Friday, 29 August 2014

Sepia Saturday 243 - 30 August 2014

Today's Sepia Saturday theme is "Running away, escaping the crowds, 
beaches, steam train, aquarium (domed)"

The urge to solve a "running away" mystery is what started my addiction to genealogy and family stories.

In the photo below is my paternal grandfather (back row, middle with the light coloured cap).  I knew him as Jim Forsyth and he said he came to Australia from New Zealand to bring horses to the Melbourne Show and never went home again.  I later learned it was probably around 1935 but he never really spoke about it, giving only snippets and as far as I know, neither my grandmother nor my father knew many details either. 

He did tell me he came from Rangiora in New Zealand.  He told Dad he was one of nine children and that he used to cycle around the South Island with his brother but that was pretty much it.

Years after my grandparents had died I decided to get their marriage certificate (1937) to find out who his parents were.
Months later, after posting for information on a genealogy board, I learned that he had swapped his parents surnames around on the marriage certificate.
He was in fact born James Richard Musson in 1906.
Soon contact was made with one of his sisters-in-law still living in his hometown. None of his siblings were still alive.  
She told me that he had been named in a paternity dispute but it turned out he was in the clear" (much later the story came out)

We don't know if he ever knew though as he had disappeared in Australia by taking his mother's maiden surname.  His family searched for many years but to no avail as they were searching for Jim Musson.

Most of his nieces and nephews were thrilled that the mystery of what happened to their Uncle Jim had finally been solved.

I thought he was a wonderful grandfather so I felt very sad for both he and his family when I found out the details.
I am extremely grateful to all those cousins who have welcomed me and shared the family stories with me.
It is a bit strange knowing my maiden surname should have been Musson rather than Forsyth.  I wrote more about the story in my first ever blog post. 


Throughout my life visits to beaches have been rare.  I've only ever swum in the sea once and can't say I enjoyed it.  We grew up swimming in rivers, channels and swimming pools.
My dad learned to swim in the sea when they lived at Woombye in Queensland.
In about 1955 he was a junior life saver at Alexandra headland, a beach between Maroochydore and Mooloolaba.  He remembers that when bikinis were new a fellow used to drive to the beach in his Rolls Royce car with a spray gun of some sort and for sixpence he would spray the girls with mutton bird oil.  He thinks it must have been used as some sort of tanning lotion.
All the young boys would volunteer to help him out!

The beach photo below is in the photo album of my maternal grandmother Daisy Fleming, nee Morgan.
The only details I know is that the photo is of her sister, Lila Morgan and a girl named Joan Letts.  
Lila was born at Moyhu in 1913.  She married Harold Flanigan at Wangaratta, Victoria in 1936.  They had three sons.  Lila died in 1990.

In tracing the family history of my Forsyths I have found some wonderful relatives from all over the world.  My great grandmother's first cousin Patrick and his wife live in Fraserburgh, Aberdeenshire, Scotland.  Our Forsyth's were meal millers for many generations in Aberdeenshire.  Dorothy has sent me some wonderful beach photos from nearby New Aberdour.  

 I particularly liked this next one

On a different angle for the beach theme is another of my grandfather's cousins connection with the beach at Sandhaven in Aberdeenshire, Scotland.

Patrick's eldest half brother, William Spence Forsyth, published a book of poems in 1943 called Guff O' Waur (Smell of Seaweed). The book contains over 40 of the poems written in the 1890's.  Some titles are The Fisher Loons, Pitullie's Water, Sandhaven in the 1890s.
You can hear a couple of the poems recited in doric at the site of the Sandhaven and Pitullie Harbour Trust*  but that's not to say you will understand them.  

*UPDATE 2022: it appears the Harbour trust link no longer works sorry.  I have disabled the link.

Here is an example of one verse of a poem not recited there:
Pitullie!Pitullie! Pitattie scone!
Your caff-fu'some shore and deuks
Your reed-tiled bairns and sheds
Your lecks wi' their warm couthy neuks
Your nettles and camomile beds

Pitullie! a small fishing hamlet, two miles west of Fraserburgh, Aberdeenshire.
Pitullie! Pitullie! Pitattie scone! children of neighbouring villages would shout this to tease Pitullie children.(It literally means "Pitullie! Pitullie! Potato scone!)
caff-fu'some= dirty with chaff
deuks= ducks
bairns= outhouses
lecks= rocks
couthy neuks= cosy, comfortable nooks

I took this photo of my New Zealand cousins at Karioitahi beach when I visited in 2001. Anne-Maree is the one who solved the mystery of my grandfather's "running away".  I was amazed at the black sand.

