Dictionary of National Biography, 1901 supplement/Forbes, Archibald

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FORBES, ARCHIBALD (1838–1900), war correspondent, the son of Lewis William Forbes, D.D. (d. 1854), minister of Boharm, Banffshire, by his second wife, Elizabeth, daughter of Archibald Young Leslie of Kininvie, was born in Morayshire in 1838. After studying at the university of Aberdeen from 1854 to 1857, he went to Edinburgh, and after hearing a course of lectures by (Sir) William Howard Russell, the famous correspondent, he enlisted in the royal dragoons. While still a trooper he began writing for the 'Morning Star,' and succeeded in getting several papers on military subjects accepted by the 'Cornhill Magazine.' On leaving the army in 1867 he started and ran with very little external aid a weekly journal called the 'London Scotsman ' (1867-71). His chance as a journalist came when in September 1870 he was despatched to the siege of Metz by the 'Morning Advertiser' (from which paper, however, his services were transferred after a short period to the 'Daily News'). In all the previous reports from battlefields comparatively sparing use had been made of the telegraph. Forbes laments his own supineness in the matter of wiring full details from the scene of operations. But the intensity of competition rapidly developed the long war telegram during the autumn of 1870, and no one contributed more effectively to this result than Forbes. He witnessed many of the events of the autumn campaign and entered Paris with the Prussians (with whom he established excellent relations) on 1 March 1871. On this occasion he was nearly drowned in a Parisian fountain as a German spy by an enthusiastic French mob. He managed to arrive first in England with his account of the Prussian entry. Two months later he returned to Paris and witnessed the horrors of the commune with the sang froid for which he became celebrated. In 1873 he represented the 'Daily News' at the Vienna exhibition; subsequently he saw fighting in Spain, both with the Carlists and their opponents; and in 1875 he accompanied the Prince of Wales on his visit to India. In 1876 he was with Tchernaieff and the Russian volunteers in Servia. In 1877 he witnessed the Russian invasion of Turkey, and on 23 Aug. was presented to Alexander II at Gornic Studen as the bearer of important news from the Schipka Pass. On this occasion the emperor conferred upon him the order of St. Stanislaus for his services to the Russian soldiers before' Plevna. During 1878, after a flying visit to Cyprus, he lectured in England upon the Russo-Turkish war. In 1878-9 he went out to Afghanistan, and accompanied the Khyber Pass force to Jellalabad. From Afghanistan he went to Mandalay and had interviews with King Theebaw. In 1880 he was with Lord Chelmsford in the Zulu war. On 5 July, after the victory of Ulundi, he rode 110 miles to Landman's Drift in twenty hours. Two days after his arrival there he appeared in a state of utter exhaustion before Pietermaritzburg, having ridden by way of Ladysmith and Estcourt, an additional 170 miles, in thirty-five hours. The news of Ulundi first reached England through his agency, he having completely outpaced the official despatch rider. He put in a claim for the Avar medal on the strength of this piece of service, but the request was refused with scant courtesy by the war office. Some of his criticisms of Lord Chelmsford were held in certain quarters to have been unnecessarily offensive. Forbes had seen war practically illustrated in all quarters of the globe, and he had outgrown any semblance of diffidence in passing judgment upon difficult military operations.

Forbes had already published several volumes of 'Daily News' war correspondence. That relating to 1870-1 was widely circulated. During his later years he collected a quantity of his various material and published it in book form. In 1884, upon the occasion of Gordon's mission to the Sudan, he brought out a tolerable sketch of his career, 'Chinese Gordon' (13th edit. 1886). This was followed by a volume of military sketches and tales, 'Barracks, Bivouacs, and Battles' (1891), and a brief tableau of 'The Afghan Wars' of 1839 and 1879 (1892, 8vo). Then came a version of Moltke's 'Franco-German War' ('revised by A. Forbes,' 1893), and 'The Great War of 189-,' a cleverly written forecast, in which Forbes collaborated with a number of other experts and special correspondents, such as Admiral Philip Howard Colorab [q.v. Suppl.], Colonel (Sir) Frederick Maurice, and others. In 1895 appeared the best volume of Forbes's autobiographical sketches, 'Memories and Studies of War and Peace.' In this he claimed, among 'The Soldiers I have known,' Wilhelm L. Moltke, General Grant, Sherman, Lord Napier of Magdala, Skobeleff, Osman Pasha, Sir Redvers Buller, and Lords Wolseley and Roberts. His readiness to prophesy no less than to judge suggests a rashness in forming opinions, inseparable perhaps from the profession that he followed; but he has some good stories, such as the one of General Skobeleff arresting his father (a miserly parent) for reporting himself in undress uniform. In 1896 Forbes collaborated in two handsome but ill-arranged quarto volumes of ' Battles of the Nineteenth Century,' and in the same year published his historical record of 'The Black Watch.' In 1898 he committed to the press a superficial 'Life of Napoleon III' (with portraits), based to a large extent upon the 'Life' by Blanchard Jerrold. Previous biographies by Forbes of similar calibre were those of the 'Emperor William' Til (1889), 'Havelock' (1890), and 'Colin Campbell, Lord Clyde' (1895, 'Men of Action' series).

After a life of perilous adventure, Forbes died peacefully at Clarence Terrace, Regent's Park, on 30 March 1900, and he was buried in the Allenvale cemetery, near Aberdeen. He left a widow, Louisa, daughter of Montgomery Cunningham Meigs, a military engineer and brigadier-general in the service of the United States. A portrait is prefixed to his 'Memories and Studies' (1895). A tablet with a medallion portrait is to be placed in the crypt of St. Paul's Cathedral.

[Hew Scott's Fasti Ecclesiæ Scoticanæ, iii. 220; Times, 31 March 1900; Daily News, 31 March 1900; Illustrated London News, 7 April 1900 (portrait); Men and Women of the Time, 15th edit. 1899; Yates's Recollections; Works in Brit. Museum Library.]

T. S.