Some Biogeographers, Evolutionists and Ecologists:
Chrono-Biographical Sketches

Forbes, Edward (England 1815-1854)
geology, zoology, oceanography

Although he didn't live a very long life, Forbes managed to fill every minute of the time he had with an inspiring level of activity, and by the time he died had reached the first rank of British naturalists. Indeed, he seems to have more or less worked himself to death by overextending himself as a field and museum researcher, teacher, writer, and editor and administrator. Forbes is remembered more for his varied interests and attempts to understand how the various studies of natural history all fit together than by his actual conclusions on particular problems (which often proved incorrect). One of his famous miscalculations was his "azoic theory," which postulated that marine life should not exist below 300 fathoms; another famous misdirection was his support of the principle of polarity, involving two supposed major periods of creation (this prompted Alfred Russel Wallace to publish his famous 1855 "Sarawak law" essay in response). Forbes also was an overzealous supporter of sunken land bridge interpretations of faunal pattern discontinuities. In all fairness, however, Forbes was, more importantly, perhaps the first naturalist to routinely consider a complex of possible causes, both historical and ecological, when trying to explain current distribution patterns. Further, he did so on the basis of a thorough technique both in geology, and in ecology and zoology. He has been variously credited as being one of the "fathers" of marine biology, paleoecology, invertebrate paleontology, oceanography, ecology, and biogeography, an impressive array of associations.

Life Chronology

--born in Douglas, Isle of Man, on 12 February 1815.
--1831: enters Edinburgh University to study medicine after failing as an art student in London
--1832: investigates natural history of the Isle of Man
--1833: investigates the natural history of the coastal areas of Norway
--1834: dredges for invertebrates in the Irish Sea; explores natural history of the Isle of Man
--1835-1837: visits field locations and museums in France, Germany and Switzerland
--1838: collects 3000 plant specimens in Austria; presents at the British Association
--1838-1840: lectures on natural history subjects around England and Scotland
--1841-1842: involved in collecting marine animals in the Aegean Sea as the appointed naturalist on H.M.S. Beacon
--1842: hired as the chair in botany at Kings College, London
--1842: hired as a curator by the Geological Society; collects mollusks and plants at Lycia
--1842: publishes his A History of British Starfishes
--1843: elected a fellow of the Linnean Society
--1843: presents "Report on the Mollusca and Radiata of the Aegean Sea, and on Their Distribution, Considered as Bearing on Geology"; publishes work in the Report of the Thirteenth Meeting of the British Association for the Advancement of Science the next year
--1844: hired as a paleontologist by the Geological Survey
--1845: made a fellow of the Royal Society
--1846: publishes "On the Connexion Between the Distribution of the Existing Fauna and Flora of the British Isles..." in the Memoirs of the Geological Survey of Great Britain, and of the Museum of Economic Geology in London
--1848-1852: publishes in four volumes his A History of British Mollusca, with Sylvanus Hanley
--1849: research on the Purbeck beds and their geologic position
--1850: involved in a dredging project in the Western Hebrides
--1853: elected president of the Geological Society of London; president of the geological section of the British Association for the Advancement of Science
--1854: gains the Regius chair in natural history at Edinburgh
--dies at Edinburgh, Scotland, on 18 November 1854.
--1859: his The Natural History of the European Seas, edited and continued by R. Godwin-Austen, is published posthumously

For Additional Information, See:

--Oxford Dictionary of National Biography, Vol. 20 (2004).
--Dictionary of Scientific Biography, Vol. 5 (1972).
--Progress in Oceanography, Vol. 3 (1965): 191-206.
--Archives of Natural History, Vol. 10 (1983): 205-219.
--Archives of Natural History, Vol. 11 (1984): 365-393.
--Archives of Natural History, Vol. 22 (1995): 419-435.
--Annals and Magazine of Natural History, Vol. 15 (2nd ser.) (1855): 35-52.
--Memoir of Edward Forbes, F.R.S., Late Regius Professor of Natural History in the University of Edinburgh (1861).

*                 *                 *                 *                 *

Copyright 2005 by Charles H. Smith. All rights reserved.

Return to Home/Alphabetical Listing by Name
Return to Listing by Country
Return to Listing by Discipline