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Henry Brougham Richard Lee (1831-1883)

Henry Brougham Richard Lee (1831-1883) The City Night Refuge and Soup Kitchen Manager

The name of Henry Brougham Richard Lee, abbreviated to H B Lee, became synonymous with the work of the Sydney City Night Refuge and Soup Kitchen in the period 1868 to 1883. His great gift to the organisation was not just his ability to relate to the ‘down and out’ of the community, but his skill in convincing merchants and business people to donate goods and food stuffs to this philanthropic work.

Lee was born at Finsbury, England, on February 26, 1831, to a shoemaker named Thomas Lee and his wife, Sarah Beal, and he came to the colony of NSW on the Plantagenet, arriving in July 1853. In 1860,[1] he married Harriet Miller (1833-1878) and they had four children: Florence Mary Ann (1861-1909), Eveline Maud (1863-1937), Grace Hannah (1865-1867) and Alfred Ernest (1869-1953). It appears that Henry ‘had the misfortune to be deformed and short of stature’,[2] but this did not impede him as he was frequently described as being energetic and indefatigable. In England he had been apprenticed to a nautical instrument maker,[3] and went into partnership with Thomas Drinkwater in 1854 after his arrival in Sydney.[4] They operated as Drinkwater and Lee, engineers who specialised in brass fittings, but the partnership was short-lived and was dissolved in April 1856.[5] This was to be the first of a number of such short-lived and unsuccessful business and professional positions in which Henry was involved.

In January of 1856, Lee published the first volume of The Australian Band of Hope Review and Children’s Friend which was a journal for the promotion of temperance.[6] It was to be published fortnightly, cost three pence, and was to be a children’s magazine consisting of anecdotes, stories and poetry, and often promoting the temperance message. Over time, it changed its emphasis from children to a more general audience and changed its title to The Australian Home Companion, but it remained a temperance advocate. Whatever else the newspaper may have done, it had the distinction of being the first newspaper to publish a Henry Kendall poem in February 1859.[7] The poem was entitled ‘Oh Tell Me Ye Breezes’ and was on the disappearance of Ludwig Leichhardt, the explorer.[8] It is clear the newspaper was not a commercial success for as early as 1857, after only fourteen months of publication, it was in trouble as its circulation was just 1,000 copies. The paper was barely covering its expenses and attempts were made by the public to raise £100 to defray its expenses.[9] By October 1859, the circulation had increased to 1,900 but the paper still struggled financially. Lee remained the proprietor until December 1860 when he was forced to sell the paper to cover his debts.[10]

In 1860, Henry became the first teacher for the Sydney Ragged School, the school founded by Edward Joy. Joy had advertised for a special sort of teacher who was more than just a teacher of reading and writing, but also someone who ‘has a truly Christian interest in the welfare of the class of children for whom the school is intended and who has at the same time the gift of winning the attention and securing the affection of such children.’[11] Lee[12] was engaged as a teacher and his appointment was praised as ‘the zeal, fidelity, and ability of that gentleman have been already proved in benevolent undertakings, especially in conveying Christian instruction.’[13] Joy located premises in Sussex-street and classes were conducted from April 2, 1860. Both boys and girls (the girls taught by lady visitors) attended from 2:00pm to 4:00pm every afternoon and in the evenings boys came from 7:30pm to 9:00pm on Mondays, Wednesdays and Fridays. After three months operation, though attendances fluctuated, some 50 children were attending during the day and 90 boys were attending the evening sessions.[14] These children, who were at first wild and unruly and prone to foul language, were taught reading, writing, arithmetic, singing and religious instruction.[15] The committee decided that a paid teacher was needed for the girls so in October 1860, Kate Danne was appointed. Just before the annual meeting in May 1861, a new master was required to replace Lee as he had unexpectedly resigned his position.[16]

By January 1863, and possibly as early as late 1861, Henry was the teacher at the National School at Manly Beach and he and his family lived at ‘Margate House’ in Manly.[17] This was a position he maintained at least until 1864, but by the end of that year he and Harriet were running a Boarding House and Baths at Brighton Beach (Manly Beach) which they continued until March 1865. Two months later, Henry and his family moved to Brisbane[18] to take over the ownership of ‘Heap’s Restaurant’, George Street, Brisbane, which was both an eating place and a boarding house which could accommodate up to 50 lodgers.[19] In June, the business was renamed ‘Lee’s Café’,[20] but by November Lee had sold the business and disposed of the furniture, linen and utensils.[21] He remained in Brisbane until 1867, during which time he went into partnership with Henry Leake and formed Lee and Leake, lemonade makers, but by early 1867 this business partnership was dissolved.[22]

