Skip to main content

James Forbes

1749 - 1819

This person is the subject of ongoing research. We have started by researching their relationship to the enslavement of people.

Biographical notes

Author and traveller.

Slavery connections

No known connections with slavery.

Abolition connections

In a 1765 letter, Forbes links the tragedy of slavery to European avarice: the ‘insatiable thirst of Europeans’ for gold and diamonds. He writes at length on the regime that has subjugated both the indigenous populations throughout South America, and the peoples brought from Africa to labour in the mines and plantations. The roads to the mines ‘are so well guarded, and so little frequented, that the people here are very ignorant about them; all communication, except to certain privileged persons, is forbidden.’ The only hope is that the enslaved, in their few spare moments, might find gold dust in the area’s streams, enough to, at some point, purchase their freedom from their owners. Slave ships arrive daily, bringing cargoes of ‘our fellow-creatures’ to be sold ‘in the public market, like cattle’. (James Forbes Archive, A voyage from England to Bombay with descriptions in Asia, Africa, and South America, Yale Center for British Art [online], Rare Books and Manuscripts, MSS 66, Rio de Janeiro, 1765 August 21, copied between 1794 and 1800, vol. 1, <> accessed 6 August 2021, 55-69.)

National Gallery painting connections

Donor: bequeathed in 1835: NG139 (now lost).


A. Bulley, 'Forbes, James', in C. Matthew et al. (eds), Oxford Dictionary of National Biography, Oxford 1992-,
Checked and foundItem on publisher's website

History of Parliament Trust (ed.), The History of Parliament: British Political, Social & Local History, London 1964-,
Checked and not foundItem on publisher's website

J. Turner et al. (eds), Grove Art Online, Oxford 1998-,
Checked and not foundItem on publisher's website

UCL Department of History (ed.), Legacies of British Slave-ownership, London 2020,
Checked and not foundItem on publisher's website