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Evans, William James (1863–1904)

It is with deep regret that we announce the death of Mr. William James Evans, the musical and dramatic critic of the Advertiser, which occurred at the Adelaide Hospital half an hour after midnight this morning. Mr. Evans was born at Angas Park in 1863, and when quite a baby went with his mother to Angaston. His mother was well-known by her pen name of "Maude Jeanne Franc," and among the volumes she published Minnie's Mission and Marian, or the Light of Someone's Home, won great popularity owing to their deeply religious tone and their high literary merit. His father was a Baptist minister, and was a highly educated man. It was thus from clever parents that Mr. Evans derived his taste for literature, while the skill he showed in versification is another example of heredity, for he was descended from the same stock as William Congreve, the great dramatist. His mother's maiden name was Congreve, and his brother, Mr. Harry Congreve Evans, for many years connected with the Advertiser staff, and afterwards editor of Quiz, was named after that celebrated poet.

The Rev. Ephraim Evans married as his first wife Miss M. A. Wilton, and he came to South Australia about 50 years ago, his earliest occupation being that of preacher and school teacher at the Reedy Creek copper mine, now known as Palmer. Thence he removed to South Rhine, where he had charge of the Baptist Church for a time, but he was stricken by paralysis on Good Friday, 1863, and died on the following Easter Monday at the age of 38 years. His first wife died about 1858, leaving two children, Mr. E. E. Evans, draper, of Fremantle, Western Australia, and Mrs. Lines, of Tarcowie. The marriage with Miss Congreve took place about two years later. She and her sister had been keeping a school at Mount Barker before her marriage, and it was there that much of her literary work was done. She worked very hard after her husband's death to maintain the four children, but about 1868, by the help of the late Mr. G. F. Angas, the two stepchildren were sent to their father's stepmother in London, the Hon. J. L. Parsons giving the boy on his departure a Bible, which he still possesses. Mr. E. E. Evans entered the employ of Messrs. J. B. Maple & Co., but owing to ill-health had to return to Australia in 1878, when his prospects of advancement were very great.

Mr. W. J. Evans, like Mr. H. C. Evans, was educated at the North Adelaide Grammar School, then conducted by the elder Mr. Whinham, and he gave evidence while yet in the classroom of the brightness of disposition and intellectual cleverness which characterised him throughout his life. While still at school his brother went into journalism as the editor of a boys' paper, and Mr. William Evans assisted in the work. As a young man he entered the service of the National Bank, and after remaining there for some time he joined the commercial department of the Advertiser about 20 years ago. Shortly after 1890, his gift as a writer being recognised, he was transferred to the literary staff, with which he was connected continuously until the time of his last illness, He held the position of musical and dramatic critic, while he also conducted the "From Day to Day" column in the Express, and the "From Week to Week" column in the Chronicle, his contributions winning wide popularity. Mr. Evans was a keen, but, at the same time, a most fair critic, and there was an artistic touch and a breadth of knowledge about his writings concerning music and the drama which gave them great value, apart from their accuracy and discriminating insight. He contributed poetical pieces to other journals, and a few years ago he issued a volume of verses, modestly entitled Rhymes Without Reason, which met with a large amount of favor. It was published by subscription, and the book is still one of the most valued possessions of each of the many friends of the author who secured a copy. Mr. Evans was characterised in an especial degree by the saving grace of humor, and his quaint conversational conceits were "wont to set the table in a roar." He was everywhere a welcome companion, and he never lost his capacity for looking on the cheerful side of things. Nothing could damp his spirits, and even in his last illness, severe and painful as it was from the first, he retained his merry mood. He was a martyr to gout, but he could always rhyme gaily about his troubles, and would joke when suffering the intensest physical agony. Mr. Evans made many close and intimate friends, and all who knew him well regarded him with a feeling which was very near akin to affection.

Mr. Evans had lived for many years with Mr. and Mrs. J. LeM. Roberts, of South terrace, and he was like a son in the house. He was extremely happy with them, while of the kindness shown to him, more particularly by Mrs. Roberts, he always spoke in the very highest terms. His mother died in 1886, while his only brother succumbed to a sudden and sharp attack of congestion of the lungs on January 9, 1899. The latter loss was extremely bitter, for it occurred while Mr. Evans was absent on a holiday, and he had no idea his brother was so ill. Mr. Evans himself was stricken down suddenly by a paralytic stroke on September 4, and was taken at once to the Adelaide Hospital, where everything possible was done for him by the best skill available, but in spite of everything he gradually sank. During his short illness countless enquiries were made concerning his condition, not only by friends in Adelaide, but by many persons beyond the borders of the State, for he was known as a good fellow and a capable journalist all over Australia.

There is a pathetic interest attaching to the following verses which Mr. Evans wrote a few days before his seizure on the occasion of the retirement from the Advertiser staff of three employees, one of whom had been connected with the paper from its foundation in July, 1858:—

Say not farewell, but while the hours go by,
Give Time the slip and wet the other eye,
Our long-lived Friendship is no idle thing
That it should now arise on airy wing
And out into the world unheeded fly.

The Past is gone, but with prophetic eye
We read the Future. There our hopes must Be,
We're comrades still, so while our glasses ring,
Say not farewell.

"Friends evermore," be that our joyous cry;
Your hand we grasp, and with each other vie,
In wishing that the years "Good Luck" may bring,
And as to dear old memories we cling.
We pray you, comrades, tho' our parting's nigh,
Say not farewell.

Original publication

Citation details

'Evans, William James (1863–1904)', Obituaries Australia, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University, http://oa.anu.edu.au/obituary/evans-william-james-13442/text24118, accessed 21 November 2017.

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