The next two photos were taken at the fascinating shingle beach of the Waihao River near Waimate, New Zealand.  Anne-Maree and I were there to visit our Forsyth cousins Allan and Joyce.  
The structure that resembles a pier is actually the historic Waihao Box.  Now 104 years old, the historic landmark, known locally as The Box, is a long, rectangular structure allowing the river to flow underneath the main part of the shingle bank before it emerges near the sea, scouring a small area of shingle and maintaining a natural shift. In a clever piece of engineering, the Box works so that when the river flow is high, the water will spill out of the north side, creating a natural channel.

At the beach there is a sign warning "Be aware this site is constantly changing"
Apparently because of the water coursing underneath the shingle can move unexpectedly.  This led to a very sad tragedy just the year before we visited. 
Young Marek Lee Staats was drowned when the shingle moved and he was sucked under.  I didn't want to hang around there for very long!


My runaway grandfather's paternal grandmother was Catherine nee Bird born in 1828 at Foston, Lincolnshire, England, daughter of Mark Bird and Mary nee Kellam. Catherine's eldest brother, George Kellam Bird was a master wheelwright at Corby Glen in Lincolnshire.

My cousin Cathy visited Corby Glen a couple of years ago and learned more of George and his son George junior who published a diary.  George junior's son, Charles Kellam Bird (1897-1958) was Chief Regional Officer of the Eastern Region of British Railways and is pictured below escorting a young Queen Mother at King's Cross Station and then with Sir Winston Churchill.

I doubt if they would have still been steam trains though.

243 : Running away, escaping the crowds, 
beaches, steam train, aquarium (domed)


  1. I wonder what color Lila's bold & beautiful beach outfit was? She looks rather classy! That's sad about your grandfather splitting from his family & no doubt a bit frustrating for you to never know the why & wherefore of it. I have a great grandmother who came alone with the youngest 5 of her 13 children to the United States, leaving her husband and the other 8 children behind, and we'll never know why she did it as no explanation has ever been given for such a departure. Her youngest, a son, was my grandfather. He was only 5 at the time. He may have known something about the circumstances but never said anything about it.

    1. Those earlier generations were so tight lipped, very frustrating!

  2. You call yourself an Aussie and you've only swim in the sea once!! Well here's another Aussie who does't enjoy it either but our family went to the beach heaps when I was a kid.
    Well done on solving the mystery of your grandfather's origins. That must have been satisfying.

    1. LOL Lorraine, born inland :) The one time I did I kept gagging on the salt water and thinking something was underneath me in the water. Dad had warned us about rips and I was too scared to go out too far! I think solving my grandfather's mystery was what I was meant to do.

  3. You have some lovely family stories in this post, I think we all have tales from the past when only half the story is told. We've danced at Woombye recently!

    1. I've not been to Woombye myself yet but it's on my bucket list. :)

  4. I really enjoyed reading about your grandfather but it was also a sad story. I can't begin to imagine how you felt. I didn't know your grandfather but I felt for your grandfather and I could not help but wonder "what if". It would be terrible to be wrongly accused but even worse to spend most of your life away from family. So sad.
    Good on you for not giving up and "ancestor chasing"

    1. thanks Sharon, It just felt like it was something I was meant to do. Dad was quite shocked too and he can't believe how his father never said more. I guess he was stubborn and perhaps that's where I get it from lol

  5. You deserve a promotion after solving that mystery. Well done and well told.

    1. LOL thanks, they tell me I'm like a dog with a bone, I don't give it up. :)

  6. I googled "mutton bird oil" because I had never heard of it. There is a cool photo in the National Library of Australia here:

    1. thanks Postcardy unfortunately the image doesn't show up now.

  7. Exceptional family photos, lovely stories too.

  8. You have definitely covered all bases here! Very interesting, and great research, well done. My father was born in Rangiora where his father worked as a health inspector. I also had an ancestor (great great grandfather on my mother's side) who brought a team of plough horses from NZ to Melbourne to be sold at auction there, in his case in about 1886, but unlike your grandfather, my GGF returned to NZ afterwards.

  9. I loved that classy photo of your grandmother...I wonder where she got it and if it was a present from overseas. What an achievement to have solved that mystery of your grandfather's sad that his family tried to find him to no avail. It's strange that he told no one, not even a mate, where he was going...just in case.

    1. It was really strange, we often wonder if he did confide in my grandmother and she was as tight lipped as he.

  10. When we start delving into our family history it’s not unusual to discover some ‘skeletons in the cupboard’, but to find you’ve had the ‘wrong’ surname for part of your life must be quite a shock.

    1. Nell my dad was quite shocked yes and even consulted a lawyer about it. He was told that because his surname was registered as Forsyth on his birth certificate that was his legal name.

  11. What an interesting "escape" story. We're so regimented with ID cards and such that I wonder if it would be easy to just adopt a different surname today.

    1. Very true Wendy, I doubt it could happen today.

  12. My husband prefers swimming in rivers and I prefer the sea but we both swim in each other's environments. I enjoyed all the different aspects you explored on this theme :)