James Evans, 1829-1907:
The life of James Evans: 1829-1907.
When James Evans wrote his will on July 15, 1907 — just six weeks before his death — he described his occupation as "gentleman".
James died on August 27, 1907 at Echuca aged 79, ending a varied and interesting life. He outlived two wives and had seven children, but only two survived him.
James was born in South Wales about 1829. His parents were John Evans and Clara Williams. According to his second marriage certificate he was born at a place which appears to be Llandeilo.
From the age of 14 or 15 James worked in mining for four years. He was an ambitious young man and chose to seek his fortune in the new world.
James married Sarah Hardwick in Whitchurch on July 25, 1849. Joseph and Mary Hardwick witnessed the wedding. None of the Hardwick family could read or write.
James and Sarah came to Australia as assisted immigrants. Shipping records suggest they were both literate, meaning Sarah might have learned to write after she was married.
There would have been plenty of time for learning on the voyage. The couple left Plymouth aboard the barque Nelson on August 8, 1849 (two weeks after their wedding) and arrived in Port Phillip on November 17, 1849.
Some 253 emigrants embarked on the Glasgow-registered vessel of 603 tons built at Dumbarton in 1844, owned by Potter and Co. The barque sailed from Plymouth against a southerly wind on a warm day of 70 degrees Fahrenheit.
Scrupulous attention to cleanliness and the diet of passengers by Captain Lamond and Doctor Motherwell ensured there was little illness and only two deaths occurred at sea. Provisions were of very good quality, except the preserved meat, some 160 tins of which were thrown overboard as unfit for use and other provisions issued.
Passengers comprised 39 married couples, 45 single men, 54 single women and 76 children. The bounty on each adult was £12-9s. Apparently "several forward young women" had constantly attempted to distract the crew from their duties with no regard for the discipline of the ship, otherwise all passengers were "of the types needed in the colony".
James and Sarah Evans were initially employed by M Lomans of Moonee Ponds. Their contract was for three months at £30pa with rations.
According to the book "Victoria and Its Metropolis" (1888), James also farmed at Brighton for some months after which he did station work at Mount Cotterill for five months and then worked at quarries in Brunswick for two years.
After six months more at farming on Deep Creek he went mining in 1851 at Ballarat without success. He returned to Fryers Creek in the following year. He then mined for four years at Bendigo and was "fairly fortunate".
"Next he was employed for eight years carrying from Melbourne to the various diggings, after which he took to farming, grazing and storekeeping at Barfold for a number of years," the book says.
"He then selected land at Rochester and farmed it. In 1876 he bought 282 acres at Timmering on which he was engaged in cultivation and grazing."
Electoral rolls from the 1850s record that James was a carrier living at Woodend. This would have been from about 1856 to 1864. He probably then lived at Emberton near Barfold until after the wedding of his daughter Sophia in 1874.
Carrying between Melbourne and the diggings would have been a difficult and dangerous job, running the gauntlet of bushrangers and having to contend with unmade roads. The book "Woodend: On the Five Mile Creek" by Betty Barned describes road conditions as primitive. The worst sections were known as "natural roads" because drivers simply picked the firmest ground through which to travel in open, unfenced country.
"Between Gisborne and Woodend was the worst stage of the whole journey. The 13-mile stretch of range country included the gloomy Black Forest. This was notorious for both the shocking state of the track and for the many bushrangers who, from the cover of the dense growth of ironbark trees, pounced upon unwary diggers and travellers," the book says.
"In 1856 the track was improved by the laying of corduroy surfaces over the worst parts, but for years travellers dreaded this stage and breathed sighs of relief when the Wood End Inn at Five Mile Creek, as the township was first called, came into sight.
"There was a shelter shed in the Black Forest six miles from Gisborne, but most travellers tried to get clear of the area before nightfall."
Although "Victoria and Its Metropolis" described James as a "grazier and storekeeper" during his time at Barfold, he actually operated a hotel and worked as a contractor in addition to farming. He owned a 26 acre property with Campaspe River frontage at Emberton.
Shire of Metcalfe rate books show he held the property between 1866 and 1876. For the first three years, James' occupation was simply farmer and he paid one pound in rates on the property with a net valuation of £20. In 1870 the valuation increased to £25, presumably after the hotel was built, and rates went up to £1-5-0.
