John Lees

On the second of June 1797 John Lees arrived in Sydney Cove aboard the Ganges.[1] Unlike many of those who were coming to Sydney, John was not a convict. He was there as one of the soldiers. John served in the 102 Regiment[2] from enlistment on the 18th of September 1796 in Chatham to the 24th of April 1803.[3]

It is probable that Mary Stevens was assigned to John Lees directly after she arrived in New South Wales, as their first child was born just 18 months after Mary arrived. [4] The 1806 Muster however, shows that John Lees was assigned at least two convicts in his early years. George Smith per Glatton had arrived in 1803[5] a year later than Mary Stevens[6] and Mary Stevens herself. By the time George was assigned to John Lees it is likely that John and Mary’s first child had either arrived or was only a short while off arriving.

After John left the Corps in 1797 he received a series of Land Grants out in the Castlereagh area of New South Wales.[7] [8] John, Mary, their family and the convicts assigned to John worked as farmers out in the Nepean area. Within a few years they were making enough for themselves and to help contribute to Government Stores.[9]

Although John Lees worked hard in his early years out in Castlereagh it appeared that he was also extremely susceptible to alcohol. As a result John gradually started to lose some of his land and many of his animals paying off his debts and paying for his alcohol.[10]

What came next for John Lees has been debated for many years. Either he had a dream of a snake or else was bitten by a deadly snake and survived. Despite the confusion the result was life changing fo John. He stopped drinking and became a devout man.[11]

It was shortly after these events that the Reverend Samuel Leigh arrived in the Colony of Sydney. Reverend Leigh was directed to John Lees house one night when he was out in the Windsor area of New South Wales. This resulted in a firm friendship and the building, by John Lees, of a small room next to his house for worship. This chapel became known as the first Wesleyan Chapel in Australia.[12]

For many years John Lees and his family were both devout and prosperous with John no longer drinking. John became a prominent citizen in the area, he was on many committees and was very well known in the area. Eventually John had a stroke and was prescribed brandy as one of his medications. This unfortunate decision lead to John’s downfall as he again became addicted to drink. By the time John died he had started sell off the land that he had acquired and his fortunes were once again on the down slide. This does not seem to have affected his children, many of whom moved all around Australia and New Zealand and contributed significantly to their communities.[13]

Castlereagh Pioneers. John and Mary Lees. Authors Collection.

Castlereagh Pioneers. John and Mary Lees.
Authors Collection.

Mary Stevens

[1] Ancestry.com. New South Wales, Australia, Colonial Secretary’s Papers, 1788-1856 [database on-line]. Provo, UT, USA: Ancestry.com Operations, Inc, 2010.

[2] Ancestry.com. New South Wales, Australia, Colonial Secretary’s Papers, 1788-1856 [database on-line]. Provo, UT, USA: Ancestry.com Operations, Inc, 2010

[3] Kavanagh, M. 1987. ‘John Lees the Chapel Builder’. Merle Kavanagh, Sutherland, NSW, Australia. p. 4

[4] St Philip’s Church of England, Sydney NSW: Church Register – Baptisms; ML ref: Reel SAG 90.; Vol Entry# 910

[5] Published in “Convicts to NSW 1788-1812”, compiled & edited by Carol J. Baxter, published by Society of Australian Genealogists, Sydney, 2002.; Convict Indents &c.; SRNSW ref: 4/4004 pp111-139; SRNSW ref: 2/8261 pp123-150; TNA ref: HO 11/1 pp315-332, Reel 87; Ship source: Glatton 1803, Volume entry number: 20123.

[6] Convict Indents &c.; SRNSW ref: 4/4004 pp13-32; SRNSW ref: 2/8283 pp21-32; TNA ref: HO 11/1 pp275-288, Reel 87; Ship source: Earl Cornwallis 1801, Volume entry number: 18701.

[7] Ancestry.com. New South Wales, Australia, Land Grants, 1788-1963 [database on-line]. Provo, UT, USA: Ancestry.com Operations, Inc., 2014.

[8] Ancestry.com. New South Wales, Australia, Colonial Secretary’s Papers, 1788-1856 [database on-line]. Provo, UT, USA: Ancestry.com Operations, Inc, 2010.

[9] General Muster of the Inhabitants of New South Wales commencing on 17th October and ending 16th November 1814. edited by Carol J. Baxter, published by ABGR, Sydney, 1987.; Book Entry# 1328

[10] Kavanagh, M. 1987. ‘John Lees the Chapel Builder’. Merle Kavanagh, Sutherland, NSW, Australia. p. 17

[11] Kavanagh, M. 1987. ‘John Lees the Chapel Builder’. Merle Kavanagh, Sutherland, NSW, Australia. pp. 10-19.

[12] Kavanagh, M. 1987. ‘John Lees the Chapel Builder’. Merle Kavanagh, Sutherland, NSW, Australia. pp. 26-28

[13] Kavanagh, M. 1987. ‘John Lees the Chapel Builder’. Merle Kavanagh, Sutherland, NSW, Australia. pp. 45-58


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