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Way Lee, Yet Soo War (c. 1853 - 1909)


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    Reception at Government House., c. 1901, courtesy of State Library of South Australia.

c. 1853


Yet Soo War Way Lee was born in Tungkun, near Canton in China. In 1874, after marrying, he arrived in Sydney. He stayed with his uncle, the merchant Way Kee of George Street, while he attended school in Sydney and Brisbane.

By 1878 he had established Way, Lee & Co, an importing firm in Adelaide with branches in western New South Wales and the Northern Territory. He was naturalised in 1882. The Chinese Commissioners, General Wong Yung Ho and U. Tsing, who visited Australia in 1887 arranged for Way Lee, Mei Quong Tart and two others to present a memorial from the Australian Chinese to the Peking Government. During this visit Way Lee was appointed a mandarin of the fourth degree.

Way Lee was concerned about the welfare of Australia's Chinese inhabitants. He believed Chinese families should be allowed to migrate to cultivate unused land, perhaps in an area solely for Chinese settlement. He promoted education and tried to improve living and working conditions. He advocated restricting the import and use of opium and recommended that the practice of smuggling Chinese by sea into Western Australia be abolished. He also tried to remove the restrictions placed on Chinese travelling between the Australian colonies. He deplored anti-Chinese feeling and legislation.

In 1889 Way Lee married Margaret Ann McDonald and they had two daughters and a son. He also had a wife and son in China. He became a Freemason and was the accepted leader of Adelaide's Chinese community. He was also well respected by other Adelaide businessmen and dignitaries. He hosted social events for the business and wider community and raised money for victims of flood and famine in China. He was expected to be appointed as Chinese vice-consul for South Australia but died at his home in Rundle Street in 1909 before it could happen. He was buried as a Presbyterian. His estate was sworn for probate at £1,000.

Sources used to compile this entry: Gibbs, R.M., Way Lee, Yet Soo War (c.1853-1909), Australian Dictionary of Biography, vol. 12, Melbourne University Press, Melbourne, 1990, 420 pp,

Prepared by: Sophie Couchman, La Trobe University

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State Library of New South Wales - Mitchell Library

  • Quong Tart and family papers (1831-1940), ML MSS 5094; State Library of New South Wales - Mitchell Library. Details

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Reception at Government House (Adelaide) for Duke and Duchess of York
c. 1901
Australia - South Australia - Adelaide