Sir John Forbes

17 December 1787 - November 1861

John Forbes was born near Cullen, the son of a Banffshire farmer. He attended Fordyce Academy and Aberdeen Grammar School (1802-3).  From 1803 to 1805 he attended Marischal College but left without taking a degree (as was common at that time).  He moved to Edinburgh to study surgery and gained MRCS in 1806.  He served as a naval surgeon from 1807 to 1816 then studied medicine in Edinburgh gaining an MD in 1817.

After naval service, he practised as a physician successively in Penzance, Chichester and London, where he became a leader of his profession, and physician to the royal household. While in Penzance he translated into English De L’Auscultation Mediate by Rene Laennec, the inventor of the stethoscope. His attempts to introduce the stethoscope into medical practice were treated with contempt and ridicule by the profession, and he himself doubted if it would ever come into general use!  In 1846, he was one of first physicians appointed to the newly opened Brompton Hospital for Consumption and Diseases of the Chest, a post he held until his retirement in 1848. 

Throughout his life he was a supporter of many charitable, scientific and literary institutions.

  • Responsible for introducing the stethoscope into British medical practice through his translation of Laennec’s book on auscultation;
  • Edited the Cyclopedia of Practical Medicine, the first complete account of medical knowledge in the English language;
  • Co-founder and co-editor of British and Foreign Medical Review, a leading British medical journal at the time;
  • Physician to Queen Victoria 1841-61;
  • He left his library of 3830 volumes to Marischal College.

Knighted 1853
FRS 1829,
FRCP London 1844,
Fellow of the Imperial Society of Physicians (Vienna) 1845,
DCL Oxford 1852


image: US National Library of Medicine: B029180

Biography prepared from the nomination made to the University of Aberdeen 525 Alumni project.