A gentrified English colonial adventurer from Warwickshire, Evans had first tried his hand in
With some training in trigonometry and basic land surveillance, Evans soon found himself Acting Surveyor-General of NSW, plotting an exploration of the
to its source in
the Mountains. In 1805 the Governor, Phillip Gidley King, dismissed him from
his post—the question, of course, is ‘why’? Did he perform his role poorly? His
later record suggests he was a better surveyor than most of his predecessors.
Was he corrupted by the NSW Corps? It is possible, even though it is
difficult--especially during the period of Grose and Warragamba
River Paterson’s rule on the Corps’ behalf--to
discern the difference between “corrupt” practice and “enterprise”. It would
appear on the surface, at least, that Evans conducted himself with greater
propriety than most others around him. Most likely King was on a mission to
“clean up” the colony of the influence of rum and the NSW Corps—any association
that might put Evans in that company would be suspect, and so King replaced
Evans with his own man.
|George Evans--Government Storekeeper for the NSW Corps, farmer, surveyor, widespread explorer, |
landscape artist, schoolmaster, stationer, family man
had the power to ensure he received a land grant near Richmond on the Hawkesbury, feasibly, at that
time, the richest farming land in the colony. Yet the Hawkesbury was an area
fraught with difficulty for its white settlers, with persistent resistance from
the local Darug people, and regular flooding afflicting its shores.
Consequent to the disastrous flood of March 1806 Evans gave up farming and found his old friend Paterson, who had been placed in charge of a new settlement in Van Dieman’s Land, now wanted him to survey the wilderness around him.
The latest Governor (arrived 1810), Lachlan Macquarie, had other plans. He directed Evans to explore the country around
to the south of Sydney.
Evans not only did this competently, but struck a path inland to present day
Appin, enduring considerable hardship to map quite good rural land for
immediate settlement. Evans’ courage, persistence, and hardiness in carrying
out this mission must have stuck with Macquarie, for he allowed the Deputy
Surveyor-General to go to Paterson’s
aid, but then recalled him for the major task that confronted him in 1813.
That task was to push further than all previous explorations and find a passage to the interior, where there might exist adequate pasture for the growing numbers of stock in the colony, as well as arable lands for settlement. This Evans and his party of two free men and three convicts did, and after reaching the most westerly point of the Blaxland party’s expedition, Mt. Blaxland, continued on for a further 98 miles to the present site of Bathurst. Here Evans named a westerly flowing river the “Macquarie” and wrote a glowing report of the relatively flat, sloping and scrubless lands lying between the Great Dividing Range and the area of
I cannot speak too much of the Country, the increase of Stock for some 100 Years cannot overrun it; the Grass is so good and intermixed with variety of herbs. Emu's and Geese are numerous,.. 
Evans also had his first encounter with one of the largest Aboriginal nations of NSW, the Wiradjuri people. It was brief, the group consisted of two women and four children, all of whom showed great fear and broke down to weep when confronted by Evans’ party. Evans showed sympathy and kindness towards the group, but gave no indication of why they might’ve reacted in such a frightened way. Had word of the depredations and dread diseases (ie Smallpox) of the new white invaders already spread among Wiradjuri clans? Or was the reaction simply an understandable fear of white ghosts, a traditional part of Wiradjuri belief? Was it rather that the small party had stumbled across totally strange aliens, without the protection of their own menfolk? Where were the men?
Evans repeatedly writes of the smoke plumes, scattered artefacts and sounds of Indigenous people, throughout his journey. He was convinced the local people knew of his movements, and that his party was being consistently watched. Yet at no stage did a ‘meeting embassy’ emerge from the surrounding bush. Was he considered friend or foe, or simply, indifferently?
Deputy Surveyor-General Evans had already determined to do more accurate orientations on his return journey. But it was on his return across the ‘Mountains that he encountered a massive bushfire. Evans was clearly startled, and by his own account, lucky...
The Mountains have been fired; had we been on them we could not have escaped; the Flames rage with violence through thick underwood, which they are covered with. Bad travelling the stick of the Bushes here are worse than if their leaves had not been consumed; they catch my Chain which makes the measuring very fatiguing; also tears our clothes to pieces, and makes us appear as Natives from black dust off them. The Marks in the Trees are burnt out; therefore am obliged to go over them again; Our Horses now want Grass; the herbage in this spacious Valley is destroyed; we cut some sweet Rushes for them that grow on the edge of a stream of Water which runs through it.
distance, 4 Miles.