By June 1867, the family had returned to Sydney and Henry took to selling guano and kerosene from a shop in 477 George Street. He may have had assistance in taking up this business opportunity from the previous lessee Randolph Nott[23] with whom he was well acquainted from his association with the Pitt Street Congregational Church. This business does not seem to be been vigorously pursued by Lee as there are few advertisements promoting its guano and kerosene, and so it was also short-lived and by September 1868, it had changed hands.[24] It seems that at this time Lee’s thoughts were turning in another direction, away from business and towards dedicating his time to philanthropic activity. Not that this meant the Lee family would no longer be involved in commercial activity, for Henry would become, probably through his influential contacts on the ‘Soup Kitchen and Night Refuge’ Committee, a director, shareholder and auditor of various mining companies[25] and his wife Harriet would go into business in her own right.

In 1868, Harriet Lee advertised her school for young ladies[26] where they would be taught English, music and drawing at 21 shillings per term. This venture does not seem to have been a success and there is no evidence that it lasted beyond the year in which it was first announced, but Harriet’s other commercial venture had much greater success. In 1874, she opened a shop in King Street selling ‘fancy goods’, cards, dolls, gifts and novelties, and which later moved to various George Street locations.[27] The shop remained in operation beyond her death in 1878, and was run by her daughter Florence[28] until the death of Henry in 1883.[29] Harriet must have been reasonably successful in business for when she died intestate in 1878, her estate was valued for probate at £1,000.

Lee had numerous philanthropic interests, but for the whole of his working life he maintained an active interest and participation in the Christian education of children. He was appointed Superintendent of the Pitt Street Congregational Church Sabbath School in 1858[30] and continued in that role until at least early 1862.[31] He was also involved in the Sussex Street Mission Sabbath School from its formation in 1871, and was its superintendent from at least 1874[32] until his death in 1883. The YMCA was also an interest maintained by Henry and he served on its committee from 1871 until 1875[33] and for a short time as a joint treasurer.[34] He was also the initial secretary of the committee of the Female Servants Training School in 1870-71.[35]

Another strong area of interest for Henry was temperance, for as well as editing a temperance newspaper, he was variously secretary of the Pitt Street Band of Hope 1857-1859,[36] the Prince Alfred Band of Hope 1863-1870,[37] the Juvenile Temperance Association 1870-1871,[38] the NSW Alliance for the Suppression of Intemperance 1857,[39] the Petersham Working Men’s Institute[40] and in 1872, he was a committee member of the NSW Association for the Suppression of Intemperance.[41] He was an officer of the No 1 Pioneer Lodge of Good Templars whose requirement for membership was that a man ‘believe in the existence of an Almighty God as the Father and Governor of all things, and is willing to abstain from intoxicating drink for life’ and whose aim was to ‘advance the cause of temperance and morality.[42] After 1872, Lee’s active involvement in organisations that supported the temperance cause declined, though his interest did not. It would appear that his great philanthropic focus had now become the City Night Refuge and Soup Kitchen.

At the door of the Refuge

At the door of the Refuge

In 1867, Lee became involved as the secretary of a committee to set up a Soup Kitchen.[43] It opened in Dixon Street and Liverpool Streets on July 22, 1867, in an old stone building once used as a watch house. Both men and women were fed, a cook was engaged at five shillings per week and a manager employed who lived with his wife and family on site.[44] Printed tickets were issued by the committee to subscribers and these subscribers, when solicited for alms, were encouraged to give the ticket instead of money, ‘thereby avoiding the danger of ministering to vagrants the means of intoxication’.[45] In the first month of operation the kitchen provided meals to ‘nearly three hundred poor, destitute people of both sexes.’[46] After six weeks, some 1,500 meals had been given and in addition to these the poor of the neighbourhood had shared in what was prepared and was excess to requirements. A free registry office had been opened to register the unemployed who were seeking jobs and it had been successful in placing some twenty persons during this time, chiefly in the country. Any unemployed person who refused a reasonable offer of employment was told ‘to seek his dinner elsewhere’.[47] The Committee, which was dependent upon the generosity of the public for cash and kind, made a determined effort to see that what little food and help was available was not abused. As a ‘primary object of the institution is to feed the hungry, a secondary is to prevent the public giving money to beggars, which is too often spent in intoxicating liquors’.[48] The Committee was not content to just distribute meals for they signalled to the public that they ‘intend extending their field of operations as means and opportunity offers.’[49]

