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Forrest, Robert (1802–1854)

by K. J. Cable

This article was published in Australian Dictionary of Biography, Volume 1, (MUP), 1966

Robert Forrest (1802-1854), clergyman and schoolmaster, was born near Kendal in Westmorland, England. He came of a family long-established in the Lake country; members of another branch were prominent in Western Australian history. Forrest was educated at a local grammar school and at St Bees College in Cumberland, a new foundation for the training of non-graduate candidates for the ministry. He was ordained deacon by Bishop Howley of London on 23 December 1827 and priest by Bishop Blomfield of London on 21 December 1828. Blomfield had known Forrest in the north and in 1831 recommended him to the Colonial Office for the headmastership of The King's School, Parramatta. In the same year Archdeacon Broughton suggested the recruitment of men from St Bees and Lampeter for service in New South Wales. Forrest was appointed to a colonial chaplaincy in May 1831, left England in September and reached Sydney in January 1832.

Broughton had devised King's Schools at Sydney and Parramatta in January 1830, the latter to provide day pupils and boarders with classical instruction; the staff and religious instruction was to be Anglican but the school would be open to children of all denominations. Broughton's proposal, in its final form, received unenthusiastic official approval, but it had come when the privileged position of the colonial Church of England was under attack and when other schools were being planned.

Forrest opened The King's School in 1832 in temporary quarters in Parramatta with twelve pupils. Governor Bourke reported in November that it had 'taken extremely well … there are now about 41 Boarders including the Children of Military Officers and Civil Servants and twelve day Scholars on the Books'. Bourke admired Forrest's ability and even thought of enlisting his services elsewhere; but he disapproved the school's principles and government support for its work among the upper classes. In 1838 the stipend for the headmaster was discontinued. In the opinion of its official historian, The King's School's record under Forrest 'was one of unbroken success'. Forrest was only a fair classical scholar, but he was an excellent teacher. He had a reputation for sternness—there was a serio-comic 'barring-out' in 1833—but was efficient, enthusiastic and inspired loyalty.

Forrest resigned in June 1839 because of ill health, leaving the school in a prosperous condition. He had already undertaken pastoral duties in the Parramatta district and had interested himself in Sunday schools. Mr Justice Burton noted that 'the ironed gangs are visited once a week by [Forrest] … without whose assistance the Chaplain would not be able to give the prisoners any instruction'. In 1838, after Samuel Marsden's death, Forrest had been licensed as assistant minister at St John's, Parramatta, and the Field of Mars, with special responsibility for the latter district, later All Saints', North Parramatta. On leaving The King's School, Forrest in July 1839 was appointed incumbent of Campbelltown, to which Narellan was added in December. He also had charge of Camden, not yet a distinct parish. Forrest found parochial life congenial and his health began to improve. He took some pupils, among them George Fairfowl Macarthur, who was to revive The King's School in 1868. 'His fame as a teacher was such that had he determined to open a much larger private establishment it would, doubtless, soon have been filled'. Forrest was an Evangelical and was not influenced by Bishop Broughton's High Churchmanship. It was said of him that 'if there were no Church of England [near by] then he would go to some other Protestant place of worship'. Although he was given a Lambeth M.A. in 1843 on his bishop's nomination, he played little part in diocesan affairs. He kept to the company of the landowners and clergy in the rural areas around Sydney. These men were firm supporters of The King's School and one reason for Forrest's success was that he gained their confidence and understood their needs.

In January 1848 Forrest returned to The King's School. It had fallen on bad times in the early 1840s and he had a hard struggle to revive it. Despite the dislocations of the gold rushes, Forrest was moderately successful. The effort again impaired his health and he was granted eighteen months leave in September 1853. He returned to England in the Kate and died on 7 November 1854 at Highgate, near Kendal, the residence of his brother George. He was buried at Troutbeck, Westmorland, near his parents' grave. Jane, his wife, who had been his active helper in his schoolmastering days, died on 8 May 1877.

Forrest was commemorated, in his lifetime, by Robert Campbell's foundation in 1853 of the Broughton and Forrest scholarship, tenable at Oxford or Cambridge by a former pupil of The King's School. At the school is a portrait of Forrest in 1854 by Marshall Claxton.

Select Bibliography

  • Historical Records of Australia, series 1, vols 15-17
  • J. S. Hassall, In Old Australia, Records and Reminiscences from 1794 (Brisb, 1902)
  • S. M. Johnstone, The History of The King's School, Parramatta (Syd, 1932)
  • King's School Magazine, Feb 1932.

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Citation details

K. J. Cable, 'Forrest, Robert (1802–1854)', Australian Dictionary of Biography, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University, http://adb.anu.edu.au/biography/forrest-robert-2055/text2551, published in hardcopy 1966, accessed online 29 August 2014.

This article was first published in hardcopy in Australian Dictionary of Biography, Volume 1, (MUP), 1966

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