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Christopher Lee – steamboat engineer

February 12, 2014

Christopher Lee (1819-1887) was a gold rush era steamboat engineer on Fraser River and a pioneer resident of New Westminster, father of  Martha Mary McCorvie.

Christopher Lee was born at Grassington, Yorkshire, England in 1819.  His father Francis Lee, a blacksmith,  brought the family from Yorkshire to the banks of the Monongahela River,  at Brownsville, Pennsylvania about 1830.

Dunlap's Creek bridge - Brownsville PA - from Carl Rakeman paintingBrownsville PA was at that time a thriving industrial and steamboat building center.

Christopher Lee trained as a machinist and worked first at Snowdon & Sons Iron Works.  Snowdon’s had built the first iron bridge in the United States, over Dunlap’s Creek in 1836. Lee later moved to Pittsburgh as foreman in a large manufactory.

In 1850 Christopher Lee migrated to California where he found employment as an engineer with a navigation company. In 1858 he came north with the flow of steamer traffic to the gold regions of British Columbia. Once here he worked as engineer on many of the early Fraser River and coastal steamers.

Christopher Lee partnered with Captain James Robinson to build and run the sternwheeler Ada.

Launched in 1874,  and named after Robinson’s wife, the Ada was the first built at Burrard Inlet.

In 1884 Christopher Lee was the first engineer to serve on the government snagboat Samson,  with Angus Grant the first captain.

Samson - snagboat on Fraser RiverGrant was owner of the New Westminster and Brownsville ferry K de K.  Captain Angus Grant remained master of the Samson until his death in 1889, after which Lee’s former partner James Robinson was put in charge.

Christopher Lee was married to Margaret Marsh, a native of Folkstone, England. They had one child, Martha Mary Lee, born at New Westminster on March 6, 1861. 

Francis Lee, Christopher’s father, died in March 1880 and his obituary was published at New Westminster.

"Brownsville, Penn., U.S., on March …Francis Lee, aged 82, a native of Grassington, Yorkshire, England; father of Mr. C. Lee, of this city."

Christopher Lee graveChristopher Lee died at New Westminster February 19, 1887, age 68.

To the populace of the city his passing was  "like the loss of a member of the family."

"He has always sustained a high position in the estimation of his fellow citizens and will be long remembered by his numerous acquaintances."

He was a Mason and was buried at the Masonic cemetery at Sapperton.

Mrs Margaret Marsh Lee lived until June 6, 1905. For many years before her death at age 77 she was an invalid, cared for by her daughter, Martha Mary.

Later the same year Martha Mary Lee was married to  Archie McCorvie.

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