Shaping Tenterfield Shire

IN 1829, a boat bumped ashore at New South Wales carrying Mr Benjamin Lee.

Mr Lee was a Waterloo veteran who, having served under the Duke of Wellington and  been wounded three times, emigrated to New South Wales “to spend the summer and autumn of his days”, according to the Australian Town and Country Journal of June 4, 1887.

The summer and autumn of Benjamin Lee’s days led to more than just his respected retirement in Parramatta.

Benjamin Lee’s son and his grandson went on to become famous figures in Tenterfield and beyond.

In 1869, poor health led Benjamin’s sixth surviving son Charles Alfred Lee to move to Tenterfield “for the sake of the bracing climate of New England”, as Australian Town and Country records. Mr Lee bought the Maryland Store and ran the store for about 15 years.

He was one of Tenterfield’s first alderman in 1871, and its mayor in 1875.

Charles Alfred was the returning officer at the historic time when Edward Whereat stood down to allow Sir Henry Parkes to run for the seat of Tenterfield.

He was president of the Tenterfield Prince Albert Memorial Hospital Board and the School of Arts and chairman of the Tenterfield Railway League.

When Sir Henry Parkes resigned in 1884, Charles Alfred was elected unopposed as the Member for Tenterfield.

Australian Town and Country reported: “In his electorate he has been always associated with the progress of local institutions. He is a not frequent speaker in Parliament; but when he does speak, he is brief, effective and to the point.”

Charles Alfred Lee continued to represent Tenterfield for more than 35 years until 1920. His long stint in Parliament earned him the title of “Father of the House”.

During that time he was the Minister for Justice for a year and the Minister for Works twice for a total of about seven years.

Charles Alfred Lee chaired the body that started the Murrumbidgee Irrigation Scheme, including the building of Burrinjuck Dam and the creation of the town of Leeton, which was named after him.

His large majorities in his last two elections has been attributed to female suffrage, an irony considering he had opposed voting rights for women.

In 1926, at the age of 84, Charles Alfred Lee died at his Tenterfield home Claremont, which still stands opposite St Joseph’s Primary School.

The Tenterfield Star’s obituary for Mr Lee said his death was the end of a “long and eventful chapter in the history of Tenterfield and northern NSW”.

The Star reported at the time of his death, Mr Lee had a cheque from his own account that had been on the bushranger Thunderbolt when he was shot “and still bears the stain of his blood”.

Mr Lee had outlived one of his sons, Charles Arthur Lee, who also played a big part in Tenterfield’s history.

Charles Arthur, born in 1874, worked at a bank, but is described as having had a “keen interest in military matters” and had reached the rank of lieutenant.

When the Boer War broke out, he found the officerships were filled, so enlisted as a private.  He served throughout the war and was there when the famous Piet Cronjé surrendered in 1900.

Charles Arthur, who had again been commissioned as a lieutenant, caught enteric fever and became seriously ill. He was the first Australian officer to be nursed at a repatriation home where he was the guest of the Duke of York, later King Edward VII.

After recovering, he went back to South Africa until peace was signed, then returned to Australia.

He was only home a few weeks before returning to South Africa and acting as an advisor with a large gold mine.

He later returned to Australia and worked in tin mining at Stanthorpe.

When World War I broke out, Charles Arthur again offered his services because he believed it was his duty, despite having been quoted as hating war and calling it a “dirty game”. He went to Gallipoli where he was in charge of the Lone Pine trenches.

The Tenterfield Star reported on his death that he and eight men “were the last of the Australians to vacate the famous peninsula when the evacuation was carried out”.

Charles Arthur went to Egypt and took charge of the 4th Light Horse Brigade, followed by a return to Palestine where he was present at the taking of Beersheba and Jerusalem.

He was promoted to Lieutenant Colonel and given command of the 4th Camel Corps.

“In this  position he saw a great deal of hard service,” The Tenterfield Star reported.

“This corps was always ahead of the army spying out the land and the enemy positions. They were particularly subject to aeroplane attack, and it was a frequent thing for aeroplanes to kill as many as 20 camels and men with one bomb.”

Charles Arthur became very sick from the effects of shell shock and gas. He came back to Australia and was in a military hospital in Brisbane for five months.

He had only been at his father’s home of Claremont in Tenterfield for a week when he died in November 1918.

“Considering his age, no soldier of Australia had seen more service than Lieutenant Colonel Lee, nor could anyone have worked harder or more nobly for his country,” his obituary in The Tenterfield Star said.

“Despite his illness, he never once expressed the slightest regret at the step he had taken in defending the Empire against Prussian aggression.

“He was a man every inch of him, and his death will be deplored by a large circle of friends both inside and outside the service.”

Both Charles Alfred and Charles Arthur Lee are buried at Tenterfield cemetery.

An 1870s artist’s impression of Claremont, the Tenterfield home of Charles Alfred Lee.

An 1870s artist’s impression of Claremont, the Tenterfield home of Charles Alfred Lee.

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