January 7, 2010

Robert Bennet Forbes (1804-1889) was a sea captain, China Trade merchant, ship owner, and writer. He was born at “Pinebank” in Jamaica Plain, the son of Ralph Bennet Forbes and Margaret Perkins Forbes; Mrs. Forbes was the sister of well-known Boston merchants James and Thomas Handasyd Perkins. Robert Bennet Forbes attended Milton Academy, but due to his father's financial difficulties, had to leave school and go to work. After a short stint as clerk for his Perkins uncles, he sailed to China at the age of 13 and eventually became a sea captain and China trader associated with Russell & Company. Receiving his first command at the age of 20, he was prosperous enough at 28 to return to Boston and set up shop as a merchant. As a member of the prominent Perkins and Forbes Families of Boston, much of Robert Bennet Forbes' wealth was derived from opium and the China Trade and he played a prominent role in the outbreak of the Opium War. Despite the ethical problems of dealing in opium, he was also well known to engage in humanitarian activities, such as commandeering the USS Jamestown to bring food to Irish Famine sufferers in 1847. After the Civil War, Captain Forbes retired from business and embarked on a new career as a philanthropist and writer. He wrote several pamphlets on methods and devices for improving the safety of ocean travel. Forbes maintained an interest in ship construction and rigging and developed a rig for sailing vessels that bore his name, and he also helped to establish a home for retired sailors in Massachusetts and was an active supporter of the Massachusetts Humane Society, serving on its board of directors for many years.
The Forbes Family Lot is on Magnolia Avenue on Consecration Hill. The monument has a large granite base with white marble inset panels, which is surmounted by a granite obelisk that is a simple but massive monument. The lot was said to be “a beautiful one in its situation, and commands a view of the hills of Milton and the intervening valley and slopes, a scene of beauty and quiet which seems to impress the beholder with a sense of the fitness of the spot for a burial place.”
The Captain Robert Bennet Forbes House Museum is at 215 Adams Street on Milton Hill; he commissioned Isaiah Rogers to design this mansion known as "The Castle" as a summerhouse for his mother Margaret Perkins Forbes, and as a memorial to his late brother Thomas Tunno Forbes, who died in 1829 in China. www.forbeshousemuseum.org

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