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Australian Dictionary of Biography

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Forbes, Sir Douglas Stuart Mcgregor Gordon (1890–1973)

by David Watson

This article was published in Australian Dictionary of Biography, Volume 14, (MUP), 1996

Douglas Stuart Mcgregor Gordon Forbes (1890-1973), by unknown photographer, c1964

Douglas Stuart Mcgregor Gordon Forbes (1890-1973), by unknown photographer, c1964

Herald & Weekly Times Portrait Collection, State Library of Victoria, H38849/1424

Sir Douglas Stuart Mcgregor Gordon Forbes (1890-1973), banker, was born on 6 February 1890 at Bulimba, Brisbane, fifth child of William Forbes, master mariner, and his wife Amelia, née Moir, both Scottish born. Educated at Brisbane Central Boys' School and by a private tutor, Douglas won prizes for his copperplate handwriting that was later to become a professional legend. In August 1906 he joined the Royal Bank of Queensland as a junior clerk; appointed manager of its Yarraman branch in August 1913, he was one of the youngest bank-managers of the period. Next year Forbes moved to the Queensland National Bank; he served in fourteen country branches and was manager at Hughenden, Maryborough and Bundaberg. In these pioneering days he slept under bullock-drays at Texas, opened a branch at Goomeri in a tent in the backyard of an hotel, and lived in a number of sugar-towns. On 9 April 1917 he had married 19-year-old Grace Isabel Fallon at St James's Anglican Church, Toowoomba.

In September 1928 Forbes was appointed branch manager in Sydney and five years later chief inspector at head office, Brisbane. He took over from M. G. Haymen as general manager in May 1937. Already respected for his 'exceptionally sound judgment', he also succeeded Haymen as chairman (1937-47) of the Associated Banks of Queensland and as its representative on the board of the faculty of commerce at the University of Queensland. Following the Federal parliament's Banking Act (1945), Forbes recognized that the Queensland National Bank faced an uncertain future. In January 1948 he successfully negotiated a merger with the National Bank of Australasia, an arrangement extremely favourable to his shareholders. Forbes filled one of two new positions on the board of directors of the National Bank of Australasia and was chairman (1948-67) of its Queensland board of advice. The latter body reflected his strong 'Queensland-first' philosophy and, when faced with suggestions of control from the south, he was able to exploit State parochialism to resist Prime Minister Chifley's proposal for bank nationalization.

As a consequence of his general managership of the Queensland National Bank, Forbes was managing director (1940-73) and chairman (1955) of the Millaquin Sugar Co. Ltd, and chairman (1940-62) of the Queensland National Pastoral Co., both of which were formed to manage interests acquired by the bank from clients during times of recession and drought. Having joined the board (1944) of Castlemaine Perkins Ltd (another client of the bank), he became that company's non-executive chairman (1958); by successfully moving the appointments of (Sir) Edward Stewart and (Sir) Byrne Hart, he so altered the composition of Castlemaine's board as to give external, non-executive directors a 3:2 majority. Forbes sat, as well, on the boards of Queensland Oil Refineries Pty Ltd, BORAL Ltd, Anglo-Australian Corporation Pty Ltd, Queensland Trustees Ltd, Raub Australian Gold Mining Co. Ltd and Brisbane Television Ltd (BTQ-7).

Highly respected for his business acumen, his objectivity in dealing with issues, his command of the English language and his public-speaking ability, Forbes was adept at handling meetings of shareholders and very careful with shareholders' funds. Furthermore, he was so patently meticulous and disciplined that these traits affected the manner in which other directors on his boards carried out their duties. When he had lived in country areas, he cannily raised money for community organizations by means of concert companies whose proceeds attracted government subsidies. In the 1930s he was a member of the Committee of Eastern Trade, established to stimulate commerce with Asia. During World War II he served on the Essential Supplies and on the Patriotic Fund committees, and was treasurer of the Polish Red Cross and the Young Women's Christian Association Services appeals. He was a trustee of the Queensland Cancer Fund, the Brisbane Amateur Turf Club and the Royal Queensland Golf Club. In 1964 he was knighted.

Sir Douglas was a devoted and protective family man, though avowedly averse to inactive retirement, 'dusting the cheese for mum'. Survived by his wife and daughter, he died on 22 June 1973 in Brisbane and was cremated. His estate was sworn for probate at $511,406, a considerable residual sum of which was left equally to the Presbyterian and Methodist churches.

Select Bibliography

  • Notable Men of Queensland (Brisb, 1950)
  • G. Blainey, Gold and Paper (Melb, 1958)
  • Nautilus (National Bank of Australasia), 127, Autumn 1964, 1, July 1973
  • Courier-Mail (Brisbane), 18, 20 Mar, 30 Apr, 1 May 1937, 23 June 1973
  • Telegraph (Brisbane), 18 Mar, 30 Apr 1937, 25 June 1973
  • Age (Melbourne), 29 Mar 1937
  • Sydney Morning Herald, 8 May 1937.

Citation details

David Watson, 'Forbes, Sir Douglas Stuart Mcgregor Gordon (1890–1973)', Australian Dictionary of Biography, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University,, published first in hardcopy 1996, accessed online 4 August 2020.

This article was first published in hardcopy in Australian Dictionary of Biography, Volume 14, (MUP), 1996

View the front pages for Volume 14

© Copyright Australian Dictionary of Biography, 2006-2020

Douglas Stuart Mcgregor Gordon Forbes (1890-1973), by unknown photographer, c1964

Douglas Stuart Mcgregor Gordon Forbes (1890-1973), by unknown photographer, c1964

Herald & Weekly Times Portrait Collection, State Library of Victoria, H38849/1424