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Indirect profits from slavery

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William Forbes

William Forbes (1756–1823) grew up in Aberdeen where his grandfather had established the family coppersmith business. While his older brother George kept the Aberdeen branch going, William set up an extremely profitable London branch. He made much of his wealth from government contracts to sheath the bottom of naval ships with copper. In 1783 he bought the Callendar Estate near Falkirk, which had been forfeited by the Earl of Linlithgow in the 1715 Jacobite rising.

William Forbes’ papers are preserved in the Falkirk Council Archives at Callendar House. They detail his many business links with Jamaica. These links were cemented through the marriage of his sister Janet to James Allardyce, the Collector of Customs in Aberdeen. James’ brother, Alexander Allardyce , was a merchant and slave trader in Jamaica when Forbes was amassing his fortune. James Allardyce the younger, son of Janet and James, continued the two families’ Caribbean connection when he went to Jamaica as an estate manager in 1802. Several of William Forbes’ other nephews also had Caribbean careers, and one, William Forbes junior, joined a trading venture at Gorée in Senegal, Africa.


Slaves boil sugar cane juice in large coppers under the watchful eye of a European overseer in Trinidad.
(© The British Library Board)