Nelson & His World

Discussion on the life and times of Admiral Lord Nelson
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 Post subject: George Forbes, master of HMS Swiftsure
PostPosted: Mon Sep 16, 2013 11:28 pm 
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Hi,

I am new to this forum. My name is Terry and I hail from Fort William, in Scotland.

A chance conversation some 6 months ago with my son-in-law who lives in rural Aberdeen-shire started me on a most interesting search.

He recalled a teacher at his old school mentioning that "one of Nelson's Trafalgar captains was buried at Logie Coldstone". Logie Coldstone is a tiny hamlet composed of a few houses and with a disused churchyard deep in the Aberdeen-shire countryside a few miles from my son-in-laws home.

My curiosity was aroused and during family visits to the area, I began to see what I could find. But despite several searches of the churchyard, I found nothing. Further, I was able to ascertain that all the Captains from the Battle of Trafalgar were accounted for and that none of their resting places were in Aberdeen-shire. It seemed I was chasing a wild goose.

I then discovered a 'pamphlet' published in 1906 entitled "Epitaphs and inscriptions in Aberdeenshire churchyards". The author had toured various churchyards and had noted any inscriptions from gravestones which he considered to be of interest. He described the ‘kirkyard’ at Logie Coldstone and mentioned "George Forbes" and described his gravestone as being of a "table top" construction (lying horizontally on the ground). Further, he described the inscription: To the memory of Mr.George Forbes, master in the Royal Navy, who served many years in that trade and gained high praise for his courage and conduct in many engagements, particularly in the memorable battle of Trafalgar, when Lord Nelson fell. On retiring from the service, he became tacksman of Kinord, where he died on the 11th June 1821, aged 62. And his wife Margaret Forbes, who died on 7th oct, 1847, aged 74
(‘tacksman’ was a rural rent collector.)

I made a further visit to the churchyard, now armed with the description of the type of gravestone (table top) and a variety of brushes and tools I was able to focus my search and I was eventually able to uncover the grave of George Forbes, Master of HMS Swiftsure during the battle of Trafalgar.

The inscription is only just barely visible. Given that the stone lies horizontally, then I assume that it has been more vulnerable to the ravages of atmospheric acids than a vertical stone. In 1907 when the author of the pamphlet would have visited the churchyard, then I assume that the inscription was perfectly legible.

The ‘National archives’ give the additional information:

George Forbes.
Ship: HMS Swiftsure
Rank/Rating: Master

HMS Bombay Castle
25 September 1787 to 11 November 1788
Rank/rating: Able Seaman
12 November 1788 to 15 September 1791
Rank/rating: Quartermaster'sMate
HMS Orion
16 September 1791 to 3 November 1792
Rank/rating: Quartermaster
HMS Edgar
28 April 1795 to 16 May 1795
Rank/rating: Able Seaman
17 May 1795 to 29 July 1795
Rank/rating: Midshipman
30 July 1795 to 18 January 1796
Rank/rating: Acting Lieutenant
HMS Beaver
19 January 1796 to 20 November 1799
Rank/rating: Master
HMS Hindostan
21 November 1799 to 19 April 1804
Rank/rating: Master
HMS SwiftsureShip's pay book number: (SB 13)
22 August 1804 to 27 November 1807
Rank/rating: Master
HMS Valiant
23 December 1807 to 22 January 1808
Rank/rating: Master
HMS San Antonio
3 February 1808 to 14 December 1809
Rank/rating: Master

So, no “Captain of the Trafalgar battle” but nonetheless perhaps someone who made a mark. I know little of the skills and contribution of the ‘master’ of a Royal navy ship of the line, but I can only guess that they possessed formidable character and skill.

Now I have a personal dilemma. Having ‘found’ George Forbes, do I just allow the mosses to once again obliterate his gravestone, this time forever, or perhaps I could purchase a modest plaque with the original engraving and affix it to the stone. Of course, I should attempt to track down any relatives and also obtain permission from the graveyard authorities before going any further.

What do you think? Is he part of history or just a very minor player who should be allowed to drift back into obscurity?


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 Post subject: Re: George Forbes, master of HMS Swiftsure
PostPosted: Tue Sep 17, 2013 7:26 am 
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Joined: Sat Feb 23, 2008 9:11 am
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Location: Stockholm, Sweden
Hello Scotsgent,

Welcome to the forum, and what an interesting investigation.

As you say, not a captain at Trafalgar, but George Forbes was obviously a man of some note. In the Royal Navy the Master was responsible to the captain for the navigation of the ship, a not inconsiderable responsibility, so certainly not someone to be forgotten.

I applaud your efforts to mark his grave, and to contact any descendants. Good luck. I'm sure you will keep us informed.

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Kester.


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 Post subject: Re: George Forbes, master of HMS Swiftsure
PostPosted: Tue Sep 17, 2013 5:08 pm 
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Joined: Sun Feb 17, 2008 11:06 am
Posts: 2820
Location: mid-Wales
Welcome to the forum, scotsgent, and thank you for recording your researches here. You will find many posts here about individuals of varying degrees of eminence who played their part in the Georgian navy. Whether simple seamen, distinguished admirals, or anyone in between, we are delighted to know about them all. We have several forum members who are formidable researchers and gatherers of these lost voices from the past, so we are pleased to welcome you to their company!

Your idea of a memorial plaque is touching and generous and I wish you well with it.

Captain George Duff of the Mars, who was also killed at Trafalgar, hailed from Scotland.

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/George_Duff

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Anna


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 Post subject: Re: George Forbes, master of HMS Swiftsure
PostPosted: Tue Sep 17, 2013 5:36 pm 
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Location: mid-Wales
Terry:

Having talked of 'lost voices', I thought this story of a formidable Scots seaman in Nelson's day would amuse you:

I picked up a copy of the United Services Journal for 1841 in a bookshop and in it was an article entitled; 'Nelson at Bastia' by an Agamemnon.

