- c. 1832
- 21 July 1909
Maryborough, Victoria, Australia
- missionary - Church of England, miner, cabinetmaker and gardener
- Alternative Names
- Le Wah, James (also used)
- Lee Wah, James (also used)
- Lee War, James (also used)
- Lee, James (also used)
- Lewar, James (also used)
James Lee Wah (as he came to be known) originally came to the Victorain goldfields in 1856. He was a miner, sometimes farm laborer and later worked as an Anglican missionary to the Chinese on the goldfields and in Melbourne. He is also believed to have been a cabinetmaker at some time.
James Lee Wah spent four years on the Mt Alexander diggings (Castlemaine) before moving to the New Bendigo goldfields (St Arnaud). There is some evidence that he may have married a woman called Isabella in the earlier years after arriving at the goldfields. He was baptised at St Arnaud in March 1867 by the Church of England.
In 1869, while reading a Chinese translation of a christian bible to Chinese at his house in Maryborough, he was offered employment by the Anglican Church. He was the first catechist employed by them in Victoria. He based himself in the Ironbark Chinese Camp and travelled around the goldfields area including: Maryborough, Kangaroo Flat, Golden Square, Inglewood, Eaglehawk, Avoca, St Arnaud and Castlemaine.
James Lee Wah was naturalised on 27 March 1882.
Lee Wah's son frequently recalled his father's charitable works - visits to other Chinese, feeding large numbers of the congregation at their home on Sundays, visits to hospitals, interpreting and other Chinese community work. Much of this is documented in the minutes of various church organisations and in letters, diaries and writings of a number of Anglican clergy employed in the goldfields in the mid to late nineteenth century and early twentieth century. The Bendigo and Maryborough newspapers have many references to him.
In the 1880s he regularly visited Melbourne to assist initiate the Anglican Church Missionary Society of Victoria's work in Little Bourke Street with Cheok Hong Cheong.
For a number of years, James Lee Wah made requests to his employers, the Committee of the Church Missionary Society for leave to return to China to find a wife. The Committee took years pondering the request and by the time the leave was granted James Lee Wah had met Mary Victoria Hubbar who he married in 1878. Together they had seven children, one of whom, Henry, died in 1892, aged 5 years.
While in Ironbark, James Lee Wah bought land and built a house on the edge of the Chinese camp. The family appears to have lived there for most of Lee Wah's married life. He continued to work as a catechist till his death in 1909. It seems the family may have lived in a church owned house in Maryborough for some time after leaving the Ironbark home as well as in a house owned by James Lee Wah in Maryborough.
James Lee Wah was buried in the Maryborough cemetery in the Anglican sector. The site is unmarked except for the site number on it.
After his death, his son remembered the family being very poor. They do not appear to have received any pension from the Christian Missionary Association of Victoria. It is not known what happened to the property at Ironbark. It seems unlikely that it would have been saleable after the last fire at the Camp in 1911.
Sources used to compile this entry: Lee, Chris, 'Unfolding the silence: James Lee Wah (1832-1909) Chinese goldfields miner and Anglican missionary', in Sophie Couchman (ed.), Secrets, Silences and Sources: Five Chinese-Australian Family Histories (La Trobe Asian Studies Papers), Asian Studies, La Trobe University, 2005, pp. 17-30.
Prepared by: Chris Lee, independent researcher
- Lee, Chris, 'Unfolding the silence: James Lee Wah (1832-1909) Chinese goldfields miner and Anglican missionary', in Sophie Couchman (ed.), Secrets, Silences and Sources: Five Chinese-Australian Family Histories (La Trobe Asian Studies Papers), Asian Studies, La Trobe University, 2005, pp. 17-30. Details
Created: 30 April 2003, Last modified: 26 September 2005