The Chef-de-Cuisine

The Chef-de-Cuisine

Such an opportunity came when the police magistrate, Captain Scott,[50] called a meeting to consider the matter of a proposed ‘City Night Refuge’ and the advisability of combining it with the work of the already existing Soup Kitchen.[51] The committee of the Soup Kitchen had intended to open a refuge, but had postponed its opening in order for Scott’s idea, of an amalgamation of the proposed City Night Refuge and the current Soup Kitchen, to be examined. There was a general feeling that such a Refuge was clearly needed and that in order for it to be successful it needed to be non-sectarian and not engage in any religious instruction. Rev J F Sheridan, a Roman Catholic priest,[52] had been invited to the meeting by Scott to represent the views of the Roman Catholic community. He expressed the view that, while such a refuge was needed, it would be better not to amalgamate it with the Soup Kitchen as in Ireland ‘soups’ and ‘proselytism’ were synonymous terms. Lee assured the meeting that the committee of the Soup Kitchen ‘had never contemplated giving any religious instruction to anyone who had come to them for food’.[53] It was agreed to seek an amalgamation and, in order to divest the proposed institution to be founded from any suspicion of sectarianism, it was unanimously agreed to not have any clergymen on the committee.[54]

On July 1, 1868, the City Night Refuge and Soup Kitchen was opened at 535 Kent Street with a resident superintendent and with H B Lee as the general manager [55] whose prime task was managing the registry and obtaining supplies.[56]   Of Lee it was said he was a ‘singular man, full of business; everyone in Sydney knows him – that is, everyone in business; and if tradespeople and retired ladies and gentlemen should not happen to know him, he soon makes himself known to them by his importunities on behalf of the Soup Kitchen.’[57] A report in 1870,[58] a few years after the City Night Refuge and Soup Kitchen began, gives some idea of the scope of its activities:

Illustrated Sydney News March 17, 1870

Illustrated Sydney News March 17, 1870

By 1871, the administration of the Refuge was reorganised and the services of the superintendent R M McDougal was dispensed with and Lee moved from Petersham and became the resident manager.[59] This marked a change in Lee’s relationship to the Refuge as he moved from the role of an enthusiastic governance philanthropist to a vocational philanthropist, one employed by the charity he administered and promoted. Now he lived on the site of the philanthropic work and drew a salary for his efforts, and throughout Lee’s time at the Refuge its committee was extremely supportive of his work. It is clear that his labours were regarded as critical to the successful operation of the Refuge and supportive resolutions were passed at various annual meetings, such as:

The committee take the opportunity of commending the manager, Mr. H. B. Lee, for his continued and untiring exertions in procuring all the necessary raids, provisions, &c, that have been required, and also to express their entire confidence in his management.[60]

Assistant carrying soup mugs

Assistant carrying soup mugs

The level of support that Lee was able to assemble though donations of goods may be gauged by the impressive advertisement run in 1873 to thank donors. This list contained the individual names of those who had during the year donated bread (52), potatoes etc. (45), groceries (53), flour (10), medicine (2), timber (5), meat (42), sundry provisions (16), wood/coal (22), ironmongery (14), printing/stationery (17), materials (8), harness leather/shoeing (96), plants (3), clothing (17) and sundries (15).[61] But Lee’s efforts were not universally applauded. The Catholic Freeman’s Journal, which had a habit of being critical of non-sectarian, but in reality largely protestant supported organizations, carried a satirical article that insinuated that Lee was on a good thing at the Refuge. It provided him, it said, with rent-free accommodation, with wood and free rations. Beyond this, it was suggested that Lee had manipulated the accounts and was actually pocketing a salary of £240 per annum.[62] The satirical newspaper The Wasp said of Lee that ‘H B L has the reputation (in common with many parsons and other unctuous individuals) of understanding the noble art of looking after “No 1”.’[63] It is difficult to correctly appraise such comments, but the committee’s response to these unsubstantiated insinuations, was to affirm their confidence in Lee and in his judicious management.[64] He was to continue to manage the Refuge until his death in 1883.[65]

