Our grateful thanks to the Astley family for donating their copy of ‘Leather Chemists’ pocket book by H.R. Proctor. Over one hundred years old, this small book represents a family with a large heritage in the New Zealand leather industry and an interesting personal history too.
The story begins in October 1879 when a family of ten migrated to Auckland from Lancashire, U.K. Head of the family Elijah Astley, his wife Cicely and eight of their nine children. Elijah and eldest son John soon found employment with a firm of tanners. John later moved to Melbourne where his desire to start his own tannery took root. He spent his life savings of 250 pounds on rough-tanned hides and sent them back to his father in Avondale. John returned and after buying more rough-tanned leather, father and son decided to tan their own and a tanning pit was dug in an open paddock. This was the beginning of what was to become E. Astley & Sons, a company synonymous with fine leather. John went on to have an active role in the company until his death in 1962 at the age of 101.
The pocket book was given to grandson John from John senior (then aged 91) in 1951 Fourth generation Doug Astley is honouring his brother John’s wishes in passing over to Lasra this book after his brother’s death in April this year. Doug’s accompanying letter reveals a moving story. John senior accompanied his oldest son Eric to England in 1914 to enroll Eric in the Leather Section of Leeds University. When war broke out Eric joined the NZ Expeditionary Force and sadly lost his life in Gallipoli aged just 21. Doug quotes from His grandfather’s letter:
I am sending you herewith a little book which I got when I was enrolled as a student in the Leather Section at the Leeds University in 1914. I want you to keep it. The writer Professor Proctor was a pioneer in Leather Research. Prior to the First World War he had retired from his position as Director of the Leather Industries Department. After the outbreak of the war he temporarily resumed his old position as Prof Stiasny his successor had already gone when Eric and I arrived, to attend the forthcoming Industrial Conference of Leather Trades Chemists at Vienna. That conference was never held and Prof Stiasny did not return to England. This man Stiasny was the inventor of the first synthetic tanning material, it was named ‘Neradol’. We had some of it at the Tannery (in New Lynn) in 1914. Maybe the book is out of date in some respects. I would like you to keep it as a memento of the boy who preceded you and was to have taken the course at Leeds similar to that which you took at the Leathersellers.