Great Famine Project

Ireland’s Great Famine Project at Forbes House Museum

“It’s Not an Everyday Matter…To See a Nation Starving”

Captain Robert Bennet Forbes, Boston, February 1847


The USS Jamestown, by George M. Atkinson, oil on canvas, FHM permanent collection.

It’s Not an Everyday Matter…To See a Nation Starving seeks to create an experiential and informative exhibition exploring the unique, extraordinary, and remarkable 1847 humanitarian voyage Captain Robert Bennet Forbes took to transport 800 tons of food and provisions to Ireland aboard the USS Jamestown at the height of the Great Famine. The exhibition will delve into the root causes of the famine and touch upon the divisive issues of the day in Boston. The project will investigate the formation of the New England Relief Committee and its members, including Captain Forbes and his brother, John Murray Forbes. It will touch upon other historic and exceptional efforts organized by the Society of Friends (Quakers) and Bishop Fitzpatrick’s Relief Association of Ireland, which received contributions from across New England. The public will be introduced to the riveting and heroic sequence of events that culminated in RBF’s arrival in Cobh Harbor in Cork, Ireland, on 12 April 1847, when celebratory testimonials and shocking tours of the famine-ravaged country took place. RBF’s will be woven throughout through all aspects of this exhibition. It will resonate with words of profound practicality and determined confidence, connecting the famine tragedy with American philanthropic activism and generosity.

The exhibition hopes to engage audiences in Greater Boston, New England, and Ireland, with a special focus on those with Irish and Irish-American heritage. The exhibition will be designed with sensitivity to those with hearing and visual impairments, supported by audio and visual communication (additional interpretation) as needed and where possible.

The exhibition will explore six topics illustrated through text panels, artworks, and artifacts (both original and reproductions), along with audio and video components. It will rely heavily on RBF’s own writings and journals and will include the direction and consultation of Dr. Catherine B. Shannon, lead scholar for the project. The exhibit will contain original or scanned letters, documents, and illustrations. A timeline (possibly interactive) will run through the entire exhibit to help link and inform the historical narrative. This exhibition will be supported by online features, as well.


Great Famine Articles on

Forbes House Museum and Ireland’s Great Famine: Who Knows the Story?


Forbes House Museum and Ireland’s Great Famine: Who Knows the Story?

My Town Matters and the Forbes House Museum are happy to offer a series of short stories and illustrations on Ireland’s Great Famine and its connection to Milton and Boston. Since 2011, the FHM has been collaborating with scholars and civic groups from the United States and Ireland to research the Great Famine, which took place from 1845 to 1852.

The FHM Great Famine project seeks to raise awareness of the historic 1847 humanitarian voyage of Captain Robert Bennet Forbes (1804–1889), who transported 800 tons of food and other provisions to Cork, Ireland, aboard the USS Jamestown at the height of the crisis.

Click here to read the articles:

Part I
Part II
Part III
Part IV
Part V
Part VI