Charles Lee - the man who brought down Edmund Barton

EVERY year there is a celebration in Tenterfield for the famous Henry Parkes, who was the state member for Tenterfield until his resignation in 1884.

However, there is another man who could perhaps claim better recognition. He is the man who succeeded Parkes in 1884, Charles Alfred Lee.

Lee was born at Parramatta in 1842, the son of a Waterloo veteran who had become a publican and landowner in Australia and had married Lucy Ann Poulton, an emigrant.

Soon after he was born his parents moved to the Hunter Region and Charles was educated at West Maitland Grammar School.

After leaving school he obtained a position at a Maitland store and rose to become a partner.

Charles Alfred Lee, M.L.A.
Charles Alfred Lee, M.L.A.

In 1865 he married Clara Jane Tindale. In 1869 he moved his family to Tenterfield where he purchased the Maryland Stores. He believed that the bracing Tablelands climate would benefit his growing family.

He soon became involved in community affairs, became postmaster in 1872 and was District Coroner for three years.

He was also elected an Alderman of the first Tenterfield Municipal Council. He was later to become its Mayor as well as President of the Hospital Board, the Railway League, and the School of Arts.

He purchased a large grazing property named "Claremont" some time before 1880 and the family went to live there. In 1884 he retired from his business and, on the resignation of Henry Parkes, was elected to the Legislative Assembly.

Lee was to retain the seat until he retired in 1920.

During this time he held several major positions possibly the most important being Secretary/Minister for Public Works.

After the reshuffle of politicians caused by Federation in 1901 he also had the distinction of being the first official Leader of the Opposition in NSW.

As Minister of Justice (1898-9) he was responsible for many reforms associated with prisons including introducing prison libraries, lights in prison cells and nightdresses for female prisoners.

He held the position of Secretary/Minister for Public Works in 1899 and later from 1904-1910.

During this time he saw the development of the Murrumbidgee Irrigation Area, the building of Cataract Dam for the Sydney Water Supply, the construction of Burrinjuck Dam, and a massive expansion of rail infrastructure.

He was always interested in helping the small landholder and is remembered through the magnificently planned MIA town of Leeton which he largely created, as well as our own Leeville near Casino.

Although said to have a quiet and congenial manner he was not afraid to stand up for his beliefs and support those who required his aid. This was shown especially in 1893 when he was responsible for the resignations of Edmund Barton, who was Attorney General at the time and destined to become Australia's first Prime Minister, and the then Justice Minister, Richard O'Connor. They had accepted legal briefs to act against the Government Railways.

Lee and his wife, Clara, had a large family of six sons and four daughters. Three of the sons enlisted in the First World War. One was killed and another, shortly after returning home, died as a result of injuries.

Charles Alfred Lee died in 1926 aged 83. He is buried at Tenterfield.

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