Tuesday, 7 February 2012


When I was younger my maternal grandmother would often speak of different family members and their connections.  I just wish I'd taken more notice!

My paternal grandparents were a completely different kettle of fish.  They said very little or nothing and that piqued my curiosity no end!

I can remember at probably about 9 or 10 years of age, I was looking through my grandmother's photo album (or one of them) and I saw a photo of a grave.  I asked her whose it was and she said it was her first husband.

There was a photo of a little boy always on the sideboard.  One day I realised the photo of the little boy looked a bit different to the photo of my Dad.
I asked Nana who he was.  She replied, "That was my first little boy who died."

She didn't encourage further questions so I left it there and being only young I had no clue as to the trials she had been through.

I'd had a happy, uneventful childhood.  Until I was 12 and my brother 10 years old we lived in a neighbourhood in Shepparton, Northern Victoria, with lots of other kids our own age.  We all called each other's parents "Aunty and Uncle".  It was like one big family.  I had wonderful, loving parents and grandparents.  I was very lucky.
When I was 13 Dad bought a farm and if felt like all my Christmases had come at once.  We travelled into Shepparton to school on the bus.  I went to Shepparton High School and my brother went to North Shepparton Technical College.  We had great neighbours and we had motorbikes and horses and dogs and a channel at the back of the house for a huge swimming pool.

In 1975 my parents separated and after that, I didn't see as much of my grandparents anymore so the opportunity to ask more family history questions never really arose.

In 1976 my grandfather developed bowel cancer.  I was going to New Zealand with a friend and as I did know that my grandfather came from there originally I thought I'd ask where.  His reply was "I came from Rangiora, but I was blamed for something I didn't do, so I left".*
I was a bit gobsmacked but because he was ill I didn't push it any further as I could see it troubled him.

When I got to Christchurch I had a look in the phone book and there were a couple of  Forsyth's listed but I was busy having a good time so I never followed up on them.

Our son was born in 1980 and that same year a large family reunion was held at Euroa for my maternal grandmother's Morgan ancestors who had arrived in Australia from England in 1842.  I didn't get to the reunion unfortunately but there was a book printed and it held so much wonderful information and so many photos that it made me even more determined to find out the story of my mystery grandfather.

I did know he had never returned to New Zealand and that he had no further contact with his family there.
I just wanted to know why.
Papa never spoke much of his family and we only ever had snippets like -
  • He used to bicycle around the South Island with his brother. (now that's a  long ride!)
  • He was one of 9 children.
  • There was a Scottish General in the family (I have not to this day found him!)
  • There was an astronomer in the family (yes he was a brother in law)
  • He had come to Australia in the early 1930s taking horses to the Melbourne Show.
I decided to write to a Forsyth family in Rangiora to see if they knew anything about my grandfather but I didn't get a reply.

In 1999 we got the internet and after I'd learned a bit about how to use a computer from the kids I set about posting queries on every genealogy board and site I could find online and searching for any information at all on any James Forsyth (of which there were many!).
Dad had told me that when Papa died his solicitor sent to New Zealand for his birth certificate but there wasn't one to be found.  Nana listed his parents unknown at his death, so I purchased their marriage certificate to see if he had named his parents on that occasion.

They were married in the Presbyterian Manse in Port Melbourne on the 24th of September 1937 and Papa had given his parents names as James Forsyth and Margaret Musson.

So I posted and posted and waited and searched.

The following is one of the posts I put on genealogy.com

I even had a researcher in New Zealand looking around but she couldn't find him either.  We realised later that she did actually find the right family but because of lack of information, we hadn't made the connection.

Then the following post finally appeared 6 months later in reply to my original.

Earlier I mentioned my nana's photo albums.  After she died Dad gave them to me and there were a few old photos in there of people no-one knew.  Written on the backs of the photos were single words - Hip - Fat - Mac, Leslie and Carey.  Obviously names and nicknames but whose?

Many emails, MSN messenger conversations and phone calls followed.  I told Anne-maree all I knew and she found there were Musson's still listed in the Rangiora phone directory.  She tried one phone number and ended up speaking with my grandfather's sister in law, Mary Musson.  She had never met him but knew the family story.  She said he had been named as responsible for a local girls pregnancy.  He said he wasn't and took off .... or was he sent away by his father?
His family searched and searched for years for him but because he changed his surname to his mother's maiden name and he wasn't found.

My paternal grandfather, who I knew as James Musson Forsyth.  He was born James Richard Musson in 1906  Belfast, Canterbury, New Zealand to James Christopher Musson and Margaret Ann Hay Forsyth.

My grandparents Jim and Brenda Forsyth, taken in 1958.

