FORBES, SARAH, nurse; b. 7 April 1860 in Liverpool, N.S., daughter of James Fraser Forbes, a physician and businessman, and Sarah Jane Jacobs; d. unmarried there 1 Dec. 1902.
Educated at Liverpool Academy, Sarah Forbes spent a year at a convent and later attended a young ladies’ finishing school for several years. Although interested in a nursing career, she was unable to begin one until after her father’s death in 1887, when she enrolled at Columbia Hospital in Washington, D.C., to train under fellow Maritimer Cecily Jane Georgina Fane Pope*. Upon completing her training, Forbes worked in Montreal for a year with the recently created Victorian Order of Nurses before going back to Columbia to accept the position of head nurse, under Pope. Subsequently she returned to Canada, and in October 1899 was employed in private nursing when she and Pope volunteered for service with the first Canadian contingent being raised for the South African War.
Chosen from among 190 applicants, Forbes was named second nurse. With two other nursing sisters, under the supervision of Pope, she left Quebec City for Cape Town aboard the Sardinian, the vessel carrying the Canadian contingent. Soon after their arrival in South Africa on 30 Nov. 1899, the Canadian nurses were posted to No.1 General Hospital, a large hutted base hospital at Wynberg (Cape Town). After three inordinately busy weeks, on Christmas Day they were transferred to No.3 General Hospital, a 600-bed facility for other ranks at Rondebosch (Cape Town), a few miles away, where they worked for the next five months in the enteric fever ward.
In May 1900 the nursing staff of No.3 Hospital was divided and Forbes, Pope, and eight nursing sisters were sent to Kroonstad, headquarters of Lord Roberts’s army, where for the next month Forbes assisted Pope in establishing a temporary hospital to care for some 230 sick and wounded, and where they worked under great difficulties, often short of food, water, and medical supplies. Towards the end of June, when the patients had sufficiently recovered, the Canadian nurses joined Roberts’s army in Pretoria; there they had more agreeable quarters in the Irish Hospital. Upon the expiry of their term of service in November, the Canadian nurses went back to Wynberg, arriving too late to join the first contingent of Canadians on its return home via London. They thus sailed for Canada with the second contingent on 13 December. In October 1901 Forbes and Pope were awarded the Queen’s South Africa Medal by the Duke of Cornwall during his visit to Halifax.
Fourteen months after her return, Forbes and three other nurses went back to South Africa, again under the supervision of Pope. Raised to accompany the 2nd Regiment, Canadian Mounted Rifles, the nurses were unable to do so and were obliged to follow a circuitous route by way of London. When they reached Cape Town on 2 March 1902, they were dispatched to No.19 Stationary Hospital, a 600 patient facility near Harrismith. Here Forbes, who according to a historian of Liverpool had “a weak constitution, and for which she had spent two winters when she was a girl with her aunt in Bermuda,” contracted pneumonia twice. Her health remained precarious after her return to Halifax in July, and she died of pneumonia in Liverpool on 1 December. Though she was an Anglican, she was buried, with military honours, in the family plot in the Baptist cemetery.
Can., Parl., Sessional papers, 1900, no.49: 28; 1901, no.35a; 1903, no.35a: 65–66. S. [J.] A. Denison, Memoirs (Toronto, 1927). Carman Miller, Painting the map red: Canada and the South African War, 1899–1902 (Montreal and Kingston, Ont., 1993), 449–53. J. E. Mullins, Some Liverpool chronicles ([Liverpool, N.S.], 1941; repr. 1980). G. W. L. Nicholson, Canada’s nursing sisters (Toronto, 1975).