Australian Dictionary of Biography

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John Edwin Evenden (1819–1890)

by Margaret Glover

This article was published:

John Edwin Evenden (c.1819-1890), convict, constable and caretaker, was born at St Leonards, Sussex, England, son of a builder. While employed as a brewer and clerk in London, John was sentenced to fourteen years transportation for stealing letters containing £2 10s. 4d. He arrived in Hobart Town in the Hindostan on 19 January 1841 and was sent to Port Arthur, where his exemplary conduct soon brought rewards.

Employed as a schoolmaster during his period of probation, Evenden became a constable and, according to his own account, gave invaluable service to the authorities. The bushranger Martin Cash supported his claims of efficiency: 'my own case affording a melancholy proof'. In 1870 Marcus Clarke was told of 'the acuteness of Mr John Evenden'. On 2 March 1851 at Tasman Peninsula he had married Margaret Louisa Flora MacDonald. They were to have nine children. When the constabulary was reduced in 1861, Evenden leased the former government farm at Saltwater River but, just over a year later, suffered financially when the property was resumed.

An appointment as policeman at New Norfolk in 1863 was timely but ultimately unfortunate. Evenden's wife had long suffered from mental illness and was often a patient at the New Norfolk Asylum. With a large family and sick wife, in 1871 Evenden was charged with misappropriating £140 in road trust monies and sentenced to eighteen months imprisonment, the presiding judge noting the similarity to his original offence.

Freed after fifteen months, Evenden remained at Port Arthur and, as he had done some thirty years earlier, became a constable. He also acted as wharfinger, coxswain, semaphore repairer, and telegraph operator. With the closure of the settlement looming, he was appointed caretaker at five shillings per day and also acted as guide to the tourists who came to the previously restricted area. He remained on the payroll until 1881, when his duties were taken over by the police constable. Given a half pension, but refused a full pension or a position with light duties, he remained on Tasman Peninsula, where he owned a small amount of land. In 1884 he wrote his memoirs so that they could be used as an authoritative account of the settlement. Enlivened by personal experience but marred by inaccuracy, his account was nevertheless used by Port Arthur guides until at least 1954.

Evenden died at the General Hospital, Hobart, on 30 May 1890, survived by his wife, five daughters and two sons. He was buried in Cornelian Bay cemetery and his death noted on his convict record.

Select Bibliography

  • Martin Cash, the Bushranger of Van Diemen’s Land in 1843-4 (Hob, 1870)
  • B. Wannan (ed), A Marcus Clarke Reader (Melb, 1963)
  • Mercury (Hobart), 13 Sept 1871, p 3, 2 June 1890, p 3
  • W. N. Hurst papers (Royal Society of Tasmania, Hobart)
  • Convict Dept records, Colonial Secretary’s Office records, Chief Secretary’s Dept records and Port Arthur Scenic Reserve Board records, and file nos CSD10/6/95, CSD16/26/344 and AA610/2 (Archives Office of Tasmania).

Citation details

Margaret Glover, 'Evenden, John Edwin (1819–1890)', Australian Dictionary of Biography, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University,, published first in hardcopy 2005, accessed online 17 April 2024.

This article was published in hardcopy in Australian Dictionary of Biography, Supplementary Volume, (Melbourne University Press), 2005

View the front pages for the Supplementary Volume

© Copyright Australian Dictionary of Biography, 2006-2024

Life Summary [details]


St Leonards-on-Sea, Sussex, England


30 May, 1890 (aged ~ 71)
Hobart, Tasmania, Australia

Cultural Heritage

Includes subject's nationality; their parents' nationality; the countries in which they spent a significant part of their childhood, and their self-identity.

Passenger Ship
Convict Record

Crime: theft
Sentence: 14 years
Court: unknown