John Hopton Forbes was born in Southampton, baptised on 28 April 1789 in Holy Rood Church, the son of John and Sarah Forbes. His early professional life was spent in London as an attorney and solicitor, for a time up to December 1817 in partnership with Henry Pocock. His offices were in Ely Place, Holborn. He lived at a sequence of fashionable addresses: Mecklenburgh Square, 29 Gower Street and Ivy House in Hendon. He was related to the Godwin Austen family: in September 1828 he paid for his nephew, Algernon Stuart Austen, to attend the Royal Naval College, Portsmouth. In the early 1840s Forbes is back in his natal town, leasing Westwood House from c.1842 to c.1848. He then moves to Merry Oak House in Pear Tree Green. Originally a lessee at £150 per annum, Forbes purchased the house on 30 July 1860 for £5,000 (Southampton Archives D/Z 752/4/5) following the conclusion of an internecine legal battle within the Ede family over ownership. He lived here until his death, aged 84 years, on 5 May 1873. For the last 17 years he was a widower, his wife (Joanna Catherine, nee Heath) having died on 4 June 1856. He maintained a good house: the 1861 census lists 6 indoor servants, a coachman and a gardener. His effects were listed at “under £30,000” at probate. He was interred, after a grand funeral, in the family vault in the churchyard at Pear Tree Green.

Forbes was a director of the Southampton Dock Company for over 20 years, being deputy chairman in the late 1840s. He was later (September 1865) one of those, along with Captain Charles Mangles and Russell Gurney MP, who issued a prospectus for the Transatlantic Steamship Company Limited aimed at the establishment of a line of passenger and cargo steam ships between Southampton and New York. The scheme never floated. It was perhaps as a public benefactor and local seigneur that Forbes was best remembered. To quote the obituary in the Southampton Observer: "His character was that of a quiet, unostentatious country gentleman". He was a conscientious magistrate for the Southampton division of the county. For many years he held the chairmanship of the South Stoneham Board of Guardians. He was a trustee of the South District of the Southampton Turnpike Roads and a commissioner of Income Tax for the Southampton Division. A governor and member of the committee of management of the Royal South Hants Infirmary, Forbes donated a new gallery to the female upper ward in January 1858. He was a Conservative in politics, a member of the election committee of Colonel Henry Hamlyn Fane in the 1865 South Hampshire election. Within his own bailiwick, he was chairman of the Constitutional Conservative Association for Bitterne and West End (established April 1867) and later president of Bitterne West End Conservative Registration Association. He was the largest subscriber to the building of St Mary's Church, Sholing, laying the foundation stone on 21 July 1865. Presidency of the Bitterne and West End Horticultural Society spoke of a deep interest in gardening. He was a friend to the Oddfellows' Lodge at Bitterne, lending his substantial grounds for their fetes. He fought hard, by his influence and purse, to prevent encroachments on Pear Tree Green. "A friend to all around" indeed.


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