Forbes | Edward | 1815-1854 | professor of natural history, University of Edinburgh

Biographical Information

Occupation, Sphere of Activity

Edward Forbes was born 12 February 1815 in Douglas, Isle of Man and died 18 November 1854, near Edinburgh. He was a pioneer in the field of biogeography and palaeontology, his major work being the essay On the Connection Between the Distribution of the Existing Fauna and Flora of the British Isles and the Changes Which Have Affected their Area, (1846).

As a student at the University of Edinburgh, he studied medicine, but also undertook instruction in natural history under Robert Jameson and Robert Graham.

In 1833 Forbes undertook a botanical tour of Norway, publishing his results in the Magazine for Natural History. Shortly afterwards he gave up medicine as a career and attended natural history lectures in Paris before travelling to Algeria to study fresh-water and land molluscs. He served as naturalist on HMS Beacon, surveying both the Grecian Archipelago and parts of Asia Minor in both 1838 and 1841.

In 1842, Forbes became the secretary and curator of the Museum of Economic Geology, run by the Geological Society of London at Jermyn Street. In 1843 he was appointed professor of botany at King's College, London. In 1844 he resigned from the Museum of Economic Geology to take up the duties of palaeontologist to the Geological Survey of Great Britain. In 1851 he progressed to professor of natural history at the Government School of Mines. 3 years later he was appointed professor of natural history at the University of Edinburgh, but died 6 months after taking up the position.


Forbes' father was a banker

Other Significant Information

Notable publications:

A History of British Mollusca, and Their Shells, (1853)

A History of British Starfishes, and Other Animals of the Class Echinodermata, (1841)

Travels in Lyela, (1847)

Honours, Qualifications and Appointments

1843: Elected Fellow, Linnean Society (FLS)

1845: Elected Fellow, Royal Society (FRS)

1853: Appointed President, Geological Society of London

1853: Appointed President, British Association Geological Section


List of sources for the biographical information:

The Concise Dictionary of National Biography, From Earliest Times to 1985, vol. i , (Oxford, Oxford University Press, 1992)

Encyclopaedia Britannica, vol 9, (London, William Benton, 1964)