Australian Dictionary of Biography

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Evans, William Meirion (1826–1883)

by Bill Jones

This article was published in Australian Dictionary of Biography, Supplementary Volume, (MUP), 2005

William Meirion Evans (1826-1883), Wesleyan minister and editor, was born on 12 August 1826 at Isallt Fawr, parish of Llanfihangel-y-Pennant, Carnarvonshire, Wales, son of Edmund Evans, farmer, and his wife Mary, née Williams. William spent most of his early life in Llanfrothen, Merionethshire, an area he regarded as his native locality. Raised as a devout Welsh Calvinistic Methodist, he was self-taught and largely acquired his education from the local Sunday School. As a youth he went to work in the Ffestiniog slate-mines, and also became a Sunday School teacher.

Attracted by news of economic opportunities, Evans reached Adelaide on 19 May 1849. He was employed in smelting works at Yatala and Apoinga and in the Willunga slate quarries. At Burra, where he worked in the copper-mine, he held Welsh-language religious services and about 1850 preached the first recorded Welsh-language sermon in Australia. In 1852 he went to the gold-mines at Bendigo, Victoria. Returning to Wales in 1853, he migrated with his parents and other family members to Illinois, United States of America. There, on 9 June 1855 he married Mary Jane Hughes. They were to have two children who died young. By June 1861 William had been ordained as a minister with the Welsh Calvinistic Methodist Church in Columbus, Wisconsin.

Evans arrived back in Victoria on 6 March 1863; his wife joined him in 1865. At first a miner and part-time preacher in the Ballarat area, he gave up mining in 1864 on being appointed minister of the Welsh Calvinistic Methodist churches at Ballarat, Sebastopol and Cambrian Hill. His wife died in 1869. On 7 November 1870 at his Ballarat residence he married Ellen Jones, née Roberts, a widow. In April 1871 the Welsh Calvinistic Methodist General Association of Victoria transferred Evans to take charge of the Welsh Church in Melbourne. He was also given full powers to oversee the building of the new La Trobe Street church, which opened on 31 December 1871.

An enterprising, kind and considerate man, Evans had a reputation for doing good deeds for their own sake. His energy and determination invigorated Welsh, and especially Welsh-language, religious and cultural activities in the colony, and he became a respected community leader. The driving force behind the only two Welsh-language periodicals to be published in Australia in the nineteenth century, he served variously as joint or sole editor of the Yr Australydd [the Australian], published in 1866-72, and Yr Ymwelydd [the Visitor], which appeared in 1874-76. He contributed many articles to Welsh journals in Wales and the U.S.A. as well as to his own, where his editorials urged Welsh immigrants to maintain their native language. Retaining their nationality, he argued, was compatible with loyalty to their adopted country. In 1872 he was one of the founders of the Cambrian Society of Victoria.

Following his retirement, Evans opened a bookshop in Bourke Street, Melbourne, and later at Ballarat, though he continued to preach at services in both places. After a long illness he died on 4 August 1883 at Ballarat, survived by his second wife and their three daughters. He was buried in Ballarat cemetery.

Select Bibliography

  • The Dictionary of Welsh Biography Down to 1940 (Lond, 1959)
  • M. Williams, Cymry Awstralia (Llandybie, Wales, 1983)
  • L. Lloyd, Australians from Wales (Caernarfon, Wales, 1988)
  • Cylchgrawn Hanes y Methodistiaid Calfinaidd, vol 7, 1983, p 43
  • B. Jones, ‘Welsh Identity in Colonial Ballarat’, in W. Prest and G. Tulloch (eds), Scatterlings of Empire (Brisb, 2001)
  • Ballarat Star, 6 Aug 1883
  • memoir of the Rev. W. M. Evans (manuscript, Welsh Church, Melbourne and National Library of Wales).

Citation details

Bill Jones, 'Evans, William Meirion (1826–1883)', Australian Dictionary of Biography, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University, http://adb.anu.edu.au/biography/evans-william-meirion-12906/text23315, published in hardcopy 2005, accessed online 20 April 2014.

This article was first published in hardcopy in Australian Dictionary of Biography, Supplementary Volume, (MUP), 2005

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