Tracing the LEE brothers, George, Edward and Charles, in Australia

Like a ‘good’ genealogist I sourced primary documents to trace my great grandfather Edward LEE (1840-1898) back to his birthplace.

Edward was the first in my direct LEE line to emigrate to Australia. I have previously referred to him in a post ‘The Locket’.

On the discovery that Edward LEE was born and raised in London, I was curious…. did other family members emigrate to Australia too?

A chance finding of some papers in Victoria, Australia relating to the death of a George Williams LEE (1831-1864), helped answer the question.

As a refresher, this is where Edward LEE (in blue) falls in my Dad’s line:

Capture john leo coghlan pedigree

I had been searching the online index, Index to Wills, Probate and Administration Records 1841-2009 on the Public Record Office Victoria (PROV) website, for the will/probate of Edward LEE, but, no luck.

I broadened my search.

One LEE sounded promising. There were Letters of Administration for George Williams LEE who died on 21 June 1864, intestate.

I had seen his name in a London census report as a sibling of Edward’s. I downloaded the affidavit of Edward LEE, the next of kin of George residing in Australia. The details turned out to be a gold mine.

1864 Probate papers for George Williams LEE

1864 Affidavit of Edward LEE re his brother, George Williams LEE’s goods and property at time of his death on 21 June 1864. Accessed PROV VPRS 28/P0000/49.

What the affidavit revealed:

  • Edward LEE, my great grandfather—’artist’—his brothers, Charles LEE and George Williams LEE, were all in Australia prior to 21 June 1864.
  • The brothers’ father, Edward Snr, their sister, Mary Elizabeth, and their youngest brother, Alfred, were in London at this time.
  • All three brothers had resided in Gippsland, Victoria.

and an extra bonus was I had the signature of my great grandfather, Edward LEE.

The family names and their relationships in the document coincided with the names I’d found in the London census, thus confirming I had one and the same family.

Here are the steps I’d taken leading up to this point:

Finding Edward LEE (1840-1898):

His death certificate:

1898 Heading of Edward LEE's death certificate

1898 Death certificate of Edward LEE, my great grandfather. BDM Victoria Registration No. 5570

NB Death certificates can be notoriously misleading because the information given is only as good as the informant’s knowledge of the deceased—which may only be a guess, at best. And of course the scribe/registrar may mishear and/or misspell names. So, it is wise to keep in mind that there may be mistakes and/or omissions leading to a trip up the wrong garden path.

What I learned about Edward from the death certificate:

  • Emigrated to Australia more than 30 years prior to his death. So, before 1865.
  • Born about 1842 in London.
  • Parents: Edward LEE (who I’ll call Edward LEE Snr) and Jemima LEE, nee WILLIAMS
  • Married Jenny CAMERON in Melbourne at age 31, so in 1873 or thereabouts.

His marriage certificate:

1873 heading for Edward LEE and Jenny CAMERON's marriage certificate

1873 Marriage certificate of Edward LEE and Jenny CAMERON

1873 Marriage certificate of Edward LEE and Jenny CAMERON. BDM Victoria Reg No. 1690

1873 Marriage of Edward LEE and Jenny CAMERON

1873 Announcement of marriage of Edward LEE and Jenny CAMERON on 14 May 1873 in The Argus 21 May 1873. Accessed through TROVE.

The marriage certificate confirmed Edward’s parents’ names—Edward and Jemima, his birthplace-London, his occupation-engraver.

A search of the passenger lists found an Edward LEE, ‘trader’, travelling as a second class passenger on the ship, Prince of Wales, arriving in Melbourne from London on 26 August 1863.

1863 Prince of Wales Edward Lee second class passenger. 'Trader'. Arr Aug 1863 Ancestry

1863 Edward LEE Jnr on passenger list of Prince of Wales ship as second class passenger. ‘Trader’. Arriving in Port Phillip from London on 26 August 1863.

A look further back at the English census records for London locates the family of Edward LEE, his parents and siblings:

The 1841 census shows Edward Snr, his wife Jemima and their children: George, Mary and Edward LEE living in Horsleydown Lane, Parish of St John Horsleydown, Borough of Southwark:

1841 Census table LEE

1841 Edward LEE and Jemima LEE (nee WILLIAMS) living in Horsleydown Lane with children, George, Mary, Edward. Census for the Parish of St John Horsleydown, Borough of Southwark, England (became part of Bermondsey and Greater London)

I’ve highlighted Horsleydown Lane on Cross’s map of London 1850 below. It is situated (and is still there today) on the south bank of the Thames, opposite the Tower of London. Charles Dickens described this area as ‘filthy’.

I came across a blog post featuring the ‘Horselydown old stairs’. These stairs are found at the end of Horsleydown Lane. The LEE family would have known them very well as before the generation of ‘cornmeters’ the men of the LEE and WILLIAMS families were employed as ‘lightermen’-transferring cargo from ship to shore and vice versa.