Joseph Kirby, a President of the Congregational Union of Australasia,[66] remembered Lee as

A man who was filled with a burning Christian philanthropy … [who] sowed the temperance seed, which had borne such an abundant harvest in New South Wales, and founded the Band of Hope at Pitt-street … a man who was filled with a burning Christian philanthropy, and who gave himself to endless labours for the poor and needy.[67]

Contemporary accounts observed that in his death ‘the poorer classes have indeed lost a friend’.[68] Lee never appeared to be very successful in business, but his varied experiences in numerous roles, publisher, teacher, boarding house manager and restaurant owner, provided him with the background to be a successful vocational philanthropist. His lasting legacy was the City Night Refuge and Soup Kitchen that provided relief and support for those in need. Its success and continuance was largely due to his energy and drive.

 Dr Paul F Cooper, Research Fellow, Christ College, Sydney.

The appropriate way to cite this article is as follows:

Paul F Cooper. Henry Brougham Richard Lee (1831-1883) The City Night Refuge and Soup Kitchen Manager. Philanthropy and Philanthropists in Australian Colonial History, August 29, 2015. Available at

[1] July 5, 1860 at Waverly, NSW. Birth Entry for Grace Hannah Lee (QLD Births Deaths and Marriages). October 24, 1865.

[2] This information comes from a satirical article written in ‘The Wasp’ a racy comic Sydney journal. The article though satirical seems to be well informed and accurate on the factual aspects of Lee’s life so this description of his physical deformity is probably accurate as well. Geelong Advertiser, March 17, 1879.

[3] 1851 England Census.

[4] Drinkwater went on to be a manufacturer of iron beds. SMH, March 7, 1866; Empire, March 22, 1867.

[5] SMH, April 5, 1856.

[6] The Australian Band of Hope Review and Children’s Friend, January 5, 1856.

[7] Thomas Henry Kendall (18 April 1839 – 1 August 1882) was a nineteenth-century Australian author and bush poet.

[8] The Australian Home Companion and Band of Hope Journal, February 26, 1859. Daily Advertiser (Wagga Wagga, NSW), April 24, 1939.

[9] SMH, February 20, 1857.

[10] The Australian Band of Hope Review and Children’s Friend, December 15, 1860 was Lee’s last issue. SMH, November 28, 1861.

[11] Empire, March 6, 1860.

[12] Lee was still the editor of The Australian Home Companion and Band of Hope Journal but was soon to sell the paper to cover its debts. The financial trouble of the paper and his decision to take the job as teacher of the Ragged School were probably related.

[13] Empire, July 27, 1860. This presumably is a reference to his work as the superintendent of the Pitt Street Sunday Schools.

[14] SMH, July 27, 1860.

[15] SMH, July 23, 1860.

[16] Empire, May 14, 1861, SMH, May 14, 1861.

[17] It is unknown when Lee moved to Manly Beach. His wife Harriet gave birth to their first child Florence on the July 23, 1861 at this residence in Oxford Street Newtown but he is, in mid-1862, secretary of the committee to build a Congregational Church at Manly. Sydney Mail, July 27, 1861, Empire, May 5, 1862.

[18] They travelled on the City of Brisbane from Sydney arriving on May 22, 1865. Queensland Times, Ipswich Herald and General Advertiser, May 25, 1865.

[19] Brisbane Courier, February 16, 1865.

[20] Brisbane Courier, June 13, 1865.

[21] Brisbane Courier, November 4, 1865.

[22] Brisbane Courier, February 5, 1867.

[23] SMH, January 19, 1867; April 9, 1867; June 6, 1867; August 3, 1867; September 5, 1867. See also Geelong Advertiser, March 17, 1879.

[24] It was being run by J. Davis. SMH, September 28, 1868.

[25] Auditor of the Ancient Briton Tin Mining Company, SMH, May 13, 1872 and the Sons of Freedom Gold Mine, Maitland Mercury and Hunter River General Advertiser, March 19, 1872; a Director of Princess Alexandra Gold Mining Company, Evening News, June 13, 1872; a gold claim at Tambaroora, Empire, January 23, 1875 and a Director of the Starr-Bowkett Building Society, Evening News, July 20, 1871. Lee also held 400 shares in the short lived Blackman’s Reef Mine at Oberon which lasted a little more than 12 months. Henry Lovett was the manager and had a close association with Lee. NSW Government Gazette, 1873, pp468-9.

