George Essex Evans (1863-1909)

George Essex Evans was born in London in 1863 and immigrated to Australia in 1881, where he worked as a farmer, teacher, editor, journalist, and public servant. The poet spent most of his life within the Darling Downs, mixed extensively with the local people and became very involved in the cultural and political life of the regions’ premier city.

Dark purple, chased with sudden gloom and glory,
Like waves in wild unrest.
Low-wooded billows and steep summits hoary,
Ridge, slope and mountain crest,
Cease at her feet with faces turned to greet her,
Enthroned, apart, serene,
Above her vassal hills whose voices greet her
The Mountain Queen.

From ‘Toowoomba,’ George Essex Evans.

Evans is best known for his verse but in his time he was a respected man of letters who used his literary skills in many forms and in aid of different interests. In addition to the poetry he produced articles and short stories, wrote travel books for the Government Tourist and Intelligence Bureau and became one of the founding members of the Austral Association for the advancement of art, science, music and literature, which drew thousands of people to its annual festivals in Toowoomba. Evans edited the agricultural section of The Queenslander, several issues of an illustrated journal, The Antipodean and his own weekly The Rag. He also wrote for the Darling Downs Gazette and the Toowoomba Chronicle, and still found the time to write some plays for the Brisbane theatre.

There have been dreams for thee by men who slumber
Sound where no voice may reach,
Who, ere they joined the host that none may number,
Saw what they strove to teach –
The vision of a city, wide and splendid,
Crowning the Range’s wall,
And o’er they sweeping plateau, far extended,
Welcome for all!

From ‘Toowoomba,’ George Essex Evans.

On his death in 1909, Alfred Deakin, one of his many political patrons, eulogized him in Federal Parliament as Australia’s national poet. And until recently he was honoured by an annual pilgrimage held under the auspices of the Toowoomba Ladies Literary Society.

The red sun robs their beauty, and, in weariness and pain,
The slow years steal the nameless grace that never comes again;
And there are hours men cannot soothe, and words men cannot say-
The nearest woman’s face may be a hundred miles away.

From ‘The Women of the West,’ George Essex Evans.

Further Reading

Veronica Kelly, ‘George Essex Evans the Playwright,’ Margin 19 (1987): 1-6.

Delia Birchley, The Life and Works of George Essex Evans 1863-1909, PhD Thesis, University of Queensland, 1978.

Margaret O’Hagan, ‘George Essex Evans,’ Australian Dictionary of Biography, vol. 8, Melbourne, 1976.