Lee, John (1783-1866) (DNB00)

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LEE, JOHN (1783–1866), collector of antiquities and man of science, born on 28 April 1788, was eldest son of John Fiott, merchant, London, who died at Bath 27 Jan. 1797 (Gent. Mag. February 1797, pp. 167-8), and of Harriett, second daughter of William Lee of Totteridge Park, Hertfordshire; she died at Totteridge, 25 June 1795. John was educated at St. John's College, Cambridge, where he was fifth wrangler in 1806, graduated B.A. in the same year, M.A. 1809, and LL.D. 1816. On 4 Oct. 1815 he assumed the name of Lee by royal license, under the will of William Lee Antonie of Colworth House, Bedfordshire, his maternal uncle. At the same time he acquired the estates of Colworth in Bedfordshire, Totteridge Park, and other lands, and in 1827 he inherited from the Rev. Sir George Lee, bart., the estate of Hartwell in Buckinghamshire. As one of the travelling bachelors of his university in 1807-10, he made a tour through Europe and the East, collecting objects of antiquity. In the 'Archæologia,' 1848, xxxiii. 36-54, he published a paper on 'Antiquarian Researches in the Ionian Islands in the year 1812,' and he presented most of the objects described to the Society of Antiquaries, of which he was elected a fellow in 1828. A printed catalogue of the oriental manuscripts which he acquired in Turkey is in the society's library. He also brought home many eastern coins and medals and casts of engraved gems, and joined the Numismatic Society. On his return to England Lee resumed the study of law, and on 3 Nov. 1816 was admitted a member of the College of Advocates, of which society he was subsequently treasurer and librarian. He remained a practising member of the ecclesiastical courts until their suppression in 1858. At the age of eighty, on 13 July 1863, he was admitted a barrister of Gray's Inn, and on becoming a bencher in 1864 gave 500l. to found an annual prize for an essay on law. On 7 July 1864 he was gazetted a queen's counsel. Throughout his life Lee interested himself in science. With the assistance of his Mend Vice-admiral William Henry Smyth he built in 1830 an observatory in the south portico of Hartwell House, and in 1837 James Epps became his permanent assistant-astronomer (Smyth, Cycle of Celestial Objects, 1860, pp. 120-58 et seq., a work printed at Lee's expense). He was an original member of the Royal Astronomical Society in 1820, and its president in 1862. To the society he gave the advowson of Hartwell in 1836, and the vicarage of Stone, Buckinghamshire, in 1844, with a view to the promotion of astronomy in connection with theology. He was elected a fellow of the Royal Society 24 Feb. 1831. He was also a member of the Geological Society, and his museum contained a large collection of geological specimens, including a black meteoric stone which fell in Oxfordshire in 1830. Meetings of his learned friends at Hartwell House led to the formation of the Meteorological, the Syro-Egyptian, and the Anglo-Biblical (since become extinct) societies. In 1862 he was president of the meeting of the British Archaeological Association congress at Leicester. His benevolence was unbounded. In politics he was an advanced liberal, and made unsuccessful attempts in 1835, 1841, 1862, and 1863 to represent Aylesbury in the House of Commons. He favoured a union of the church of England with the dissenters and stoutly opposed Romanism. He was a rigid teetotaller and an enemy to the use of tobacco. He died at Hartwell House, near Aylesbury, 25 Feb. 1866, having married first, in 1833, Miss Cecilia Rutter, who died 1 April 1854; and secondly, on 29 Nov. 1855, Louisa Catherine, elder daughter of Richard Ford Heath of Uxbridge. He left no issue, and his property passed to his brother, the Rev. Nicholas Fiott, who assumed the surname of Lee.

Vice-admiral W. H. Smyth published at Lee's expense: 1. 'Descriptive Catalogue of a Cabinet of Roman Imperial large Brass Medals,' Bedford, 1834. 2. 'Ædes Hartwellianæ. Notices of the Manor and Mansion of Hartwell.' 1851, with 'Addenda.' 1864. 3. 'Sidereal Chromatics; being a reprint, with Additions from the Bedford Cycle of Celestial Objects and its Hartwell continuation on the Colours of Multiple Stars.' 1864. Lee himself edited 'Catalogue of the Egyptian Antiquities at Hartwell House, chiefly arranged by Joseph Bonomi,' 1858; and the following catalogues of his books were printed: 'Catalogue of Law Books in the Library at Hartwell,' 1855; 'Catalogue of Theological Books in the Library of Hartwell House, Buckinghamshire.' 1855.

[Memoir of John Lee, Aylesbury, 1870; Journal of British Archæol. Association, 1867, xxiii. 302-305; Proceedings of Royal Soc. 1868, vol. xvi. pp. xxx-i; Numismatic Chronicle, 1866, vi. 13; Gent. Mag. 1866, i. 592-3; Pall Mall Gazette, 28 Feb. 1866, p. 8; Times, 1 March 1866, p. 11; Monthly Notices Astronomical Society, 1866, lxxvi. 121-9, 1867 xxvii. 109-10.]

G. C. B.