Free Settler or Felon
Convict and Colonial History

Sir Francis Forbes - Chief Justice of N.S.W

Skellator - Map 7

Sir Francis Forbes - Chief Justice
Francis Forbes was born in Bermuda and after studying law in London became attorney general of Bermuda. He married Amelia Sophia, daughter of Dr David Grant of Harley Street, but formerly of Kingston, Jamaica. In 1816, after the end of the American war he was appointed Chief Justice of Newfoundland.

In London in the early 1820's he influenced the drafting of the Act for the better Administration of Justice in New South Wales and Van Diemen's Land under which the Legislative council was formed.

He was officially appointed as Chief Justice of the new Court of New South Wales on 13 October 1823.

Arrival in the Colony

Chief Justice Francis Forbes and family including his brother George Forbes, arrived in Sydney on the Guildford on 5th March 1824

Land Grant

He was granted 120 acres at Emu Plains and 2560 acres which he located in the Upper Hunter Valley. This land was increased by purchase and used as a cattle run known as Skellatar.
Francis Allman Joseph Bettington William Buchanan William Cox Henry Dumaresq Francis Forbes George Forbes George Forbes Donald McIntyre John Pike Samuel Wright Muswellbrook History Hunter River Map 7

Convict Workers

The following men were assigned to Sir Francis Forbes, mostly at the Skellatar estate. Some may have also worked at his residence in Sydney. They were convicts and ex-convicts unless otherwise stated. Transportation of convicts ceased in 1840 and there were fewer convicts assigned afterwards although many remained the district as they worked out their sentence until the 1850s.

Name - Ship - Date of assignment

Ashford, Jacob - Recovery 1819; 1837

Best, James - Surry 1831; 1837

Blackman, John - Guildford 1824; assigned on arrival; employed in Sydney in 1828

Boyle, John - Guildford 1829; 1837

Campbell, John - John Barry 1836; 1837

Coates, Thomas - Guildford 1824; assigned on arrival

Doherty, John - Portland 1833; 1837

Dolan, John - Surry 1836; 1837

Eccles, John - Henry Tanner 1834; 1837

Elson, William - Surry 1834; 1837

Evans, John - Henry Tanner 1834; 1837

Gregg, Richard - Guildford 1824; assigned on arrival

Jackson, William - Marquis of Huntley 1835; 1837

Jones, William - Ticket of leave holder; fencer. c. 1839

Kettleton, John - 1833

Knowland, Dennis - Camden 1831; assigned on arrival

Law, James - Camden 1833; 1837

Lawrence, Thomas - Eleanor 1831; assigned on arrival

Leonard, Thomas - Guildford 1824; assigned on arrival

Mandell, Joseph - John 1832; 1838

Matthews, Thomas - John Barry 1836; 1837

McKenna, Thomas - Albion 1827; 1838

McMahon, Michael - Earl Grey 1836; 1837

McNamara, Peter - City of Edinborough 1832; 1837

Mountford, Joshua - Duvegan Castle 1830; assigned on arrival

Parker, Ambrose - John Barry 1836; 1837

Parker, Charles - Katherine Stewart Forbes 1830; assigned on arrival

Pearson, William - James Pattison 1837; 1839

Perry, John - Marquis of Huntley 1835; New England 1839

Priestly, James - Hercules 1832; 1837

Richardson, Richard - Lord Melville 1829; 1837

Rider, William - Clyde 1832; 1837

Roberts, John - Lloyds 1837; 1837

Shinkwin, William - Employed as Superintendent at Skellator prior to 1839

Smith, George - Marquis of Hastings 1827; assigned on arrival

Swindells, Samuel - Dunvegan Castle 1830; assigned on arrival

Telford, Alexander - Warrior 1835; 1839

Woods, William - Asia 1833; 1837

Return to England

Unwell, Sir Francis returned to England in 1836 and was knighted in 1837.

While in England he gave Evidence before the Select Committee on Transportation.

