A story from one receipt

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With fewer people using postal services and our reliance on electronic forms of communication, receiving anything in the mail these days is worthy of note. At Ashburton Museum, however, we recently received something quite interesting by post.

Looking at this item – dirty, tatty and at first rather boring (it is after all ‘only’ a receipt) – at first one might struggle to find anything to comment on, but it has much to tell.

Firstly there is the Ashburton watchmaker Samuel Salek. Samuel obviously went to some effort to produce an attractive document. His receipt refers to a watch purchased by Mr H. Speight. It records the purchase, and guarantees that Salek will keep the watch “in good working order and cleaned free of charge for three years”. It also states that Mr Salek was the sole agent for the Lazarus sight testing system and spectacles. Although we know a little about Mr Salek, our museum didn’t have anything from his store, so that factor alone, makes this tatty piece of paper quite valuable.

Who was Salek?

In 1885 Samuel Salek was listed as a pawnbroker, then the following year an I. Salek (at the same address) was listed as a jeweller. It would appear that there was a family of Saleks who were businessmen and that the brothers worked as partners, as in 1887 as Isaac Salek left for Wanganui, but was still listed as business owner of the City Loan Office. The firm, which also had branches in Wanganui and Timaru, offered both a jewellery and pawnbroker business. They employed a watchmaker as early as 1887. By 1891, Samuel is listed as both pawnbroker and jeweller. In 1898, he sold the business to Mr de Beer.

Who was Speight?

The watch purchaser Hubert Speight’s story is just as interesting. Hubert received his education under his father and became a pupil teacher at St Albans. He came to Riverside School (later amalgamated with Wakanui) in 1892. He lived with his sister Bertha, who also was involved with the school. When they left in 1896 the community held an evening to wish them well. Hubert was presented with a gold Albert (watch chain) and pendant purchased from Mr Salek, so maybe he put his watch on the chain? He was also involved with the school choir who presented him with a pair of binoculars.

Hubert seemed to be well-liked and involved with a number of activities, including football. He came from an academic family – his brother was Robert, who was a teacher at Christchurch Boys High School and a well-known geologist. Both his parents were teachers, his father James a teacher in the Akaroa area, Kakahu in South Canterbury and finally St Albans in Christchurch.

The schoolmaster

James is a good example of what teaching was like when schooling was more a luxury than a legal requirement. James learnt his profession in workhouses in England before coming to Canterbury. He insisted on strict discipline, being well known as ‘the flogging headmaster’ and was once said to have attached a pupils tongue to the mantelpiece for talking.

James suffered the same bigotries as many men of the time. For example, he was unsupportive of co-worker Ada Wells, a prominent suffrage worker, when she asked for maternity leave.

However despite these failings, he was determined that children should receive a good education – being vocal in the need for more or better school buildings. In St Albans he supplemented building funds with his own money, or arranged for speakers to hire out the schoolrooms. After Hubert left Riverside, he moved to the North Island, where he married another teacher.

The receipt

The receipt now at the museum, was donated to the collection by Hubert’s granddaughter, who lives in the North Island.

It would be easy for her, the donor, to have thrown out this old seemingly worthless piece of paper, but how wonderful she didn’t.

Taking the time to write a letter with information about her family and posting it to us, she has increased our knowledge of two families, who although they did not stay very long in our community made a real impact that it’s good to know more of.

We are always very grateful for such donations, either by hand or mail. Hopefully, this example will serve as a guide to how the commonplace or unimportant can be a real asset to the story of our community.


  1. Mr Salek’s receipt given to Mr Speight. It promises that Salek will keep the watch bought by Speight, “in good working order and cleaned free of charge for three years”. ©Ashburton Museum.
  2. An advertisement in the Ashburton Guardian dated January 12, 1894, for Mr Salek’s jewellers shop in East Street, Ashburton.
  3. A large mounted photograph of delegates at an Oddfellows Lodge conference, held Easter 1912, includes a Mr SL Salek. It would be good to know if he that same man or a relative. ©Ashburton Museum.
  4. An unusual men’s pocket watch, attached to a fob chain made of human hair with gold fittings and polished stone one end, in the Ashburton Museum collection. The hair belonged to Ada Webb wife of owner George Webb, who was said to have beautiful auburn hair. Unfortunately, there are no items known to be from Mr Salek’s shop in the collection. Collection of Ashburton Museum.

By Kathleen Stringer

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