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The Cyclopedia of New Zealand [Auckland Provincial District]

Mr. William Lee Rees

Mr. William Lee Rees, who represented the City of Auckland in the House of Representatives from 1876 to 1879, and again from 1890 to 1893, is one of the best known parliamentarians in the Colony. Mr. Rees was born in the City and County of Bristol on the 16th of December, 1836, and is a son of Dr. James Rees, a celebrated medical man of Downend, who, however died while Mr. Rees was very young. Dr. Rees died suddenly and his practice was taken up by his brother-in-law, Dr. Grace, the father of the renowned English cricketers, who are of course cousins of Mr. Rees. After being educated by private tuition, and reading for the law at the Melbourne University, Mr. Rees was articled to Messrs Carrington and Creswell, of Melbourne. He, however, did not complete his articles, as he gave up the law for the church, became a Congregational minister, and was for four years in Melbourne and at Beechworth, a town about 190 miles north of Melbourne. He afterwards left the ministry and was called to the Victorian Bar at Melbourne in 1865. After practising in Melbourne for a few months he came to Dunedin, where in 1866 he was admitted page 106 a barrister and solicitor of the Supreme Court of New Zealand by the late Mr. Justice Chapman. Mr. Rees was for three years at Hokitika, and he then settled in Auckland, where
Mr. W. L. Rees.

Mr. W. L. Rees.

his first brief was for the plaintiff in the celebrated case of Whitaker and Lundon v. Graham. Within four years of his arrival in Auckland, Mr. Rees was elected to the Provincial Council, and on Sir George Grey becoming Superintendent of the Province, Mr. Rees became provincial solicitor. The friendship then formed between the two politicians lasted till death. On the abolition of the Provinces in 1876 Mr. Rees stood for Auckland East in opposition to Mr. J. M. Clark, whom he defeated by forty votes. During the premiership of Sir George Grey, Mr. Rees was offered the Attorney Generalship, which he declined on the ground that there were already two Auckland members in the Cabinet, but he advised Sir George Grey to request Mr. (now Sir Robert) Stout to accept the post, and the advice was taken. Mr. Rees left Auckland for Napier during the life of that Parliament, and through the change he lost registration and was therefore unable to stand at the next election. During 1879 he left Napier for Gisborne, where his headquarters have since been fixed. It was during the Parliament of 1876–79 that Mr. Rees made his great stone-wall speech of twenty-four hours' duration. He was one of the leaders of the Liberal party of those days, and generally looked upon as Sir George Grey's lieutenant, especially in regard to such matters as manhood and womanhood suffrage. In 1891 Mr. Rees was chairman of the Native Land Law Commission, to which his special knowledge of Native affairs was of very particular use. As a man of untiring energy, Mr. Rees has lived a many-sided life. His skill as a cricketer was early recognised, for he played for Victoria against New South Wales in the first match played at Sydney between those colonies, and two of his cousins—Messrs W. G. Rees and G. Gilbert—played for New South Wales. On several occasions he played with the Auckland representatives. Whilst resident in Hokitika Mr. Rees was a member of the Westland County Council. During his residence in Auckland Mr. Rees was a teacher at the Beresford Street Sunday school for a short time. He has always taken a prominent part in literary and debating societies, and has made a name in the fields of literature. His principal novel is “Sir Gilbert Leigh,” and “Poverty to Plenty”—a work on political economy—shows Mr. Rees to be quite capable of hard thinking. In connection with his eldest daughter he wrote the “Life and Times of Sir George Grey”—a work which has been most favourably reviewed and recommended by leading papers of Great Britain, the Continent of Europe, the United States of America, Canada and the Colonies. In March, 1863, Mr. Rees was married to Miss Staite, daughter of Mr. Opie Staite, but though Mr. and Mrs. Rees were born in the same square in Bristol, their first meeting was in Melbourne; Mr. Rees has a family of three sons and four daughters. The sons—two of whom were educated at Caius College, Cambridge, are all at the law, and the second daughter is married to Mr. H. B. Lusk, of Napier, a successful and promising barrister and a son of the formerly well-known Auckland lawyer, Mr. H. H. Lusk, who is now in America contributing highly esteemed articles to some of the principal magazines there.