Return to Australia

Sir Francis and Lady Forbes returned to Australia on the Alfred in 1839.

Below is an extract from Reminiscences of Lady Forbes edited by her grandson George Forbes touching on the illness suffered by her husband -

I was somewhat amused to observe how those who had avoided us during Governor Darling's administration were now anxious to make amends; but I could readily forgive what, under less understandable circumstances, might have been considered a rudeness, so that I soon found myself again at peace with everyone, and able to enjoy the passing pleasures of our daily life. Had it not been for the continued ill-health from which my husband now suffered, I would have been perfectly happy. My two sons, Francis and David, were at Cambridge, of whom, from time to time, we received encouraging reports from my husband's relative, Sir Charles Forbes, Bart, of Castle Newe, Aberdeenshire, with whom they stayed during their vacations. But the Chief Justice seemed unable to regain his strength. His nervous system had suffered a breakdown, by reason of the trying times through which he had passed, and which developed serious complications. In order, if possible, to recuperate his health and spirits, we withdrew for a time from all official and social functions, and, leaving our house in Macquarie-place in charge of servants, we retired to a tiny cottage we had built on the banks of the Nepean River, and which we had named Edinglassie, after my husband's home in Scotland. Here, with my faithful maid Betsy, who had come out with us in the Guilford, we lived a hermit's life for some little while, seeing no visitors with the exception of our good friend Sir John Jamieson, whose mansion, Regentville, was opposite to our house on the other side of the river, and whose boat, with its crew of four rowers, was always at our disposal. How beautiful were those excursions upon the Nepean River. On each side lofty banks and towering rocks, a mass of verdure, and a maze of unexplored forests, with no sign of habitation, save by the wild birds of the woods, or the native animals of which we sometimes caught a glimpse while passing the river banks. No sound but the splash of the oars in the clear, fresh water. A rest, indeed, from work and worry, although, unfortunately, it came too late. (8)


Sir Francis Forbes died in 1841 at Leitrim Lodge, Newtown, Sydney.

Lady Amelia Sophia Forbes died in 1886.
Lady Amelia Sophia Forbes


In 1846 10,049 acres, part of the Skellatar estate was purchased by George Bowman.

Notes and Links

1). Sir Francis Forbes - Australian Dictionary of Biography Online

2). Lady Forbes.......The Peerage, Baronetage, and Knightage of Great Britain and Ireland for 1860 by Robert P. Dod, Esq

3). Reminiscences of Thirty Years' Residence in New South Wales and Victoria, By Roger Therry. Click on text to continue

4). Descendants of Sir Francis Forbes (Truth (Sydney) 4 June 1899) Frequent mention has been made in Mr, Russell's book of ' Skellator,' the old home of the family of the first Chief Justice, Sir Francis Forbes, and kindly reference is also made to a son, Frank Forbes, who died all too young in California during the gold fever of 1849, I think.

Frank Forbes' hobby was a flying machine, of which he had drawings and designs. He had an idea that he could with his machine knock the bottom out of the modern steam ship for passenger traffic. Some of the aeronautic efforts of the present day are supposed to be based, so Russell thinks, on Frank Forbes' original conception. On Friday, May 19, another son of the first Chief Justice, David Grant Forbes, celebrated in Sydney his 80th birthday. May the kindly and courteous old gentleman have many more. Mr. Forbes was called to the Bar in 1819. He had been P.M. at the old Central Police Court, was then appointed Crown Prosecutor for the Southern District, and for many years had been the senior District Court Judge, from which position he retired only last year. Australia owes much to Sir Francis Forbes. He it was who brought out the first charter of justice, established trial by jury, and gave liberty to the press when Governor Sir Ralph Darling tried to strangle it

5). Obituary of Lady Amelia Sophia Forbes

6). Skellatar House - Designed to Edmund Blacket and built in 1881

7). Sydney Morning Herald 12 July 1924