“Major-General William Nairn Forbes” by William Theed

William Forbes Nairn, bust William Forbes Nairn, bust

Monument to Major-General William Nairn Forbes (1796-1855), by William Theed (1804-1891), in St Paul's Cathedral, Kolkata, of which Forbes was the architect. c.1857. Marble. A classically draped bust with two female supporting figures on either side of the pedestal, one carrying a trumpet and a wreath, the other (on the left) carrying a pair of compasses and what looks like an unfurled roll of architectural plans. [Click on the images above for larger pictures.]

Forbes, whole monument Forbes, pedestal

Left: Bust of Major-General William Nairn Forbes. Right: Closer view of supporting figures and inscription.

Forbes, of the Bengal Engineers, was born at Blackford in Aberdeenshire in 1796, spent most of his career from 1816 in India, and died at sea on his way home to England in May 1855. His monument here was erected by public subscription — one source says it was given by Bishop Wilson himself, but this seems less likely (see Cotton 592). Forbes was very well-regarded. There is also a bust of him in his other important architectural work, the Calcutta Silver Mint, not by Theed but by John Henry Foley: Forbes had not only designed the Mint but had also been responsible for superintending the machinery for it in England, and then for installing it. He had been the Mint Master for about twenty years, having been appointed to the post in 1836. This was no small achievement: "It may not be generally known that the Calcutta Mint is the largest in the world," wrote the Rev. Walter K. Firminger in the early twentieth century (169). This multi-talented and energetic man became a Major-General in 1854, the year when his health began to fail. According to Philip Davies, his body was brought back to Calcutta and is buried here beneath this monument (151).

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Photographs, text, and formatting by Jacqueline Banerjee. [You may use these images without prior permission for any scholarly or educational purpose as long as you (1) credit the photographer and (2) link your document to this URL in a web document or cite the Victorian Web in a print one.]


Cotton, H. E. A. Calcutta Old and New: A Historical and Descriptive Handbook to the City. Calcutta: W. Newman & Co., 1907. Internet Archive. Web. 20 March 2014.

Davies, Philip. Splendours of the Raj: British Architecture in India, 1660-1947. London: Penguin, 1987.

"William Nairn Forbes." Grace's Guide: British Industrial History (this usefully reprints Forbes's obituary from the Institution of Civil Engineers).

Firminger, Rev. Walter K. Thacker's Guide to Calcutta. Calcutta: Thacker, Spink & Co., 1906. Internet Archive. Web. 20 March 2014.

Last modified 20 March 2014