James Forbes (minister) : biography
James Forbes (4 April 1813 – August 1851) was a Scottish-Australian Presbyterian minister and educator. He was the first Christian minister to settle in Melbourne, holding the first Presbyterian service there in 1838. He founded the Melbourne Academy, later Scotch College.
Philosophical and/or political views
He was an early temperance advocate and, given the variety of religious bodies in the colony, was strongly opposed to churches receiving financial aid from the state.
James Forbes was the oldest of the ten children (only five surviving infancy) born to Peter and Margaret Forbes who farmed "New Braes" on the estate of Sir Arthur Forbes in the parish of Leochel-Cushnie about 40 km west of Aberdeen, Scotland. He was baptised on 4 April 1813, and was educated locally and at Aberdeen Grammar School.
He entered King's College, Aberdeen in 1826 and completed the Arts course in 1829 but, like the majority of students who regarded it as an expensive formality, he did not bother to graduate. The Church of Scotland's Presbytery of Garioch records show that he was enrolled in divinity for part of 1829/30, 1830/31 and as a regular student 1831/32. He must have had doubts about his fitness for the ministry for he accepted a teaching appointment at the Colchester Royal Grammar School in England between 1832 and 1835. Here he experienced an evangelical conversion as he heard the sermons given in the school assembly by the Church of England preachers. This brought him back to the divinity course at Aberdeen which he completed in 1837.
He was licensed as a preacher by the Presbytery of Garioch on 10 May 1837. Recruited for Australia through the influence of Rev John Dunmore Lang he was ordained with his friend William McIntyre by the Presbytery of Glasgow on 29 June 1837 for work in Australia.
Departure for Australia
Leaving Greenock on the 541 ton barque Portland on 24 July 1837, Forbes arrived in Sydney on 4 December 1837. The passengers included Dr Lang and a number of other ministers and teachers. Forbes rejected Lang's proposal that the new ministers join him in forming the Synod of New South Wales to rival the existing Presbytery of New South Wales, and duly became a member of the Presbytery. His appointment being for the District of Port Phillip, he arrived there by boat on 20 January 1838.
He found his future father-in-law, Rev James Clow, had arrived in Melbourne to settle the previous Christmas Day. Clow was a Church of Scotland chaplain from Bombay retired due to health issues and of independent means. Forbes offered to go to Geelong, but Clow deferred to the younger man with an official appointment. Forbes thus became the first Christian minister settled as such in Melbourne, which was then a settlement of a few huts and two weatherboard houses that served as hotels. Within 18 months the population increased from a few hundred to 3000.
Presbyterian beginnings in Melbourne
The Scots' Church, Melbourne
On Saturday 3 February 1838 a meeting of members and friends of the Church of Scotland was held with James Clow in the chair. It was resolved to build a church and that £300 be raised in order to obtain the matching grant available under the Church Act. This is regarded as the official birthday of Presbyterianism in Victoria and of the beginning of Scots’ Church. A committee of James Clow (treasurer), James Forbes and Skene Graig (secretaries) was appointed to collect subscriptions and to take the steps to obtain a church site. The sum of £139.19.0 was subscribed on the spot.
Forbes continued the afternoon service each Sunday in the Pioneers Church on William Street on the corner of Collins Street begun by Clow on 31 December 1837. This communal building had been opened in February 1837 but soon after the land on which it was built was reserved for the Church of England. In April 1838 the Bishop indicated it would not be available for use by others once a resident priest arrived. The Presbyterians resolved to provide their own facilities so Forbes held services in Craig and Broadfoot's store in Collins Street until a temporary timber building called Scots Church was opened in July 1838 on the adjoining site owned by David Fisher. The location was between where the Winfield building now stands (adjoining the old Rialto) (Lot 14 Section 2). It was essentially a large room with a fireplace able to hold about 60 people.
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