At one point the British were having trouble from the Corsicans and a group of them had the misfortune to insult one Archibald Menzies, who was known as 'Scotch Hercules on account of his immense strength'. Archie set about the miscreants 'having torn up a wooden rail that ran along the roadside and laid about his with such fury....that the Corsicans ran for their lives.' Two of them didn't get away in time and were seized by him in his 'iron grip'.

"De'il tak ye!' exclaimed Archie ' 'd'ye ken me? Never show your ugly walnut-covered faces to a Briton again or by Saint Andrew, I'll batter yer faces against each other till ye shallna ken whether you be yourselves or no. Get awa' wi' ye, ye cursed black-nebs. I dinna like to swear, but I'll be d----d if I don't mak haggis-meat o' ye if I catch you here again'.

Having let them loose, which he did with a kick to the behind, the fellows made quick work of it and were soon out of sight'.

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Anna


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 Post subject: Re: George Forbes, master of HMS Swiftsure
PostPosted: Wed Sep 18, 2013 10:39 am 
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Joined: Mon Feb 18, 2008 7:11 pm
Posts: 1258
Location: England
Hi Terry,

Given what you have found out about George Forbes, he certainly shouldn't be allowed to sink back into obscurity!

I have a couple of suggestions on other things you might like to consider:

    You might like to record his grave in the National Maritime Museum's online Maritime Memorials database here: http://memorials.rmg.co.uk/ - there is a link for recording a memorial.

    You might like to talk to the 1805 Club ( http://www.1805club.org/ ) which was specifically founded 'to care for the memorials of the Georgian sailing navy'. I think they have previously done some work on conserving the graves of one or two of the Masters present at Trafalgar, and certainly don't confine their work to captains and admirals. They do sometimes place a plaque beside a grave, but given your interest and willingness to do something, their involvement might be superfluous. However, they may be able to advise on likely issues.

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Tony


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 Post subject: Re: George Forbes, master of HMS Swiftsure
PostPosted: Sat Oct 05, 2013 5:50 pm 
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Joined: Mon Sep 16, 2013 11:14 am
Posts: 7
From his Royal Navy records, posted above, I see his first ship was the Bombay Castle, he was 26 years old and is recorded as being an 'able seaman'.

I think I am right that the normal first position for a new hand would be that of 'ordinary seaman' and that one was 'promoted' to the position of an able seaman after a period of time when basic seamanship skills had been learned.

So, would I be right in deducing that in fact, the records are incomplete and that he had probably served a period as an ordinary seaman at sometime before he joined the Bombay Castle and on some other ship?

His home town was probably Montrose on the North Sea coast of Scotland, a busy trading port at that time. I wonder, would a previous period in the Merchant Navy be taken into account if he had then joined the Royal Navy. Might he, in those circumstances achieve the position of able seaman on joining?

I have no idea really, but I am just trying to get to the bottom of why his first entry on his Royal Navy record has him as an 'able seaman'?

As you have suggested, I have contacted the 1805 Club and also the Nelson Dispatch as well as a grant making body here in Scotland with a view to refurbishing the grave site if it proves do-able.

Regards, Terry


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 Post subject: Re: George Forbes, master of HMS Swiftsure
PostPosted: Sat Oct 05, 2013 7:21 pm 
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Posts: 1376
Location: Stockholm, Sweden
Terry,

That is certainly possible. It sounds as though George Forbes' early career may have been as you suggest, in that he had spent a period of time in the mercantile marine, or perhaps the fishing fleet, before joining the Royal Navy – hence his early rank of able seaman. I believe the usual prerequisite for an able seaman was that a man could 'hand, reef and steer', in other words he was a good all round seaman. Forbes previous service would naturally have been taken into account, to be rated as able seaman, and the navy was probably very glad to have him.

His beginnings may in fact have been very similar to that of famed navigator James Cook, who served in the coal trade and who rose to the position of mate before turning to the RN to further his career. (This early apprenticeship was probably why he chose colliers for his expeditionary vessels, due to their strength and the fact that he knew their abilities very well.) Cook realised that any further advancement as a navigator, however, was not likely to come about in the coal trade, and so he switched to the RN. It may have been a similar situation for Forbes.
.

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 Post subject: Re: George Forbes, master of HMS Swiftsure
PostPosted: Tue Oct 08, 2013 10:49 am 
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Joined: Tue Oct 08, 2013 9:53 am
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Tony,

Thanks for pointing Terry towards The 1805 Club. He has now been in touch with us. As you say, we do not by any means confine our conservation projects to admirals and officers, and Mr Forbes's gravestone is exactly the kind of memorial we are interested in.

Normally any 1805 Club involvement in a project of this nature would come under the wing of our Conservator, but in this instance I have been nominated as Terry's primary contact since I know the Logie Coldstone area, where the grave is located, quite well. (But clearly not well enough!)

We hope to develop this fascinating project with Terry, and will happily keep members of 'Nelson & his World' posted. Thanks too to other members of N&HW who have put up information about Mr Forbes.

Stephen


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 Post subject: Re: George Forbes, master of HMS Swiftsure
PostPosted: Wed Oct 16, 2013 2:49 pm 
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Joined: Mon Feb 18, 2008 7:11 pm
Posts: 1258
Location: England
Hi Stephen, it's good to hear that the 1805 Club"s involvement is in your hands, and welcome to the forum from me. I very much look forward to hearing more in the future.

I should of course have said in my previous post that I and several other forum members here are members of the 1805 Club. The Club's annual journal, The Trafalgar Chronicle, is essential reading for anyone interested in naval history.

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Tony


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