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Forbes, James


Son of a farmer, Peter Forbes, and his wife Margaret, was born in the parish of Leochel-Cushnie, 27 miles from Aberdeen, Scotland, early in 1813. He was educated at a local school and at Aberdeen, and entering King's College, Old Aberdeen university, received the degree of master of arts in March 1836. On 29 June 1837 he was ordained by the Presbytery of Glasgow and in the following month sailed for Australia with Dr Lang (q.v.). They arrived at Sydney in December and in January 1838 Forbes was given a passage to Port Phillip, and became the first settled minister in Melbourne. The Rev. James Clow was there when he arrived, but though Clow took services he did not engage in regular ministerial work. In November 1838 Forbes opened the Scots Church and school in Collins-street, West, and in September 1839 a much larger school was opened in Collins-street East. Soon afterwards it was decided to build a brick church to hold 500 people. Forbes was the leading spirit in these activities and for the next 12 years was constant in his devotion to the educational needs of Melbourne. In 1842 a series of seven long letters from Forbes on education appeared in the Port Phillip Gazette. These are reprinted in his biography, and show how thoroughly Forbes had gone into the whole question. He was also interesting himself in the temperance movement, the foundation of the Melbourne hospital, and the founding of a secondary school. It was hoped that a grant of land might be obtained for this school, but the attempts had to be given up for a period. At the end of 1843 news of the disruption in the Presbyterian Church in Scotland came to Melbourne. Forbes championed the Free Church party and there was much controversy. In September 1846 he failed to carry a motion in synod expressing sympathy with the Free Church, and shortly afterwards he resigned his pastorate of Scots Church, Collins-street.

Forbes now became leader of the Free Church party in Melbourne. Many of his congregation went with him and services were held in the Mechanics' Institute building. In January 1816 he had brought out the Port Phillip Christian Herald, principally educational and religious in its articles. This continued to appear for over five years. He built another church and school in Swanston-street, and reviving the question of a secondary school the Chalmers' Free Church school in Spring-street was founded. This became the Melbourne Academy of which Robert Lawson was appointed rector. He arrived on 11 September 1851 but Forbes had died on the previous 12 August. He had never been a robust man and his never ceasing labours probably had much to do with his early death. He married in 1845 Helen Johanna, daughter of the Rev. J. Clow, who survived him with at least one son and one daughter. The Melbourne Academy grew into the Scotch College, one of the great public schools of Australia.


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