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Major General Lachlan Macquarie, CB, Governor of New South Wales from 1810 to 1822,


First Fleet in Sydney Cove


Sir Francis Forbes, Chief Justice, New South Wales, 1822 - 1836


Post Office of Forbes, New South Wales, Australia, named after Chief Justice Sir Francis Forbes 

Forbes Down Under

The House of Forbes has made an impact all over the world, from their native land of Scotland, to Ireland, to the Scandinavian countries, to the Americas, and even to “down under” in Australia and New Zealand. While Australia was used as a British penal colony starting in 1788, thousands of Scots also emigrated to Australia for financial reasons. As a result, 2,023,474 Australians in 2016 (8.6% of the total population) claimed some Scottish ancestry. This is the fourth most commonly reported ancestry in Australia. 

Lieutenant James Cook, son of a Scottish ploughman, commanded the first British expedition to Australia. On the ship HMS Endeavour, Cook charted the east coast of Australia and made the first landfall at Botany Bay on 29 April 1770. Virtually ignored for about 15 years, the land was later proposed as a penal colony. British convicts were originally transported to the British colonies in North America. However, the conclusion of the American War of Independence in 1783 forced Great Britain to look elsewhere.  In December 1785, the government issued Orders in Council to establish a penal colony at Botany Bay in New South Wales.  

Commodore Arthur Phillip commanded the so-called “First Fleet” of convicts. The British government gave orders that authorized him to make regulations and land grants in the colony. The ships arrived at Botany Bay between 18 and 20 January 1788. This included Ann Forbes, the first Forbes in Australia, who was convicted for 7-year prison term.

Scottish Captain John Hunter was appointed Governor of New South Wales in 1795. Major General Lachlan Macquarie, CB, a British Army officer from Mull, was put in charge of the penal settlement of Botany Bay. As Governor of New South Wales from 1810 to 1822, Lachlan Macquarie brought reform to the convict colony and began an ambitious building program in Sydney. He helped to build schools and roads and was later designated as the “Father of Australia.” The most noted Forbes in Australia was Sir Francis William Forbes (1784 –1841) who was the first Chief Justice of New South Wales. The town of Forbes in central New South Wales is named after him, as is the Francis Forbes Society for Australian Legal History.

The majority of Scots arriving between 1788 and 1800 were convicts. The 8,207 Scottish convicts were about 5% of the total prisoner population of about 150,000.  These Scots were a broad cross-section of Scotland's working classes and brought a range of useful skills. In later years, many of the non-convict “free settlers” were Lowlanders from prominent wealthy families who were drawn to Australia by the prospects of trade. They chose to emigrate willingly due to the Scottish economic recessions of the 1820s. Other residents of Australia were soldiers that included the 73rd Regiment, the Royal North British Fusiliers, and the King's Own Scottish Borderers. In fact, three of the Deputy Commissaries-General (the highest rank in the colony) from 1813 to 1835 were also Scots: David Allan, William Lithgow, and Stewart Ryrie. By 1830 15% of the British colonies' total population were Scots, which increased by the middle of the century to 25,000, or 20-25% of the total population.

Between 1837 and 1846, Australia benefited from “assisted emigrants,” largely working-class people whose passage was subsidized or paid for through one of the several schemes which operated between New South Wales and Great Britain. During this ten-year period, about 10,000 Scots traveled to Australia under either the government or colonial bounty systems. While not as dire as the Irish Potato Famine, the similarly-caused Highland Potato Famine from about 1846 to 1856 also encouraged more Scots to emigrate to Australia. Created in 1852, the Highland and Island Emigration Society promoted and assisted emigration as a solution to the Famine. Between 1852 and 1857, the Society assisted about 5,000 emigrants, mostly from Skye and the Hebrides, to Australia.

The most famous Australian Forbes of the 19th century was Sir Francis William Forbes (1784 –1841.) Forbes was born and educated in Bermuda, the son of Dr. Francis Forbes M.D. and his wife Mary, née Tucker. His elder half-brother was Very Rev Patrick Forbes, Moderator of the General Assembly of the Church of Scotland in 1829. Forbes studied law at Lincoln's Inn in London. He was called to the Bar in 1812, became a Crown Law Officer in Bermuda, and married Amelia Sophia Grant in 1813. In 1816, he was sworn in as Chief Justice of Newfoundland. After three years, he returned to London to recuperate from poor health. Rather than return to the cold climate of Newfoundland, Forbes accepted a position as Chief Justice of New South Wales in 1822 and arrived in Sydney in 1824.

