Dr. Alexander Forrest of Lanarkshire, Scotland and Halifax, Nova Scotia

Recently I received a response from an email I had sent to the Nova Scotia Historical Society asking about Dr. Alexander Forrest and his wife, Barbara Ross McKenzie.  The response came from Dr. Allan E. Marble, Chairman of the Medical History Society of Nova Scotia.  Thanks to the information and leads contained in that email, I’ve managed to uncover a lot about a man who was mostly a mystery to me only two weeks ago.

According to papers related to his time at Edinburgh University, Dr. Alexander Forrest was born in Cambusnethan, Lanarkshire, Scotland in 1806.  The records of my cousin Nancy Forrest gave his birth date as 31 Mar 1806, and gave his parents as Alexander Forrest and Catherine King.  I was not able to confirm this with records available from the Scottish National Archives.  I was, however, able to find a birth record for Alexander Forrest to parents Alexander Forrest and “Catharine” Young at Redmyre Mill, Parish of Cambusnethan, Lanarkshire, Scotland.  I can see quite easily how “Young” could look like “King” on handwritten records.  The birth record I found gave his birth date as 25 Feb 1806 and his date of baptism as 21 Apr 1806.

Birth record, Cambusnethan, Lanarkshire, Scotland

Birth record, Cambusnethan, Lanarkshire, Scotland

The birth date given by Helen Forrest is right between these two dates.  If you look at the document you can see that there is a Helen Forrest born to a different Alexander Forrest on 31 Mar 1806 listed right above the entry for Alexander’s birth.  I’m wondering if this somehow was the root of the birth date of 31 Mar 1806?  In any case, it’s still not 100% certain which birth date is correct.  If there was an Alex born to a Forrest/King couple on 31 Mar 1806, I have not found that document yet.

According to Dr. Marble, Alexander began his medical training in Professor James Jeffery’s class of Anatomy at the University of Glasgow during the years 1823 and 1824, when he was 17 and 18 years old.  From 1824 to 1825 he studied pharmacy with Thomas Lyle, a surgeon in Glasgow, obtaining his certificate on 10 Jul 1825.  He then went on and attended classes at Edinburgh University starting in 1826, and obtained his license from the Royal College of Surgeons in Edinburgh in December of 1827.  A copy of his certificate is found in the Medical Registration Book held by the Nova Scotia Archives (RG25 Series C, vol.10, #1, p.73), and another copy is among the items in Nancy Prescott’s archives in the same place.

He briefly opened a private practice in Scotland and served in the Royal navy around this same time period (1827-1832).

Alexander married my 3x great grandmother Barbara Ross McKenzie on 3 Jan 1832 in Scotland.  Barbara was born in Culnauld, Nigg Parish, Ross-Shire, Ross and Cromarty Scotland, on 3 Jun 1805 to John McKenzie (a weaver) and his wife Isobella Ross.


Birth/baptism record for Barbara Ross McKenzie.

Alexander and Barbara came to New Glasgow, Nova Scotia, shortly after their marriage, and their first child was born there almost exactly nine months after the wedding.

The couple had at least nine children, three of whom died as infants. They were:

Isabella (1832-1905)
Catherine (1834-1912) married George Munro
Mary (1835-1836)
Mary (1837-1838)
Alexander (1839-1919) married Sarah Watson
Helen (1840-1926) married Rev. Archibald Glendenning
John (1842-1920) married Annie Prescott Duff
Barbara (1844-1844)
James (1847-1901) married Elizabeth Seth

Much of the information on births, marriages, and deaths given above came from the Dr. Alexander Forrest Family Bible which passed to Nancy Forrest of Halifax.

In 1936, Dr. Forrest taught at the Sabbath School in New Glasgow, according to “Pictonians at Home and Abroad”.  He practiced in New Glasgow until 1857, and when he left his practice he received a letter of thanks, a gold watch, and a set of gold rings for his family from grateful members of the community.  The Forrests moved to Lunenburg, NS, where Dr. Forrest practiced from 1857 to 1859.  Lunenburg is where the Duff family lived, and if the two families were not already acquainted back in Scotland, this is likely where they met.  Finally, Dr. Forrest moved his family to Halifax, Nova Scotia in 1859.

In 1866, Dr. Forrest donated $3000 (about $44,000 in today’s money) to Rev. William Duff’s church in Lunenburg.  Rev. Duff was the father of his son John’s wife, Annie Duff.  Dr. Forrest helped found the Medical Society of Nova Scotia in 1854, and served as its President in 1862. He also served as a Member of the Board of Governors for Dalhousie College from 1869 to 1875.

He died at Halifax on 22 Jun 1875 and his wife, Barbara, died in Halifax on 21 April 1880. They are buried in Camp Hill cemetery in Halifax and there is a gravestone to mark their graves.  I have posted a request on FindAGrave.com for photos of the gravesite and will post them here as soon as they are obtained.

Dr. Alexander Forrest, c1870

Dr. Alexander Forrest, c1870

About cthomas1967

Seeking to bring my ancestors out of the shadows of history and into the light. I have always been interested in history, and at a few different times I tried to do a family tree, but wasn't able to do it with the technology that was available then. On a business trip I visited the World War I Museum in Kansas City, MO and it was a very impressive establishment. While I was there I remember thinking, "Didn't my great-grandfather father fight in World War I? And wasn't his brother killed alongside him in some famous battle? I wonder if I can find out where he died." That's what started it all. View all posts by cthomas1967

2 responses to “Dr. Alexander Forrest of Lanarkshire, Scotland and Halifax, Nova Scotia

  • Diana

    Wow, this is very cool. I actually got goosebumps reading all this because when I was knee-deep in genealogy research, I hit a dead-end with Alexander. Now to see his photo … fantastic! I did a post last year on my Hail Britannia blog about Burke and Hare, two Irish immigrants who murdered and sold corpses to a physician in Edinburgh in the late 1820s. It looks like our grandfather was studying medicine at the exact same time, but in Glasgow.

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