[26] SMH, June 4, 1868.

[27] The shop was moved to George Street and to a second location in George Street after a fire. The Sydney Mail and New South Wales Advertiser, April 28, 1877; SMH, May 17, 1878.

[28] Evening News, February 12, 1879.

[29] Evening News, February 16, 1883.

[30] Empire, June 5, 1861.

[31] Empire, March 19, 1862.

[32] SMH, November 9, 1871; October 29, 1874; January 26, 1875.

[33] Evening News, November 21, 1871

[34] SMH, January 20, 1874.

[35] Evening News, May 10, 1870; SMH, December 5, 1871.

[36] SMH, May 13, 1857; January 5, 1859.

[37] SMH, May 1, 1868; Oct 29, 1869; May 28, 1870.

[38] SMH, May 28, 1870; Sydney Mail, January 14, 1871.

[39] SMH, April 29, 1857.

[40] Sydney Mail, January 14, 1871.

[41] Evening News, July 27, 1872.

[42] Evening News, July 24, 1872.

[43] It was formally called ‘Soup Kitchen and General Institution for the Relief of the Distressed’. SMH, September 7, 1867.

[44] Sydney Mail, September 14, 1867.

[45] Sydney Mail, August 3, 1867.

[46] Empire, August 12, 1867.

[47] Sydney Mail, September 14, 1867.

[48] Sydney Mail, September 14, 1867.

[49] Sydney Mail, September 14, 1867.

[50] David Charles Frederick Scott (1805-1881), Police Magistrate 1860-1881 previously of 3rd Bombay Cavalry. SMH, May 19, 1881.

[51] Sydney Mail, May 30, 1868. A Night Refuge already existed in Francis Street, Sydney run privately by Mr and Mrs G Lucas. It had religious instruction, took in only men and boys and could and did provide shelter for extended periods.

[52] The Rev John Felix Sheridan, a fellow of St John’s College at the University of Sydney.

[53] Sydney Mail, May 30, 1868.

[54] Sydney Mail, May 30, 1868. This did not mean there was no religious input. Evening services were conducted by city missionaries in the dining room for those who wished to attend. Many also attended the Sunday morning breakfasts in the Temperance Hall which gave further religious instruction. The Sydney Mail and New South Wales Advertiser, August 2, 1873.

[55] SMH, July 2, 1868.

[56] Illustrated Sydney News, August 7, 1868.

[57] The Sydney Mail and New South Wales Advertiser, May 22, 1880.

[58] Illustrated Sydney News, March 17, 1870.

[59] Illustrated Sydney News, August 7, 1868; Empire, August 17, 1871.

[60] The Sydney Mail and New South Wales Advertiser, July 25, 1874

[61] SMH, July 31, 1873.

[62] Freeman’s Journal, May 15, 1880.

[63] Geelong Advertiser, March 17, 1879.

[64] See the numerous references to Lee in the speeches at the annual meeting. SMH, August 4, 1880.

[65] He died on January 14, 1883 in his 53rd year. The Sydney Mail and New South Wales Advertiser, January 20, 1883.

[66] Joseph Coles Kirby (1837-1924), chairman of the Congregational Union of Australia and New Zealand in 1910-13.

[67] Susan Emilson et al, Pride of Place – A history of the Pitt Street Congregational Church (Beaconsfield: Circa, 2008), 80.

[68] Wagga Wagga Advertiser, January 18, 1883.


  1. […] and Miss Danne was appointed to the paid staff in October 1860[1] to teach the girls and to support Henry B Lee, the one paid male teacher.[2] With Lee’s departure around May 1861, a Mr Danne was appointed to […]


  2. […] the same time the gift of winning the attention and securing the affection of such children.’[35] Henry B Lee,[36] an experienced Sunday School teacher, was engaged as a teacher and premises were found in […]


  3. […] Mr Lee he especially praised as a man of very sincere piety and great love for the children. He had had very rough diamonds to smooth, but he (Sir James) was quite sure his influence was good and he could not help thinking that after 50 years his teaching must have had a wonderful effect upon a certain part of the community.[23] […]


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