The Mountains are as yesterday; fired in all directions; at 11 o'clock I was upon the high hill; all objects Eastward are obscured by thick smoke; We stopped where there was feed for the Horses and Water.
distance, 5¼ Miles.
So, was the fire an accident of nature? Evans was travelling in high summer, December and January, a logical time for bushfires to occur. Thus far, his party had encountered heavy rains and parching heat, all factors that might point to a lightning strike, although the order of their occurrence was wrong. Aboriginal knowledge would be too keen to accidentally light a fire in hot, dry conditions that could endanger their own people—their ‘firestick farming’ was generally reserved for milder times of the year.
One has to consider the possibility that the bushfire from which they ‘could not have escaped’ may well have been a hostile act, or at least one that sought to sabotage the advance party’s mission. Evans struggled on for three more days, all of it through burnt out country. However, this was actually becoming an asset, and by the time he approached the country around Warrimoo, the cleared bush was allowing the party to travel faster.
Evans’ historic passage through Warrimoo is today marked by a ‘Footsteps in Time’ Trigonomical Survey Marker, in a small grass square on the eastern side of Warrimoo Citizens’ Hall. It is in the exact spot that Evans took his day’s readings for January 7th, 1814, thus:
‘LAT 33* 43’ 22” E
LONG 150* 35’ 52” S’
|The 'Footsteps in Time' obelisk situated near the Warrimoo Citizens Hall, featuring the 'Traverse of George William Evans, 7th January, 1814'|
The monument concludes with the names of Evans’ co-explorers, two ‘Free Men’, Richard Lewis and James Burns and three ‘Convicts’, John Cooghan, John Grover and John Tygh. The entry that is both on the monument and in his Journal reads as follows:
The Forest land continues a Mile farther; afterwards the brushy Ridge commences again, the thickest of it is consumed, which I consider fortunate, had it not I should be obliged to have given off measuring; at the end of today's Journey is a Lagoon of good Water, with tolerable grass round the edge of it.
distance, 5¾ Miles.
|One of the sides of the 'Footsteps' marker, showing excerpts from Evans' Diary--a little worse for wear. More care and attention to community icons needs to take place in Warrimoo|
In summary, Evans had just passed through some of the thickest bush he battled through on his initial trip across, presumably in the country around Valley Heights and Springwood, but most of this had now been ‘consumed’ by fire, thus making it possible to pass through much more comfortably upon return. This allowed him to do accurate measurements which he might otherwise have had to overlook, and to travel some five and three quarter miles—good distance through mountainous bush.
The ‘Lagoon of good Water’ is, no doubt, Glenbrook Lagoon, even now becoming a noted ‘stop off’ point for travellers on their way home from the arduous ‘Crossing of the Mountains’.
Upon his return to Sydney Town, Evans received due praise and reward from Governor Macquarie, moreso than had been given to Blaxland, Wentworth and Lawson after their journey. Macquarie had never officially endorsed their expedition, and refrained from allocating their 1,000 acres of
land each till
after Evans’ return. Bathurst
Evans was awarded 100 pounds and 1,000 acres near
Richmond in Van Dieman’s Land, his new destination since Paterson had appointed
him Surveyor of Lands there.
Nevertheless Evans was still prevailed upon by the Governor to return to NSW to guide him on his carriage journey on Cox’s road across the Mountains and to assist the new Surveyor General, John Oxley, in his explorations further into the interior of the colony, mainly along the banks of the
Lachlan and . Macquarie Rivers
In the 1820’s he ran foul of the new Lieutenant Governor of Van Dieman’s Land, George Arthur, who sought to dismiss him through a charge of illegally disposing of Crown Land, despite the previous administrator, William Sorrell, speaking highly of his services to the colony. Eventually Evans settled on a compromise, which meant that he resigned on the grounds of ill-health but still received a pension of 200 pounds.
For the remainder of his life, Evans pursued a range of further careers, including landscape painter, drawing master at the King’s School in
bookseller and stationer. He sired twelve children through two marriages and
died at the age of 72, in Parramatta . Hobart