The Lee and Dawson families prominent in early Mittagong: Highlands History

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STONE WORK: Joseph and Fred Lee worked on building the Picton viaduct shown here in use in 1870. Photos: BDH&FSPart One of a 3-part series
苏州美甲美睫培训学校

THE Mittagong Library building in Queen St opened in 1878 to house a public school.

It was built of stone.

One of the stonemasons was Joseph Lee, a skilled mason who had arrived in the district in the mid 1860s after emigrating from England.

A brother and sister of his and several cousins also came to Mittagong.

These Lee families and their children would figure prominently in local business and cultural pursuits and their many descendants spread far and wide.

In the late 1870s, Joseph and his sister’s sons built three solid stone residences in Mittagong near the school, just up from Lake Alexandra. These were home for several generations of the related families.

The historical society has a large amount of historical research on these families, including material provided by descendants. It is a complex saga. To convey the local contributions of some early family members, an overview follows here.

Joseph Lee is of great early significance to Mittagong. He was born in 1843 in Lancashire, England, and arrived at Sydney around 1860. He joined up with Frederick Lee, his brother (or perhaps cousin) who had already emigrated and who, in the early 1860s, had won the contract to build the stone, arched viaduct over Stonequarry Creek at Picton for the railway.

This imposing yet elegant structure was built so the single rail line from Campbelltown could connect with the Great Southern Railway being built from Picton through Mittagong to Goulburn.

Joseph was at first employed as a lime-keeper but it is said that, being a bit too easy-going with the lime, which then as now meant money, he was put on the mallet and became an expert stonemason.

While at Picton he met and married Louisa Ann Russ, daughter of convicts who lived at nearby Cobbity.

ST STEPHENS: A very early sketch of the newly completed Mittagong church that Joseph Lee built. Photos: BDH&FHS

When railway construction gangs moved south, Joseph came to Mittagong in 1866 to work at the Mt Gibraltar railway tunnel. When that was completed, he decided to remain in the area and, with his skills as a quality stonemason, soon found local employment.

His handiwork is still in evidence today as he was employed by contractor Fred Draper in 1876 to do the stone work for the beautiful St Stephens Church of England in Mittagong. The carved stone baptismal font in the church was built and donated by Joseph and remains in use.

He also worked on Draper’s Commercial Hotel (now Lion Rampant) and other buildings including the public school (now library) built during 1877 and the stone Presbyterian Church in Edward St, opened in 1885.

His brother/cousin Fred also lived locally for a time, as did other extended family members including Thomas Lee, but little is known about their local activities.

Joseph’s sister, Martha Dawson (nee Lee), born in 1830, came to Mittagong from England as a widow after her husband died in 1875. She brought out three sons and two daughters, of whom Albert, George and Emily lived and prospered in the local area. She died in 1906. Joseph had brought his wife Louisa to Mittagong with two sons, George and Thomas, and a daughter, Ann. There were another four surviving children who were born in Mittagong – Leslie (1880), Louisa Maud (1881), Amos John (1883) and Claude Newton (1886).

LEE FAMILY: Joseph & Louisa (front, left) with nephew George Dawson and his wife Elizabeth. At the back are sons Leslie (second left) and Claude (second right), c1895.

For the family, Joseph built an elegant stone cottage in Queen Street. It is known as Leslie Cottage (presumably named after the first son born there) and bears the date 1879 above the front entrance. He was assisted by his nephew Albert Dawson, who would marry his oldest daughter Ann in 1886.

Another house was built alongside, on the same allotment, for Albert’s brother George, who obtained more vacant land at the rear and had a larger, better-dressed house built of stone.

Joseph died in 1900 and Louisa in 1924. Their gracious residence remained in the Lee family for four successive generations until sold for the first time about 10 years ago, when it was promoted as being steeped in the charm and history of the Southern Highlands.

Albert and George Dawson operated a major general store in Mittagong. Albert became one of the first aldermen and George the auditor of Mittagong Municipal Council that formed in 1889. Of Joseph’s five sons, Leslie and Claude are particularly remembered as being active in local community and cultural pursuits, although Leslie spent many years elsewhere only returning later in life. Claude spent his whole life in the district and always lived at Leslie Cottage. There will be more about these two brothers in following articles.To be continued

This article compiled by PHILIP MORTON is sourced from the archives of Berrima District Historical & Family History Society, Bowral Rd, Mittagong. Phone 4872 2169.

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