While still in London, Forbes helped draft the New South Wales Act 1823 which, along with the Charter of Justice, completely revamped the system of justice. As Chief Justice, Forbes was subject only to the appellate power of the Governor and ex officio member of the Executive Council and the Legislative Council. This meant that he had the authority to certify that all colonial legislation was in alignment with the laws of England. As a strong advocate for free education, Forbes laid the foundation stone for the non-denominational Sydney College (now Sydney Grammar School), in 1830 and remained as chairman of the board of trustees when the school opened in 1835. 

Forbes was held in such esteem by his fellow colonists that a committee presented him with a candelabrum with the engaving: “To the Honorable the Chief Justice Forbes in token of respect and esteem for his public and private virtues. The colonists of New South Wales 1836.” In 1837, Forbes was knighted at St James Palace by King William IV. However, he retired as Chief Justice later that year and died in Newtown, New South Wales, in 1841 at the age of 57 years.

While Sir Francis Forbes may have been the most noted Forbes, he was certainly not the only Forbes to make Australia a home. From the First Fleet in 1788 until 1968, the Australian government has maintained lists of passengers. Below is a sampling of those passengers with the surname Forbes.

Australia's First Fleet: Capt. Arthur Phillip, R.N. was commissioned as the first Governor of New South Wales. He set sail on May 13th, 1787 from Portsmouth with 11 vessels.  He arrived in N.S.W.  with 717 convicts of whom 180 were women, guarded by 191 marines under 19 officers. Convicts included Ann Forbes, sentenced in Kingston for a term of 7 years.

Australia's Second Fleet: A second fleet of six ships (Guardian, Justinian, Lady Juliana, Surprize, Neptune, and Scarborough) left England. The Guardian struck ice, and was unable to complete the voyage. Only 48 people died in the first group of ships, but this time 278 died during the voyage.  Private contractors, rather than the military, managed the convicts. Among the prisoners were included another Ann Forbes, also sentenced for 7 years.

Australian shipping 1788-1968


  • Forbes, Dr    Thomas Feilden (ship), Sydney (1849 Jan 6)   Auckland (1849 Jan 16)

  • Forbes    Essington (schooner) Port Essington (1839 Mar 29)    Sydney (1839 Jul 18)

  • Forbes, Miss    Persian (ship) Sydney (1845 Mar 20)    London

  • Forbes, Miss    Royal George (ship), London (1844 Jul 22)    Port Phillip (1844 Nov 16)

  • Forbes, Dr    Susan (brig), Auckland (1849 Sep 13)    Sydney

  • Forbes, Mr    Argo (brig), Sydney (1839 Nov 21)    Hobart Town

  • Forbes, Dr    Reaper (barque), Sydney    Auckland (1850 Feb 18)

  • Forbes, Mr    Mary Stewart (schooner),  Sydney (1850 Jan 4)    Moreton Bay

  • Forbes, Mr    European (steamer), Southampton (1856 Dec 14)    Sydney (1857 Feb 14)

  • Forbes, Mr    Joseph Albino (schooner), Sydney (1847 Aug 24)    Adelaide (1847 Sep 10)

  • Forbes, Master    Windsor (ship), Sydney (1853 Feb 4)    London

  • Forbes, Dr    Sea Nymph (barque), Sydney (1848 Aug 13)    Auckland (1848 Aug 31)

  • Forbes, Mrs    Orotava (steamer) London (1891 Oct 24)    Sydney

  • Forbes, Mrs    Frolic (schooner), Singapore (1845 Nov 5)    Sydney (1846 Mar 25)

  • Forbes, Mrs    London (steamer), Sydney (1854 Aug 19)    Melbourne

  • Forbes, Mr    Jessie Byrne (barque), Sydney (1853 Feb 24)    San Francisco

  • Forbes, Mrs    Jack (brig), Moreton Bay (1852 Jun 20)    Sydney (1852 Jun 28)

  • Forbes, Dr    Sir John Byng (brig), Tahiti (1844 Apr 7)    Sydney (1844 Aug 5)

