Born in the Shetland Islands on Christmas Day, 1812, Forbes Barclay was afflicted with a cleft palate. His father was a prominent physician who lectured on anatomy at Edinburgh and had authored a book on the movements of muscles.
Young Barclay studied medicine in Edinburgh and, beginning in 1834, spent several summers as a surgeon with exploring expeditions to the Arctic.
One of these voyages ended in shipwreck, but Barclay was one of the survivors who were rescued by Eskimos and eventually returned to Britain in Sir John Franklin's ship. He was granted his medical diploma by the Royal College of Surgeons, London, on July 5, 1838.
The Barclay family had connections with the Hudson's Bay Company. Archibald Barclay, said to have been an uncle of Dr. Forbes Barclay, was appointed the firm's secretary in London in 1843; but either he or another uncle, the Reverend Thomas Barclay, had been known by Governor George Simpson for at least several years prior to that time.
Perhaps this association was related to the fact that on June 4, 1839, Forbes Barclay entered the service of the Hudson's Bay Company in the dual capacity of clerk and surgeon and was placed on the list of those awaiting assignment. That fall he sailed in the Columbia for Fort Vancouver, where he arrived in the spring of 1840.
Relieving Dr. W. F. Tolmie, Barclay at once went to work in the Indian Trade Shop and in the medical department. He served with distinction both as fur trader and physician until he retired from the Company's employ during 1850. He then moved to Oregon City, became an American citizen, and was prominent in professional and political affairs until his death in 1873.
In 1842 Dr. Barclay married Maria Pambrun, eldest daughter of Chief Trader Pierre Chrysologue Pambrun and Catherine Humpherville, herself the daughter of an Englishman in the service of the Company. Born at Fraser Lake, New Caledonia, on October 5, 1826, Marie, as she was known to her largely French-speaking family, was a girl of character and beauty.