Forbes, William Alexander (DNB00)

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FORBES, WILLIAM ALEXANDER (1855–1883), zoologist, second son of Mr. John Staats Forbes, chairman of the London, Chatham, and Dover Railway Company, was born at Cheltenham on 24 June 1855, and educated at Kensington school and Winchester College. Leaving Winchester in 1872 he studied in succession at Edinburgh University (1873–1875) and University College, London (1875–1876), as a medical student; but he early showed great powers of acquirement in biology, to which he finally devoted himself. Entering at St. John's College, Cambridge, in 1876, he gained a first class in the natural sciences tripos of 1879, and was subsequently elected a fellow of his college. In the same year he was appointed prosector to the Zoological Society of London on the death of his friend, Professor A. H. Garrod [q. v.], whose literary executor he became. He also lectured on comparative anatomy at Charing Cross Hospital Medical School. During the three following years his work at the society's gardens produced a rich harvest of original and valuable papers, those on the muscular structure and voice organs of birds being especially notable. In the summer of 1880 Forbes made a short excursion to Pernambuco, of which he published an account in the ‘Ibis’ for 1881, and in July 1882 he left England to investigate the fauna of eastern tropical Africa, starting from the mouth of the Niger. Being detained at Shonga, four hundred miles up the Niger, by the breaking down of his communications, Forbes died of dysentery on 14 Jan. 1883. His remains were brought to England and buried, 1 April 1884, in the churchyard of Wickham in Kent.

Forbes was an excellent worker, possessed of much personal attractiveness, and gave promise of being one of the leading zoologists of his time. His collected papers have been published in a memorial volume edited by his successor as prosector, Mr. F. E. Beddard, 1885. His principal papers were ‘On the Anatomy of the Passerine Birds’ (‘Proc. Zool. Soc.’ 1880, 1881, 1882); ‘On the Contributions to the Anatomy and Classification of Birds made by Professor Garrod’ (‘Ibis,’ 1881); and ‘On the Anatomy of the Petrels collected during the Voyage of H.M.S. Challenger’ (‘Zoology of the Challenger,’ iv. pt. xi. 1882). Forbes's last journals, published in the ‘Ibis,’ 1883, are included in the memorial volume. Forbes also edited the collected edition of Professor A. H. Garrod's papers, 1881, and wrote the memoir of Garrod which accompanies it.

[Forbes's Collected Papers, 1885; Ibis, 1883, p. 384.]

G. T. B.