George Forbes lived from 1849 to 22 October 1936. He was an electrical engineer and an inventor. The wider picture in Scotland at the time is set out in our Historical Timeline.
George Forbes was born in Edinburgh, the second son of James Forbes, later Principal of St Andrews University, and Alicia Wauchope. George was educated at Edinburgh Academy before studying at the University of St Andrews and at Christ's College and St Catherine's College in Cambridge. In 1872 Forbes became Professor of Natural Philosophy at Anderson's University, Glasgow (later to become the core of the University of Strathclyde), a post he would hold until 1880. He became an early advocate of the use of electricity to power transport systems and undertook research into the speed of light.
In 1874 Forbes led a British expedition to observe the Transit of Venus from Hawaii. This marked the start of an interest in astronomy and for many decades he wrote and lectured on the subject, doing much to make it accessible to a non scientific audience. Amongst his achievements as an astronomer was the prediction of the existence of an additional planet 50 years before Pluto was discovered. Forbes spent 1875 travelling from Hawaii to Scotland overland via Peking, the Gobi Desert, Siberia and St Petersburg. It took him 25 years to find time to write up and publish an account of his travels. In 1877 Forbes, while still employed by Anderson's University, returned to Russia at the request of The Times newspaper to act as their war correspondent with the Russian army in the Russo-Turkish war. He was subsequently awarded the Russian Order of St George.
In 1880 Forbes moved to London and spent much of the next two decades involved in aspects of electrical power engineering. He wrote a report which recommended that the proposed City and South London Railway should be powered by electricity. His advice was later followed by the entire London Underground. In 1881 he was one of the jurors at the Paris Exposition Internationale d'Electricite, and was awarded the French Legion of Honour. He went on serve as the consulting engineer for the Niagara Falls hydroelectric scheme from 1890 to 1895, and was involved in many more hydroelectric schemes during the same period, in locations as far afield as New Zealand, India, South Africa and Egypt.
In 1906 Forbes, who never married, moved to a house he had built near Pitlochry. Here he could house his library and have an observatory. The house overlooked the valley which in the 1950s was dammed to form Loch Faskally, a hydroelectric scheme Forbes had tried to promote 50 years earlier. Forbes died in Worthing in 1936. In 1987 the University of Strathclyde named a hall of residence in his honour.