Coincidence? I think not!

History is full of small coincidences and connections, which is something the Ashburton Museum team encounters nearly every day.

Whether we are doing family research, planning for exhibitions, or undertaking conservation work, we often come across interesting facts and details that sometimes seem too good to be true.

During our regular work, we encounter historical details relating to the people of Ashburton and the places of Ashburton’s past that add interesting context to our ongoing projects or research.

One example of this phenomenon that we experienced a while ago was the discovery of the Ng King family images while we were in the process of developing the Glass Plate Negative Project.

Pleasant Surprises

While cleaning and analysing a number of badly damaged glass plate negatives a good while back, we came across some interesting photographs of members of the Ng King family.

This was an exciting discovery for us, as work surrounding the Allens Road Ng King Bros. market garden site was accelerating and we were also planning an exhibition based on the family and site at the same time.

These photos, which included family members Charlie King and others, were an exciting and timely discovery which allowed us to peek into Ashburton’s past with more informed detail than before when it came to this area of our local history.

Last year, myself and Senior Curator Maryann Cowan have encountered some interesting coincidences while working under lockdown conditions.

After writing and researching an article on the life of J. R. Richardson, we came across his signature while accessing and photographing our collection of Billy Thomas building plans.

Considering that Richardson was Borough Engineer for a good portion of his time in Ashburton, this came as no revelation but rather a funny surprise considering we had just published the aforementioned article.

One more incident of this type occurred while I was conducting some family research regarding the site of Dr. Ryburn’s house on the corner of Tancred and Cass Street.

Before Dr. Ryburn lived at this property, it was occupied by Dr. Mullin, a practitioner from Ireland.

Even before Dr. Mullin’s time, a very important figure in Ashburton’s early medical scene lived at that property – Dr. Trevor, who I had only just written about a couple of weeks prior.

Well worth the visit

Last but not least, I would like to share a slightly special surprise that befell myself and a researcher who came all the way from the United States just before the first big lockdown to investigate her Friedlander heritage.

We had spent several hours going through photographs and records, and when it was time for her to leave we came across a rate roll book in a collection of backlog items which sparked our interest.

Upon opening the book, to our delight the very first page we saw was filled with Friedlander family names!

This last surprise was very exciting for her, and drove home the prominence of the Friedlander family in Ashburton’s past.

This, as well as all the other events I have described go to show that it is worth remembering that our past and our history is much more complex than meets the eye.

Family and local history extends beyond births, deaths, marriages, and important dates – our predecessors formed and interacted within interpersonal networks and left marks on the histories of others more often than their own.

When these unexpected bits of information rise to the surface, we are reminded more than ever that behind the photographs, roll book entries, and dates, there were interesting characters playing a part in Ashburton’s greater history.

By Connor Lysaght

This article was modified for this blog and was originally published in the Ashburton Guardian, 19th of May 2020.


  1. Glass plate negative photo of Charlie King, discovered among the negatives used in the Glass Plate Negative Project.
  2. James Russell Richardson alongside his wife Meta.
  3. Dr. Trevor, predecessor to Drs. Mullin and Ryburn, who all lived on the corner of Tancred and Cass Street.

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