  • Forbes, Mr    Sir John Byng (brig), Tahiti (1844 Apr 7)    Sydney (1844 Aug 5)

  • Forbes, Ann    Prince of Wales, Portsmouth (1787 May 13)    Sydney (1788 Jan 26)

  • Forbes, C, Mr    Brougham (barque), Sydney (1848 Mar 12)    Gravesend (1848 Jul 23)

  • Forbes, F, Mr    Sovereign (steamer), Moreton Bay (1845 Jun 6)    Sydney (1845 Jun 9)

  • Forbes, Francis, Sir    Alfred (barque), London (1838 Sep 17)    Sydney (1839 Jan 15)

  • Forbes, Francis, Mr    Sovereign (steamer), Moreton Bay (1845 Jan 23)    Sydney (1845 Jan 26)

  • Forbes, Hannah    Royal Saxon (barque), Plymouth (1848 Apr 4)    Sydney (1848 Jul 19)

  • Forbes, Henry    Dorunda (steamer), Gravesend (1884 Aug 26)    Brisbane (1884 Oct 21)

  • Forbes, Henry, Mr    Laura (barque), Liverpool (1838 Jul 1)    Sydney (1838 Dec 27)

  • Forbes, J, Rev    Shamrock (steamer) Sydney (1844 Oct 7)    Launceston

  • Forbes, J, Rev    Shamrock (steamer) Sydney (1844 Oct 8)    Launceston

  • Forbes, Jane    Lady Juliana Plymouth (1789 Jul 29)    Sydney (1790 Jun 3)

  • Forbes, Jane    Edward Coulston Hobart Town (1833 Oct )

  • Forbes, Joseph    William Wise (brig) Sydney (1840 Oct 11)    London

  • Forbes, Joseph    Statescomb (schooner)  Sydney    Torres Straits near Timor Laut (1822 )

  • Forbes, M, Miss    North Briton (barque),  Leith (1838 Aug 26)    Hobart Town (1838 Dec 15)

  • Forbes, M, Miss    North Briton (barque), Leith (1838 Aug 26)    Hobart Town (1838 Dec 15)

  • Forbes, R S    Eagle (steamer), Sydney (1853 Jan 13)    Moreton Bay

  • Forbes, R S    Eagle (steamer), Sydney (1853 Jan 13)    Moreton Bay

  • Forbes, Rose    Royal Saxon (barque), Plymouth (1848 Apr 4)    Sydney (1848 Jul 19)

  • Forbes, W, Rev    Amelia Thompson (barque), Sydney (1839 Nov 1)    Port Phillip

  • Forbes, W, Mr    Mary Sharp (barque) Sydney (1844 Aug 3)    London (1844 Dec 26)

  • Forbes, William    Florentia England (1830 Aug 16)    Sydney (1830 Dec 15)


South Australian Shipping & Immigration - Passenger Lists

  • Forbes, Charles R P/B (crew) arrived in SA 1836-07-27 aboard Duke of York from London 1836-04-05

  • Forbes, Charles, Elizabeth (TAIT?), Mary arrived in SA 1836-11-26 aboard Tam O'Shanter from London

  • Forbes, George, wife arrived in SA 1849-07-19 aboard Cromwell from London 49-03-30 via Plymouth

  • Forbes, James arrived in SA 1847-09-10 aboard Joseph Albino from Sydney

  • Forbes, James, Grace Miller TASKER arrived in SA 1839-12-19 aboard Moffatt from London 39-08-26

  • Forbes, John (Sutherland?) arrived in SA 1847-07-05 aboard Union (2) from Launceston

  • Forbes, John arrived in SA by 1839

  • Forbes, Miss arrived in SA 1841-12-06 aboard Alcmena from Leith 41-05-10 via Melbourne

  • Forbes, T S arrived in SA 1850-06-04 aboard Santipore from London 50-02-12 via Plymouth

  • Forbes, William arrived in SA 1839-08-13 aboard Ariadne from Greenock 39-04-11

  • Forbes, William arrived in SA 1846-01-20 aboard Enmore from London 1845-10-05

  • Forbes, arrived in SA 1847-11-04 aboard Juno from Sydney via Boyd Town, Melbourne, Pt Fairy, Portland Bay

  • Forbes, wife, child arrived in SA 1845-01-28 aboard Alpha (1) from Launceston

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