FORBES, GEORGE [SSNE 4844]
Text sourceGeorge Forbes of Aberdeen (f.1582-1631), served as 'steward' at the Dutch castle in Ambon in the Dutch East Indies. Forbes has been erroneously cited as the man behind the 3-day torture and massacre of a number of English merchants by the VOC in 1623. This incident is usually viewed as an attempt by the Dutch to tighten their monopoly over the East Indies from their English rivals, although it has recently been claimed that the massacre did not have the significance once attributed to it. Some of the Japanese mercenaries in Dutch service were thought to be preparing to seize the Dutch fort with help from the next English ship to arrive in the port. Under torture, the Japanese were said to have confessed all and told the Dutch that they were corrupted by a drunken English barber called Abel Price. He in turn confessed under torture, as did his comrades. Despite receiving word that the EIC actually intended to pull out of the area altogether, the Dutch governor of Ambon, Herman van Speult, ordered ten of the eighteen Englishmen, nine Japanese and one Portuguese captain to be executed. While it might make good copy to say so, the truth is that Forbes simply did not have the authority to order the massacre. Indeed his own testimony of the incident reveals that his only role in the event was to act as an interpreter between the English and the Dutch. He even noted that he was accused of taking the English side because he wept during one session when it was obvious the Englishman, Captain Gabriel Towerson, was completely innocent of the charges laid against him. Forbes arrived in England aboard a Dutch ship in 1628 and offered his side of the story to the EIC. He eventually received a gratuity and expenses from the EIC and, in 1630, travelled to The Netherlands with some of the Ambon survivors to serve as a witness for their claims for satisfaction against the Dutch. As a further reward, Forbes sought to return to the Indies, this time with the EIC. It is not clear whether Forbes ever did return to the East, either for the EIC or the VOC.
P. J. Marshall, 'The English in Asia to 1700' in N. Canny (ed.), The Oxford History of the British Empire, vol.1, The Origins of Empire (Oxford, 1998), p.271; A. Calder, Revolutionary Empire: The Rise of the English Speaking Empires from the Fifteenth century to the 1780s (New York, 1981), pp.161-162; P. Lawson, The East India Company, A History (London, 1993), pp.31-32; CSPCol. IV, 1625-1629, pp.686-691. 'A true relation of The Netherland's Honourable East India Company's agents proceedings against the English at Amboyna…' by George Forbes, servant within the castle, 13 November 1629. For more on Forbes's testimony see also pp.411-412, 428, 449 and 528-9; CSPCol. V, 1630-1634, pp.68, 41, 77 and 237; S. Murdoch, 'Scotsmen in Batavia in the 17th Century' in 'Grapevine' Magazine, (Jakarta, April 2000), p.17; M. Fry, Article in 'The Herald', 10 September 1999; Steve Murdoch, Network North: Scottish Kin, Commercial and Covert Associations in Northern Europe, 1603-1746 (Brill, Leiden, 2006), p.64.