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Australian Dictionary of Biography

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Evans, George Samuel (1802–1868)

by Janice Burns Woods

This article was published in Australian Dictionary of Biography, Volume 4, (MUP), 1972

George Samuel Evans (1802-1868), barrister, editor and politician, was born on 3 June 1802, son of George Evans of London. He was educated at Merchant Taylors' School and the University of Glasgow (M.A., 1827; LL.D., 1830). A scholar of the classics and uncertain of his vocation, he was ordained a Congregational minister, spent six months in 1828 as headmaster of Mill Hill School and then decided on a legal career. He entered Lincoln's Inn in 1832 and in 1837 was called to the Bar, but before he could establish himself he became enthusiastic for New Zealand colonization.

Active in the New Zealand Co. from the first, Evans sailed with his wife Harriet in the Adelaide to Port Nicholson (Wellington) in 1839. He was a member of the colonists' self-governing committee and their chief judicial authority as 'umpire'. In 1840 he was made a magistrate and played a leading role in the colonists' efforts to validate their land purchases. Returning to London in 1844, he continued to work for New Zealand and resumed his interrupted legal career until ill health forced him to leave England. He went to New Zealand in 1852 but left in 1853 for Victoria.

Evans quickly became prominent in Victorian public life: the learned doctor of laws and Greek scholar, boasting of his massive work in making notes for a great history in continuation of Gibbon, was a rare figure amongst the colonists. As editor of the Herald in 1855-58 he wrote about a thousand leading articles, besprinkled with classical allusions; for his ponderous style and manner, his staff nicknamed him 'Bozzy'. The same style marked his parliamentary oratory. He represented Richmond in the Victorian Legislative Assembly in 1856-59, Avoca in 1859-61 and Maryborough in 1861-64. Always eloquent but apt to bore the assembly with his weighty periods and his constant reference to the virtues of the British Constitution, Evans was a rather comical figure and a source of endless delight to Melbourne Punch.

His political career was undistinguished. According to an obituarist, he laid 'more store by the wants of office than was consistent with a high order of political usefulness'. His political views, broadly liberal, were conveniently flexible when salary beckoned. He eagerly accepted office as postmaster-general under (Sir) John O'Shanassy in 1858, and took lands as well when (Sir) Charles Gavan Duffy resigned in 1859, ensuring re-election by his startling adoption of the Land Convention's policy. Evans lost office in 1859, but was again postmaster-general in the third O'Shanassy government in 1861-63. Defeated at the 1864 elections, Evans returned to Wellington in 1865 and successfully prosecuted legal claims which secured his right to much landed property. Harriett, died in Wellington on 31 March 1866, and Evans died there on 23 September 1868.

Select Bibliography

  • J. L. Forde, The Story of the Bar of Victoria (Melb, 1913)
  • D. Blair, ‘Three Melbourne Barristers: A Recollection’, Centennial Magazine, vol 2, no 9, Apr 1890, pp 689-92
  • Argus (Melbourne), 6 Apr 1859
  • Australasian, 17 Oct 1868
  • manuscript catalogue under George Samuel Evans (State Library of New South Wales)
  • CO 309/53, letter 25 Oct 1860 and minutes.

Citation details

Janice Burns Woods, 'Evans, George Samuel (1802–1868)', Australian Dictionary of Biography, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University,, published first in hardcopy 1972, accessed online 15 August 2020.

This article has been amended since its original publication. View Original

This article was first published in hardcopy in Australian Dictionary of Biography, Volume 4, (MUP), 1972

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