Dictionary of National Biography, 1885-1900/Forrest, Thomas (1729?-1802?)

FORREST, THOMAS (1729?–1802?), navigator, appears to have served for some time in the royal navy, and to have been a midshipman in 1745. It was probably after the peace in 1748 that he entered the service of the East India Company, and different passages in his own writings show that he was employed in Indian seas from 1753 almost continuously, though he implies that during part of the seven years' war he was on board the Elizabeth, a 64-gun ship, in the squadron under Admiral Steevens. His name, however, does not appear in the Elizabeth's pay-book. In 1762 he had command of a company's ship, from which he seems to date his experience when, writing in 1782, he spoke of himself as having above twenty years' practice in 'the country trade;' as having made fifteen voyages from Hindostan to the East, and four voyages from England to India, and thus being permitted to claim some knowledge of the winds, weather, and sailing routes of the station, adding, however, that of the Persian and Red Sea Gulfs he knew little, never having been there. With this accumulation of practical learning he published at Calcutta ' A Treatise on the Monsoons in East India' (sm. 4to, 1782), a 2nd edition of which was published in London (12mo, 1783), a little book of interesting experiences and exploded theories. In 1770 he was engaged in forming the new settlement at Balambangan, which had been recommended by Alexander Dalrymple [q. v.], and in 1774, when the council, in accordance with their instructions, and with a view to developing new sources of trade, were desirous of sending an exploring party in the direction of New Guinea, Forrest offered his services, which were readily accepted. He sailed on 9 Dec. in the Tartar, a native boat of about ten tons burden, with two English officers and a crew of eighteen Malays. In this, accompanied during part of the time by two small boats, he pushed his explorations as far as Geelvink Bay in New Guinea, examining the Sulu Archipelago, the south coast of Mindanao, Mandiolo, Batchian, and more especially Waygiou, which he first laid down on the chart with some approach to accuracy, and returned to Achin in March 1776. The voyage was one of examination and inquiry rather than of discovery, and the additions made to geographical knowledge were corrections of detail rather than startling novelties; but the tact with which Forrest had conducted his intercourse with the natives, and the amount of work done in a crazy boat of ten tons, deservedly won him credit as a navigator. He published a detailed account of the voyage, under the title, ‘A Voyage to New Guinea and the Moluccas from Balambangan … during the years 1774–5–6’ (4to, 1779), with a portrait. In December 1782 Forrest was employed by the governor-general, Warren Hastings, to gain intelligence of the French fleet, which had left the coast of India, and evaded the observation of Sir Edward Hughes [q. v.], the English commander-in-chief. It was believed that it had gone to Mauritius. Forrest found it at Achin, and bringing back the information to Vizagapatam, just before the return of the French, saved many country vessels from falling into their hands. In the following June he sailed again to survey the Andaman Islands, but falling to leeward of them, passed through the Preparis Channel to the Tenasserim coast, which he examined southwards as far as Quedah; the account of the voyage, under the title, ‘A Journal of the Esther Brig, Capt. Thomas Forrest, from Bengal to Quedah, in 1783,’ was afterwards edited by Dalrymple, and published at the charge of the East India Company (4to, 1789). In 1790 he made a fuller examination of the same coast and of the islands lying off it, in, as he discovered, a long row, leaving a sheltered passage 125 miles long between them and the main land, to which he gave the name of Forrest Strait, by which it is still known. The results of this voyage were published as ‘A Voyage from Calcutta to the Mergui Archipelago’ (4to, 1792), with which were included some minor essays and descriptive accounts, as well as a reprint of the ‘Treatise on the Monsoons.’ This volume is dedicated to William Aldersey, president of the board of trade in Bengal, by his ‘most affectionate cousin,’ with which solitary exception we have no information as to his family. Forrest is said to have died in India about 1802.

[Forrest's own writings, as enumerated above, seem the only foundation of the several memoirs that have been written, the best of which is that in the Biographie Universelle (Supplément). Some letters to Warren Hastings in 1784–5, in Addit. MSS. 29164 f. 171, 29166 f. 135, 29169 f. 118, show that before 1790 he had already examined the Mergui Islands.]

J. K. L.