Nelson & His World

Discussion on the life and times of Admiral Lord Nelson
It is currently Wed Jul 15, 2020 1:09 pm

All times are UTC [ DST ]

Post new topic Reply to topic  [ 2 posts ] 
Author Message
 Post subject: The last will and testament of a sailing Master - 1821
PostPosted: Wed Nov 06, 2013 5:02 pm 

Joined: Mon Sep 16, 2013 11:14 am
Posts: 7
You may have seen in a previous post that I have done a little research into George Forbes, Sailing Master of HMS Swiftsure in Nelsons Mediterranean fleet during the chase to the West Indies and the subsequent battle of Trafalgar.

I have had sight of his will. I think this is an interesting document and might give insights into the social conditions of the era.

If you have any comments, I would be glad to hear them. In particular: Was George comfortably off? Had his 22 years in the Royal navy been worth it (financially at least)?
Does the division of his legacy seem fair to his wife? Or was there perhaps much closer financial bonds between brothers and sisters than there is today?
George Forbes Will
Master, RN. Died June 11th 1821 at Kinord, Tarland, Aberdeenshire, Scotland.

His will appears to have been written only 3 days prior to his death, as we will see below, there was some panic that the will might not be correctly witnessed before he passed away and so a ‘medical attendant’ had to witness it, (which apparently was unconventional?).

His executors were: George Gordon of Blelach (a local estate owner) and Arthur Reid, ‘writer’, from Tarland. (I believe ‘writer’ was a notary public?)

His inventory appears to contain:

£500 in a bank account
£400 in a separate bank account
£200 in another bank account.
£30 interest owing on these sums. Thus: £1130 cash

He was owed some £590 plus interest from what might be a brother-in-law in Montrose, this appeared to be a loan made by George, one year before. Thus: £1720 in cash and monies owed.

He had ‘heritable property’, (houses) in Montrose. I assume 2, but maybe more!?

He had tenure of a leased area of land of 4 or 5 square miles. I believe this consisted of two farms. He inhabited one and his brother, Arthur, the other. It’s likely that he leased this land (known as a ‘tack’ in this part of the world at that time) and then invited his brother to occupy the other, vacant farm. George employed 5 ‘servants’. (I believe these to be ‘farm servants’ as farm workers were called at that time).
There is no mention of income from the ‘tack’ and so; I assume the brother paid no rent.
In Georges will, after his death, the brother was offered the remaining lease of the ‘tack’ “providing he paid the same annual amount as I do” to the owner, the Earl of Aboyne. (There is no mention as to what that amount might have been).

George had been married at the time of his death at 62 for about 7 years and had a young daughter about 3 years old. These days, the bulk of ones estate would usually go to your widow, particularly since the future for her and the daughter would be uncertain, but as we can see, that’s not quite the way that George divided it. (I wonder, if there were some social norms about dividing heritable property amongst wife and siblings?).

To his wife, Margaret: £500. Two of the best beds in the house with bedclothes for them. 7 hair bottomed chairs. A wainscote table with all the china and crystal in the house. 6 table spoons, one dividing spoon and 6 tea spoons (all silver). My 8 day clock during her lifetime and then it to be passed to my nephew James at old Kinord (his farmer-brothers son).

To his daughter, Margaret Forbes Bowman, (the daughter, aged 3 retaining the mothers maiden name) £100 (but no mention of who managed it until she was an adult?)

To his brother Arthur at Old Kinord (the other farm on the ‘tack’). £20

To Arthurs son, (James), George appears to have been very generous to this nephew, leaving him £200, also “my weather glass, and silver watch, a chest of drawers, portable writing desk, bible and prayer book and what other books his wife gives to him”. (also his 8 day clock to be passed to him after the death of Georges wife).

Other brothers in Montrose get £20 each. The son of a brother is bequeathed “all my sea instruments” ( perhaps this was a young man employed or destined for the sea?)

His wife’s brother gets Georges grey clothes and the rest of his clothes is divided amongst his friends as his wife sees fit.

Two neighbours, the Ross brothers receive £50 each, (more cash than any of his brothers!).

He instructs the executors to sell his houses (we don’t know how many?). The proceeds after expenses to be divided: one fifth to his wife and the remainder between his brothers and sisters (4 in total). So, Margaret gets only one fifth of his heritable property!

Whatever is left in cash, etc. after debts (he didn’t appear to have any debt's except what would be incurred in paying the notary and whatever it cost to sell the houses), to be equally divided between his wife and brothers and sisters, (again, his wife only gets a fifth of this).

He leaves his 5 servants £2.10 each (providing they are still employed by him at the date of his death). Remember, before the days of machinery, any decent farm would need labourers, so the term servants might not presume that George was a 'squire' or such!

He also requests “to cause to be placed, when I am dead, a decent gravestone written with a proper epitaph thereon bearing my age and situation in life”.

Photographs of the grave location: ... eat=email#

The inscription on the stone:
"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."

Finally, there is a note from a William Sheriffs, a surgeon from Broomhills, (near Aberdeen and a half-days coach ride from Georges house). This explains why he has witnessed the will. It seems that witnesses were sent for, but had not arrived and that Mr. Forbes was in "great fear that the will might not be properly witnessed before his death". The surgeon takes great pains to explain that he only agreed to witness it since there was no provision for him in the will and therefore he could not be accused of improper behaviour.

I have discovered that George was Master on the HMS Hindustan when she and HMS Pearl captured ‘Veloce’ in May 1803. The ships appeared to have received an ‘advanced payment’ of £12,000, (so presumably, there was more to come?).
The HMS Hindustan also shared in the capture of ‘La Union’.
So, some prize money may have been shared with George, but I have no idea whether this might have been substantial?

As Master, I believe that one eighth of the value was distributed between the lieutenants and Master(?) - so depending upon the value of any prize it could be a great or modest amount?

Regards, Terry

 Profile E-mail  
 Post subject: Re: The last will and testament of a sailing Master - 1821
PostPosted: Tue Nov 19, 2013 11:18 am 

Joined: Mon Feb 18, 2008 7:11 pm
Posts: 1258
Location: England
Hi Terry

George Forbes certainly strikes me as very well off indeed for a master in the navy. I find it hard to fathom the detail, but the treatment of his wife in his will may not be that unusual. It was certainly common for wives to be left no more than would sustain them for the remainder of their lives, and often it was left in trust only during their lifetime or until remarriage, although in this case that only seems to apply to one clock. We perhaps can't be sure what provision Forbes had already made for his wife. Maybe there was already an annuity, or maybe the fifth share of the proceeds from his houses would leave her comfortably off. It's also not clear where she was to live. Was she to continue living in the farm? I wonder whether the nephew was already managing both farms? It was certainly common to bring a nephew into a business and leave it to him if there was no son to inherit.


Display posts from previous:  Sort by  
Post new topic Reply to topic  [ 2 posts ] 

All times are UTC [ DST ]

Who is online

Users browsing this forum: Google [Bot] and 12 guests

You cannot post new topics in this forum
You cannot reply to topics in this forum
You cannot edit your posts in this forum
You cannot delete your posts in this forum
You cannot post attachments in this forum

Search for:
Jump to:  
Powered by p h p B B © 2000, 2002, 2005, 2007 p h p B B Group