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Title Business Records on the Remission of Funds to the Far East and Packing Goods for the China Trade
Reference Ms. N-49, box 1
Library Massachusetts Historical Society
Collection Forbes Family Papers
Date 1828-1829
Description Business records on specific goods including: cloth, birds' nests, shark fins, ginseng, fish, coral, and opium.
Document Type Business Records, Manuscript
Theme(s) Trade and Commerce
Keywords birds' nests, bêche-de-mer, cloth, cochineal, commodity, copper, coral, cotton, debt, economy, exchange rate, fish, ginseng, handkerchiefs, Indian opium, iron, ivory, lace, muster, packing, pearl, prices, opium, shark, shipment, spice, steel, tin, tortoise shell, trade
Countries China; India; UK; Philippines
Places Guangzhou; Bengal; London; Java; Manila
Ports Guangzhou, China
People Robert Bennet Forbes
Additional Information

Robert Bennet Forbes was born in Jamaica Plain, Boston, Massachusetts, on 18 September 1804, the son of Ralph Bennet and Margaret (Perkins) Forbes. At the age of 13, he sailed on the first of several voyages to China under the command of his uncles, James and Thomas H Perkins. He was promoted to an officer at the age of 16. In 1824, he commanded his first ship on a three-year voyage around the world and he was captain of his own ship by the age of 21.

Forbes was in China from 1830-32. In 1830, his uncles' firm, J and T H Perkins and Sons, merged with Russell and Company to become the largest American merchant firm in China. Upon his return to Boston on 20 January 1834, he married Rose Greene Smith and prospered as the consignee of China cargoes. Forbes returned to China in 1839 as head of Russell and Company on the ship Canton Packet. He arrived in time to play a role in the beginning of the Opium War. Forbes returned to China for the last time in 1849 where he stayed until 1851. While there, he continued to maintain an interest in Russell and Company and he held the seat of the Consulate of the United States and the Vice-Consulate of France.

When Forbes returned from China in 1840, he entered into a life-long interest in shipbuilding. He launched the Edith in 1845, the first American steamer to go to British India. After his return from China in 1851, Forbes returned to shipbuilding. He was part owner or supervisor on the construction of over 68 ships. He invented the 'Forbes rig' for sailing vessels. In 1844-45, he was the principal owner of three steamers, the Midas and the Edith, pioneers in Chinese and Indian waters, and the Massachusetts, a transatlantic packet.

During the Civil War, he organized a coast-guard unit for Massachusetts and entered into negotiations with the US Navy to build ships for the United States in order to aid the war effort.

In 1855, he established the Sailor's Snug Harbor, a Boston charitable organization for retired navalmen. In 1866, he founded the National Sailor's Home in Quincy for sailors who had been injured during the Civil War.

His later years were spent in humanitarian work and writing at home in Milton, where he died on 23 November 1889.

Please note that some of the metadata for this document has been drawn from the Massachusetts Historical Society catalogue.

Copyright Massachusetts Historical Society