The blog is called a London Inheritance and the post related to the stairs can be located here. It is a fascinating blog for anyone interested in the changing face of London.

1850 London bermondsey Cross Map (see Evernote)

Section of Cross’s New Plan of London 1850 (St Catharine’s and Bermondsey)

This is prior to construction of Tower Bridge.

The 1851 census finds the family have moved to Newington, just west of Bermondsey, perhaps away from the squalor of life on the Thames:

1851 Census LEE

1851 Census return for Parish of Newington, Lambeth ENGLAND. Edward LEE and Jemima LEE (nee WILLIAMS) with children: George Wm, Mary Elizb, Edward, Charles and Alfred. Now living with them George WILLIAMS, ‘uncle’ who was living next door to the family in 1841.

This census had a great deal of information which I’ll elaborate on in a later post. But for now it shows a growing family as detailed above.

By the 1861 census the family group has reduced to Edward LEE Snr, his wife Jemima and their youngest son, Alfred. They have moved to the parish of Wonersh, County Surrey, about 60 kilometres south west of London:

1861 English Census table LEE

1861 Census for the Parish of Wonersh, County Surrey. Edward LEE and his wife Jemima and their son Alfred. 1861 England Census.

If anyone can tell me the occupation of Jemima LEE I would be most grateful!

The census records gave me invaluable information about the family’s movements. They also gave me clues and ideas for future searches, such as, what were their occupations; how did they make a living? where did they do their schooling? did some of the children die in childhood? have the boys already left for Australia? etc.

Finding George Williams LEE (1831-1864):

After finding George’s date of death I acquired his death certificate.:

1864 Heading for death certificate of George Williams LEE

1864 Death certificate George Williams LEE

1864 Death certificate of George Williams LEE. BDM Victoria. Reg No. 6669

Poor George Williams LEE died in Maffra, Australia at the age of 32 years from injuries sustained following a kick from a horse. There were several obituaries for George in the newspapers. Here is one:

1864 Account of G W LEe's death in The Argus

1864 Account of the accidental death of George Williams LEE in the Argus on 29 June 1864. Accessed through TROVE.

So, my great grandfather, Edward LEE (1840-1898), who was only 24 at the time had to deal with the premature death and burial of his eldest brother in a foreign land after only being together here for 10 months.

Amazingly, there is still a headstone at the site of George’s grave in Sale cemetery in Gippsland.

1864 Headstone of George Williams LEE Sale cemetery. Section 3 Row I Lot 28. ozgenonline 29.12.15

1864 Headstone of George Williams LEE. Sale cemetery. Section 3 Row I Lot 28. Courtesy of ozgenonline. 

It reads:






JUNE 22ND 1864


His death certificate says he died on 20 June and he was actually 33. Death certificate says 32, headstone says 34..all close enough I suppose. As I say don’t take the information on a death certificate, or a headstone for that matter, as gospel.

The death certificate states he was in Victoria for 12 years prior to his death so I went looking for his arrival details in 1852. I found a George LEE arriving at Port Phillip from London on 2 Dec 1852:

1852 Arrival of George LEE in Port Phillip from London 'goldseeker' on Blackwall 2 Dec 1852 Victoria, Australia, Assisted and Unassisted Passenger Lists, 1839–1923 Ancestry cropped 2

1852 George LEE, 21, ‘goldseeker’ on Passenger list of Blackwall sailing from arriving at Port Phillip on 2 Dec. Assisted and Unassisted Passenger Lists 1839-1923.


Most of the passengers were single men from London drawn by the lure of the gold rush in the colony of Port Phillip. I have obtained copies of some of the letters George Morton, another passenger on the ship, wrote home to his family. He talks of sharing a cabin with ‘Lee’ and walking with him to the Mt Alexander goldfields and having their belongings stolen. A wonderful piece of history obtained from the Australian National Maritime Museum, Sydney that I will talk about in a later post.

Finding Charles LEE (1841-1929)

My search for Charles LEE proved to be difficult; Charles LEE was a common name at the time and there was another Charles LEE in the Maffra, Gippsland district.

I acquired the marriage certificate of the Charles LEE ‘Maffra’; born in the same year as our Charles LEE. The certificate stated he was born in Hobart, Tasmania not England and his parents were not Edward and Jemima so I had the wrong one.

I couldn’t find any marriages or deaths with the details I knew about Charles, such as birthplace and parents, so I tried shipping lists to at least find his date of arrival in the colony knowing it was before George’s death in 1864. But this proved difficult to verify as well. There were two possibilities: both men born in 1842, one a ‘goldseeker’ departing Plymouth arriving in Victoria in 1863, the other a ‘clerk’, departing Southampton, arriving in Melbourne in 1862. I suspect the Charles arriving in 1863 is my best bet but I couldn’t be sure. And then, what was he doing in Gippsland?

