apprenticed to a builder and he learned masonry and brickwork. He acquired his passion for literature and drama attending performances of itinerant theatrical companies ... and his radical philosophy in the times of Darwin and the religious revival which followed in the wake of his theory of evolution.
Leslie embarked for Durban in mid 1881 on the "Pretoria", a steam driven sail-assisted vessel of 4,000 tons. Thirty days later, at Port Natal he was lowered over the side in a basket and brought ashore by tugboat. From Durban, then a town of 6,000 whites, he travelled by train to Pietermaritzburg and thence by ox-wagon to Pretoria, a 22 day journey which took him to his destination: the Lewis and Marks distillery 'De Eerste Fabrieken' in Pretoria. As foreman he worked on the construction of the distillery and when he had accumulated £150 he left Pretoria to tour the country.
In Kimberley, Leslie worked on the diamond mine for a time, then he set out to follow the route to Port Elizabeth taken by the explorer-artist Baines. A day out of Kimberley he put up for
the night at a roadside store at Alexanderfontein, only to find in the morning that his two horses had been stolen by the renowned highwayman, Scotty Smith. He walked back to Kimberley, bought another mount and made his way to Bloemfontein and thence to Port Elizabeth.
He toured parts of the Eastern Province prospecting and working as a mason, and in 1885 he returned to Pretoria to work again at Hatherley Distillery. Later, he entered into a partnership as a building contractor in Pretoria and it was at this time that he married.
Leslie fell on hard times during the recession of 1889-90 and when Hatherley Distillery was burned down Marks employed him to rebuild it. He spent the next twelve months completing the work.
Late in 1891, Leslie accompanied Sammy Mark in a Cape cart to the Vaal coal-mines which were then a full day's drive from Pretoria. At the mines there was labour trouble which Leslie attributed to accommodation, and three months later he left Pretoria with building materials to erect proper housing for the workers at the Bedworth mine. On his arrival he occupied the newly-built Leeuwkuil farmhouse in which he lived until he had built his own stone residence in the new township of Vereeniging.
Leslie's wife, Jane Mary and their two children, Agnes Jane and John Alfred, followed him from Pretoria by ox-wagon, laden with furniture for their home; and this was the beginning of Leslie's 51-year association with Vereeniging. He was to play a pioneer role in the civic, educational, cultural and horticultural development of the town, which then was little more than wasteland.