Born in Gibraltar and educated in Hong Kong and Sheffield, he moved to Adelaide in 1869. His work was usually characterised by bold decorative elements such as capitals, pilasters and pediments. He was elected to the South Australian House of Assembly as member for The Burra (1873-1875), Burra (1875-1881) and Onkaparinga (1882-1890).
He advanced liberal ideas, such as free education, the regulation (rather than banning) of gambling, and equal divorce rights for women.
Rees was a member of the South Australian Institute from 1878, and helped to select works for the South Australian State Collection.