewSer.), 1855 ; Quart. Journ. Gcol. Soc, May 1855 ; G. Wilson and A. Geikie, Memoir of Edward Forbes, 1861, in which, pp. 575-583, is given a list of Forties's writings. See also the Royal Society's Catalogue of Scientific Papers, vol. ii. pp. 654-658. (F. H. B.)







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