I was stuck, until….

…I found a couple of messages on Rootsweb:

A lady in Texas had posted several requests for contact of descendants of siblings of her great grandfather, Charles LEE.

Her Charles LEE was born in London and had brothers who had emigrated to Australia:

In 2002 she wrote

I am researching the Edward LEE family.
Edward, his wife Jemima WILLIAMS LEE, Mary Elizabeth LEE, Charles LEE, their sons, and George WILLIAMS are on 1851 census in Holy Trinity, Newington, Surrey census.

Acc to family notes, one or all of the sons or their children went to Australia.

and this:

Am kin to Edward (LEE). Their son Charles was my maternal great gfather. Charles LEE, Emily FAIRCLOUGH and 4 children came to TX in 1886 to be with his sister and family, Mary Elizabeth LEE + Alfred Freeman TILLEY, and dau Gertrude TILLEY. After several years in SA, they moved to Philadelphia, PA.

With the details of the parents and the mention of the boys’ sister, Mary Elizabeth LEE, I knew we were descended from the same family.

What I learned:

Charles had married an Emily FAIRCLOUGH in England (see certificate below) in 1877. According to census records in the USA they had four children and emigrated from England to the USA in 1886. This was confirmation Charles didn’t stay in Australia.

1877 Marriage of Charles LEE and Emily FAIRCLOUGH Parish of Hackney, County Middlesex ENGLAND. (Mary E Tilley is the married name of Charles’ sister, Mary Elizabeth).

As for when Charles departed Australia to return to England?

I found an entry in the PROV Index to Outward Passengers to Interstate, UK, NZ and Foreign Ports 1852-1923 for a Charles LEE sailing from Melbourne to London in 1875:


Northumberland being the name of the ship. I can’t prove it was one and the same but it seems highly likely. If this is so, Charles spent a total of 12 years in Australia before returning to England.

I have recently made contact with this descendant of Charles LEE so I hope in the swapping of information we will pull the LEE brothers’ story together.

Eventually, I found all the vital statistics of the children born to Edward and Jemima LEE as summarized below.

The family of Edward LEE Snr and Jemima WILLIAMS. Three sons emigrated to Australia: George, Edward Jnr and Charles. Alfred may have emigrated as well-search ongoing. As prepared by author January 2016.

Another sad part of the migration story is that Jemima died not long after Edward and Charles left for Australia and George died in Australia about 6 months after her.

From research already done, the three brothers LEE, George, Edward and Charles contributed a great deal to the blossoming colony of Victoria: George as a reporter and potential member of parliament; Edward as a wood engraver employed by the colonial newspapers and Charles as a reporter on aboriginal affairs (according to recent contact with his American descendants).

There is so much still to discover about this family…there’s talk of an inheritance, world travel and even a governor on a Caribbean island! Please feel free to comment on details given especially if any descendants can enlighten me further on the brothers’ adventures…

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13 Responses to Tracing the LEE brothers, George, Edward and Charles, in Australia

  1. Heather says:

    Thanks Marg for bringing these people to life; I feel that their story is becoming more and more interesting and of course it is absolutely about real lives. Your research is so thorough it blows me away! 🙂

  2. Geoff says:

    Well researched Marg. There’s obviously lots more to the Lee story that’s worth blogging! – Look forward to future instalments!

    • Marg says:

      Thanks Geoff. Yes, the Lees are proving to be an interesting line in our heredity. I’ve found the four page will of George Williams the uncle of Jemima who seems to be the source of money that helped the family. More to come!

  3. Bern says:

    I agree Geoff, so well researched and put together! Again, Marg, you have done a great job and it blows me away to Heather!

    • Marg says:

      Thanks Bern. Love the thrill of the chase. And yes, no doubt you meant ‘too Heather’ rather than being blown away to Heather which is OK too-she’s a very nice person x

  4. Ron says:

    This is just fantastic. I’m just blown away at all the information you have found and put into this blog. Keep it coming.
    Well done !! 🙂

    • Marg says:

      Thanks for the encouragement Ron. Greatly appreciated. Sometimes I worry about its appeal to a wider audience but you’ve reassured me that I’m not just writing it for the family. Cheers, Marg.

  5. Pingback: More valuable letters…this time on the LEE side | Cicadas, Bees and Barge Poles

  6. Rosemary says:

    Fascinating reading Marg. Like everyone else I am blown away too by the bread and depth of your investigative powers. Brilliant! Rosemary x

    • Marg says:

      Thanks Rosemary. The LEE brothers are a fascinating bunch…wish we could have known them! Hope you’re ‘travelling’ OK. Marg x

  7. Tony (David) Lee says:

    Outstanding work
    Thank you

    • Marg says:

      Thanks Tony! The Lee boys have proved to be a very interesting branch of the family. I feel as though I have a sense of who they were and their individual stories. There’s still a lot more to come. Watch this space… Cheers, Margaret

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