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Evans, Matilda Jane (1827–1886)

by H. J. Finnis

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

Matilda Jane Evans (1827-1886), teacher and novelist under the pseudonym Maud Jeanne Franc, was born on 7 August 1827 at Peckham Park, Surrey, England, the elder of two surviving daughters of Henry Congreve, oilman, and his wife Elizabeth Ann, née Jacob. An unfortunate investment robbed her father of a large inheritance and in 1852 he sailed with his family for South Australia where two sons had already migrated in 1849; Matilda Jane's mother died at sea aged 49 and her father died by 'visitation of God' on 18 December 1852 at North Adelaide.

Responsible for the younger children, Matilda Jane was engaged as a governess and later opened a school at Mount Barker. There she wrote her first novel, Marian, or The Light of Some One's Home; this tale of Australian bush life was first published in 1859 by the local printer, Arthur Waddy, but ran to several editions in London. On 16 February 1860 at Zion Chapel, Adelaide, she married Ephraim Evans, Baptist minister and widower, of Nuriootpa. He died on 6 April 1863, and her Beatrice Melton's Discipline (1880) describes his last hours. He had made little provision for his wife and four children, but a public subscription helped Matilda Jane to start a school at Nuriootpa. She then opened a ladies' school at Angaston and in 1868 moved to Angaston House at North Adelaide. In 1882 she gave up teaching and devoted her time to the North Adelaide Baptist Church as a deaconess and to writing. She contributed many short stories and articles to local journals, and wrote fourteen novels; some appeared first locally but all were published in London by Sampson Low & Co., and ran to at least two editions. In 1888 a collected edition of her Australian tales was produced by her London publishers. Her books were favoured as Sunday school prizes for their strong gospel message, and she found her inspiration and her characters in her own experience and locality. She was also devoted to the cause of temperance. She died of peritonitis at her home in Prospect on 22 October 1886, survived by her two sons, Henry Congreve (1861-1899), who at 24 was chief of staff of the Advertiser and in 1889 founded Quiz, a social and political weekly, and William James (1863-1904), who became a journalist, collaborated with his mother in the collection, Christmas Bells (1882), and wrote Rhymes Without Reason (1898). They inherited her copyrights, manuscripts and most of her books, but her canary and 'all Miss Warner's books' went to her sister, and other small items to her brothers, her stepson and stepdaughter.

Select Bibliography

  • Register (Adelaide), 25 Apr 1863
  • Observer (Adelaide), 30 Oct 1886
  • Mount Barker Courier, 27 June 1930.

Citation details

H. J. Finnis, 'Evans, Matilda Jane (1827–1886)', Australian Dictionary of Biography, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University, http://adb.anu.edu.au/biography/evans-matilda-jane-3487/text5343, published in hardcopy 1972, accessed online 30 July 2014.

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

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