George Essex Evans was born in London on June 18, 1863 to Welsh parents. Evans’ father, John, was a Q.C. and a member of the House of Commons and unfortunately died not long after George’s birth. In 1881, at the age of 18, he migrated to Australia with his two sisters and brother.
They settled on a farm at Allora but George, finding farming disagreeable, sought employment as a teacher, journalist and then a public servant. He became Registrar of Births, Deaths and Marriages at Gympie and later Toowoomba. By that stage he was writing under the pseudonym “Christophus” and became editor of the Sydney journal, “The Antipodean”.
In 1899, Evans married Mrs Blanche Hopkins of Goodar Station, near Goondiwindi, and built them a home, “Glenbar” on the Tollbar Road on the eastern slope of the range. There was one child born of the marriage, a son, Bowen. Evans, a staunch democrat, was defensive of the rights of the ‘common man’ and so welcomed Federation as a means of attaining social justice.
He was particularly critical of the hypocrisy of bureaucracy at the time and this passion was evident in poems such as his “Ode to the Philistines”. His romanticism and sincere approval of pioneer women was reflected in such poems as “Women of the West”. Evans also excelled as a playwright, producing some works for the Brisbane Theatre: “Robinson Crusoe” a pantomime, and “Musical Whist”.
Being a lover of culture, Evans founded the Austral Society in Toowoomba in 1903, as a means of promoting music, art, literature, science and industry. This was the first association of this kind in Toowoomba and was based in a large hall, reputedly able to hold 8000 people. Each year the society held the immensely popular Austral Festival.
Evans had been a great advocate for the construction of a new range road and upon falling ill in 1909 was the first passenger to be conveyed over it when taken to the General Hospital on an ambulance litter. The men working on the new deviation were so genuinely overcome with sorrow for the poet who had worked hard to bring about the new road that they relieved the ambulance men of their duty and bore the litter up the range themselves.
He passed away soon after from complications from his surgery. He was 46 years of age. The news of his death was first delivered from the stage of the Austral Hall during the largest Austral Festival celebrations ever staged.
The funeral was held on Thursday, November 11, 1909 in St. James Church and he was buried at the Drayton and Toowoomba Cemetery. Each year, since 1929 the Toowoomba Ladies’ Literary Society has organized a pilgrimage to the monument erected in his honour in Webb Park, Toowoomba.
LH files – LH/Evans, George Essex
LH files – LH/Austral Association
Tardent, Henry - “The life and poetry of George Essex Evans : essays written for the Brisbane 1913 Eisteddfod” (1913).
Kelly, Veronica – “George Essex Evans and the early Australian theatre” (1985).