DUNCAN FORBES, OF CULLODEN (1685-1747), Scottish statesman, was born at Bunchrew or at Culloden near Inverness on the 10th of November 1685. After he had completed his studies at the universities of Edinburgh and Leiden, he was admitted advocate at the Scottish bar in 1709. His own talents and the influence of the Argyll family secured his rapid advancement, which was still further helped by his loyalty to the Hanoverian cause at the period of the rebellion in 1715. In 1722 Forbes was returned member for Inverness, and in 1725 he succeeded Dundas of Arniston as lord advocate. He inherited the patrimonial estates on the death of his brother in 1734, and in 1737 he attained to the highest legal honours in Scotland, being made lord president of the court of session. As lord advocate, he had laboured to improve the legislation and revenue of the country, to extend trade and encourage manufactures, and no less to render the government popular and respected in Scotland. In the proceedings which followed the memorable Porteous mob, for example, when the government brought in a bill for disgracing the lord provost of Edinburgh, for fining the corporation, and for abolishing the town-guard and city-gate, Forbes both spoke and voted against the measure as an unwarranted outrage on the national feeling. As lord president also he carried out some useful legal reforms; and his term of office was characterized by quick and impartial administration of the law.
The rebellion of 1745 found him at his post, and it tried all his patriotism. Some years before (1738) he had repeatedly and earnestly urged upon the government the expediency of embodying Highland regiments, putting them under the command of colonels whose loyalty could be relied upon, but officering them with the native chieftains and cadets of old families in the north. "If government," said he, "pre-engages the Highlanders in the manner I propose, they will not only serve well against the enemy abroad, but will be hostages for the good behaviour of their relations at home; and I am persuaded that it will be absolutely impossible to raise a rebellion in the Highlands." In 1 739, with Sir Robert Walpole's approval, the original (1730) six companies (locally enlisted) of the Black Watch were formed into the famous "Forty-second" regiment of the line. The credit given to the earl of Chatham in some histories for this movement is an error; it rests really with Forbes and his friend Lord Islay, afterwards 3rd duke of Argyll (see the Autobiography of the 8th duke of Argyll, vol. i. p. 8 sq., 1906).
On the first rumour of the Jacobite rising Forbes hastened to Inverness, and through his personal influence with the chiefs of Macdonald and Macleod, those two powerful western clans were prevented from taking the field for Charles Edward; the town itself also he kept loyal and well protected at the commencement of the struggle, and many of the neighbouring proprietors were won over by his persuasions. His correspondence with Lord Lovat, published in the Culloden papers, affords a fine illustration of his character, in which the firmness of loyal principle and duty is found blended with neighbourly kindness and consideration. But at this critical juncture of affairs, the apathy of the government interfered considerably with the success of his negotiations. Advances of arms and money arrived. too late, and though Forbes employed all his own means and what money he could borrow on his personal security, his resources were quite inadequate to the emergency. It is doubtful whether these advances were ever fully repaid. Part was doled. out to him, after repeated solicitations that his credit might be maintained in the country; but it is evident he had fallen into disgrace in consequence of his humane exertions to mitigate the impolitic severities inflicted upon his countrymen after their disastrous defeat at Culloden. The ingratitude of the government, and the many distressing circumstances connected with the insurrection, sunk deep into the mind of Forbes. He never fairly rallied from the depression thus caused, and after a period of declining health he died on the 10th of December 1747.
Forbes was a patriot without ostentation or pretence, a true Scotsman with no narrow prejudice, an accomplished and even erudite scholar without pedantry, a man of genuine piety without asceticism or intolerance. His country long felt his influence through her reviving arts and institutions; and the example of such a character in that coarse and venal age, and among a people distracted by faction, political strife, and national antipathies, while it was invaluable to his contemporaries in a man of high position, is entitled to the lasting gratitude and veneration of his countrymen. In his intervals of leisure he cultivated with some success the study of philosophy, theology and biblical criticism. He is said to have been a diligent reader of the Hebrew Bible. His published writings, some of them of importance, include - A Letter to a Bishop, concerning some Important Discoveries in Philosophy and Theology (1732); Some Thoughts concerning Religion, natural and revealed, and the Manner of Understanding Revelation (1735); and Reflections on Incredulity (2nd ed., 1750).
His correspondence was collected and published in 1815, and a memoir of him (from the family papers) was written by Mr Hill Burton, and published along with a Life of Lord Lovat, in 1847. His statue by Roubillac stands in the Parliament House, Edinburgh.
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