When I spoke to Mary Musson she enlightened me as to the names on photos in nana's album.  Hip and Fat and Mac were his brother's nicknames.  Leslie and Carey were his sister, Esther's, children.
Mary was absolutely thrilled to finally have the mystery solved.  After that, I got several phone calls from New Zealand from Papa's nieces who were as excited as I was.  I even got a phone call from a niece who was living in the town of Deniliquin which is only an hour from Shepparton!

Sadly I never got to meet Mary as she died a couple of weeks later.  I did go to New Zealand later that year and met all my long lost cousins.  So many unanswered questions still and we will probably never know those answers.
I don't know if my grandfather sent away to Australia, he was very stubborn or very hurt or all of those but I do know his brothers and sisters loved him enough to keep searching.  If only he had known that.

Apparently, when he first came to Australia he was working for a Mr N Vanotti of Park Parade, Ballarat East.

Nola Bennett nee Musson is the daughter of Eric Mark (Mac) Musson, Pa's brother.  She had a letter that was written to their father from Mr Vanotti.
It reads as follows:

Dear Sir,
Mr. J. C. Musson just a line to let you know how the boy is getting on over here so I thought I would drop you a line for him to let you know he is getting on over here.  Well Sir he is getting a bit homesick and he may be over at Xmas or in March as he may travel a 3 year Stallion this season as he is looking after him now. He has had a good run for work over here this last two years he is working on a farm at  the present time.  The boy and myself is going to the Melbourne Royal Show next month.  I am taking two horses their.  I do no know weather we can win or not as I know it is a lot of work getting them ready.  Well Boss we had a very cold wet winter over here this year and it has been very hard on stock at Ballarat and I have been hand feeding 18 horses this winter and I got a three year old colt from over their not far from where you are .  The boy knows the place but I can not think of the name he is one of the horses I am taking to the show he is very nice well this is all this time write to the above address.
I am yours
Etc N Vanotti

Below is a wedding photo I was given by Fred Breach, son of Edward Leslie Breach and Esther Helen Musson.

This photo was taken at Esther Helen Musson's wedding to Edward Leslie Breach.  My grandfather was groom's man (back left).  Esther was his sister, closest in age.
Sadly her family says she always pined for Jim.  
I was given a lot of old black and white photos but many people in them are unknown.  Hopefully, with this blog I can post the photos and perhaps one day some of the people may be identified.

** "I came from Rangiora, but I was blamed for something I didn't do, so I left" **
** (Update to this story added June 2017 - "Our Amazing new family DNA discovery"


  1. What a lot of questions you started with! I do hope that the blog will help bring you more answers.

    1. Yes so many questions Shelley and it was such an exciting journey gathering answers.

  2. This is a wonderful post, Kerryn. So little information, so many questions, and you are finding more family members! Keep writing, and I'm sure you'll find more details along the way. Thanks for posting your photos as well.

  3. Thanks for your kind words Celia.

  4. What a fascinating story. As soon as I read about the disappearance due to (alleged) responsibility for a pregnancy, I thought 'Police Gazettes', but maybe that won't work in this case because of the date?

  5. Judy I'm not very familiar with the Police Gazettes. I still haven't found out the exact year my grandfather came over to Australia.

    1. Kerryn, Police Gazettes are brilliant. The link in my original comment goes to an article about them. There is also a bit on my Web site. On the home page, look under 'My indexes' for links to pages about (1) illegitimate children, (2) Police Gazettes.

  6. Kerryn I really enjoyed reading this but also found it very sad. Well done on your detective work.

    1. thanks for reading it Sharon, it certainly was rewarding to finally have answers.

  7. This is fascinating to read. I feel exactly the same as you and often say "if only I had listened when Mum or Dad or my grandparents talked about the family". It is sad that it takes us getting older to develop an interest in our genealogy. Reading your blog made me reflect on how my own family research journey started. I was in rural Fiji, sitting in the lounge of the house (built 1888) where my grandmother grew up. Aunty Peggy (who lives at the old plantation house now) was talking about how a man named Parnell had died in a bedroom in the house and how no-one would sleep in the room. Seven people had seen his ghost but nobody knew who Parnell was anymore. Instead of laughing about the ghost, I felt close to tears and decided to find out who he was. It took almost a year to put the pieces together but I found out his identity, why and how he died, when he died (1922) and best of all, through Ancestry I met living members of his family who live in Australia. They knew he died in Fiji but didn't know where. We knew his name but didn't know who he was. Best of all, he must be happy because Aunty Peggy says the ghost has gone!

    1. Wow Carol, you gave him peace! What a wonderful story.