In 1874 the rate books describe James as a publican and contractor. He did construction work for the shire. His final municipal entry was in 1876, which coincides with the time he bought a farm at Timmering.
James Evans was referred to in a Kyneton Guardian report from September 7, 1869 as being taken to court by various sub-contractors claiming payment. The newspaper reported that M McManus sought an order for £8-19s to pay for work and labor done.
"Complainant had been engaged to break three-inch metal for the defendant — a contractor with the Shire of Metcalfe — at two shillings per yard. He had broken 89 yards, which at the rate named made up the amount. A sum to the amount of £5-14 was paid," the paper reported.
"The defence as to the balance was that the metal had to be broken to the satisfaction of Mr TB Muntz, engineer of the Shire of Metcalfe. He deposed to having examined the stone broken by Mr McManus and found at least 20 percent above the gauge.
"Mr Evans had offered, in order that complainant's labor should not be altogether in vain, that complainant should take the spreading of the metal and break the large stones as they turned up. Defendant had offered four shillings a yard for this work, which Mr Muntz considered not only a fair, but a high price. Case was dismissed with 15 shillings costs."
Similar cases brought against J Evans by Peter Dillon, Edmund Maher and Jeremiah Sullivan were also dismissed.
The contracting work fits in with James' early mining experience and his work in the quarries at Brunswick.
In the 1870s, the government began inviting applications from selectors to settle the Rochester and Echuca districts. The Kyneton press was critical of how this was handled, as it seems that many speculators took advantage of land offers, not having any intention to settle. The government tightened the rules to insist on occupancy within a certain timeframe.
James and Sarah were mentioned in a report by the Leader newspaper on 27 January 1872 regarding a fatal stabbing at their Barfold establishment.
"After sundry blows had been exchanged, the deceased fell heavily to the ground, the accused falling on top of him. At this moment the landlord entered and took Simpson by the collar and thrust him out."The deceased then called out "Mrs Evans, Mrs. Evans, I am a done man." He breathed heavily, rolled back his eyes, and died within a few minutes of the onset of the row."Some hours after, Simpson was aroused from a drunken sleep and informed of what he had done. He appeared quite stupid, and said he knew nothing about it."
When the incident went to court a few weeks later, Sarah Evans was the key witness. The Hamilton Spectator reported on 24 February 1872 that upon entering the room, Sarah saw the deceased strike the prisoner, who returned the blow. Several blows were exchanged. They both fell, the deceased striking his forehead on the floor.
A port-mortem showed the victim was in poor health, with heart disease and a damaged kidney. The Judge ordered the jury to return a verdict of guilty to manslaughter, but said he would exercise discretion in sentencing. The prisoner was sentenced to an hour in jail.
James' wife Sarah was reported as living at Rochester in 1879 when their granddaughter, Margaret Gorey, died at the age of three. James was apparently farming at Timmering by this time, but possibly lived in nearby Rochester.
Sarah died in Bendigo on November 6, 1883. James remarried five years later to a Welsh widow, Phoebe Jane Davey. She was a daughter of David George and Matilda Johns from Pembroke. Her occupation on the marriage certificate was given as "housekeeper" and she couldn't read or write in English. The wedding took place in Bendigo. It seems that James, a practical man, decided to retire from farming aged 60, found himself a wife, and settled with her in Echuca.
Borough of Echuca rate books show James Evans had a brick cottage off the Goulburn Road, allotment four, section six, valued at £12. The first entry in Echuca was made in 1889, soon after the second marriage.
Subsequent rate books record that James Evans owned a house in Moore Street and a vacant block used for gardening in adjoining McIntosh Street. James' occupation in 1897 was stated as gardener. He probably grew vegetables to sell in town.
Phoebe died on December 23, 1905 in the Bendigo Benevolent Asylum of senility, aged 70.
James suffered Bright's disease, which caused his death on August 27, 1907 aged 79.
Executors of the will were his housekeeper Alice Wilson, and friend, sawmill manager William Scott. James left an estate of £687, of which the house (valued at £100) and £50 cash were bequeathed to Alice Wilson. After payment of debts, funeral costs and probate, a sum of £221 was left to each of James' surviving children, William and Sophia.
The Reserve Bank estimates that £221 in 1907 would be worth about $25,000 in today's money (1998).
James is buried in Echuca Cemetery, Church of England section, grave 41, row 1A. The grave is unmarked.
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