21 January 2016

John Cossar Forsyth (1890–1960)

  • New Zealand Society of Civil Engineers annual conference, 1934 (detail). IPENZ.
  • John Forsyth, circa 1958. Past Presidents Album. IPENZ.

John Forsyth, a former Engineer-Manager of the Christchurch’s Municipal Electricity Department (MED), died at his home in Christchurch on 24 October 1960. Forsyth had been a President of both the New Zealand Institution of Engineers (NZIE, now the Institution of Professional Engineers New Zealand (IPENZ)) and the Electric Supply Authority Engineers’ Institute.

Forsyth was born in Auckland on 11 May 1890 and received his early engineering training there and at the Royal Technical College, Glasgow, which was affiliated to Glasgow University, Scotland. Forsyth gained Associateship of the College and a Bachelor of Science degree from the university, both with special distinction.

While in Scotland he gained practical experience with Bruce Peebles and Company of Edinburgh as a test engineer in 1914 and again in 1919.

When he returned to New Zealand in 1920 he joined the MED as an Assistant Electrical Engineer. Five years later he was appointed Chief Electrical Engineer and in 1949 became Engineer-Manager. He retired from that position at the end of 1955.

In World War One Forsyth served for three years in the Royal Artillery of the British Army, reaching the rank of Major and being mentioned in dispatches. In World War Two he served in the Royal New Zealand Artillery in charge of the anti-aircraft defences of Christchurch, and retired from the Army as a Lieutenant-Colonel.

Forsyth was elected an Associate Member of Britain’s Institution of Electrical Engineers in 1923 and became a Member in 1931. He was also a Chairman of the Illuminations Committee and a member of the Welding Committee of the New Zealand Standards Institute. He was the author of a number of technical papers and received the NZIE’s Fulton Gold Medal in 1936 for one on street lighting.

Find out more


New Zealand Engineering, January 1961, p.36.

Further reading

Obituary, Journal of the Institution of Electrical Engineers, April 1961, p.239. IEEE Explore, accessed 28 July 2015.