The Dictionary of Australasian Biography/Evans, Hon. George Samuel

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Evans, Hon. George Samuel, LL.D., one of the earliest English settlers in New Zealand and for some time a Minister of the Crown in Victoria, was admitted to the English Bar, and early became associated with the Wakefield colonisation schemes. He decided to go out with the first party of settlers to Wellington (Port Nicholson), N.Z., under the auspices of Colonel William Wakefield, who had selected the site on Cook Straits in the previous year. He sailed from London in the Adelaide on Sept. 18th, 1839, and arrived at Port Nicholson with his family early in 1840, another eminent jurist, the late Sir Richard Davis Hanson (q.v.), who however, held a secondary position to Dr. Evans, having previously landed from the Cuba. Colonel Wakefield had selected Petone as the site of the future capital of New Zealand, but there was a strong feeling amongst the emigrants that the site of the present city of Wellington was the preferable one. Colonel Wakefield was, however, obstinate until the arrival of Dr. Evans, who called a public meeting of the pioneer settlers, and used his oratorical powers with such effect that the popular feeling aroused compelled Colonel Wakefield to give way. Dr. Evans was thus in a sense the "father" of Wellington (then called Thorndon). It must be borne in mind that when the foundation of the Port Nicholson settlement was projected in London England had not yet annexed New Zealand. A self-governing constitution was therefore drawn up under date Sept. 14th, 1839, which all the settlers were expected to sign. Under this constitution a committee or council of colonists was appointed, of which Colonel Wakefield was president, and Dr. Evans the next most important member. Though only given the curious title of "umpire," the latter was virtually the chief judicial authority of the settlement, both in civil and criminal cases. The first meeting of the committee was held on March 2nd, 1840, and in the meantime Captain Hobson had landed further north with a commission as first Lieutenant-Governor. He was furious when he heard of the proceedings at Port Nicholson, characterising the actions of the council of colonists as high treason. He at once proclaimed the Queen's sovereignty over both the North and South Islands, a proceeding which might otherwise have been long delayed, and in hot haste despatched the acting Colonial Secretary, Willoughby Shortland, to Port Nicholson to dissolve the council, displace their officers, and cancel their acts. Instead, however, of meeting with opposition, Shortland was cordially welcomed by the supposed rebellious settlers when he arrived at Port Nicholson on June 2nd, 1840. He was at once waited on by Dr. Evans and two others, who assured him of the loyalty of the community. Two days later the provisional government was declared illegal, and the Queen's authority formally proclaimed. On July 1st following a great public meeting was held, at which Dr. Evans moved the adoption of a loyal address to Captain Hobson in a long speech, in which, whilst vindicating the legality of the proceedings of the council, he advised the settlers to sacrifice their feelings and submit to its dissolution with a good grace. He strongly advocated the claims of Wellington to be regarded as the seat of government, and the address was then adopted. On August 19th Dr. Evans presided over another meeting at which the reply of Governor Hobson to the address was received. Subsequently the meeting deputed Dr. Evans, Mr. Hanson, and Mr. Moreing to proceed to Sydney to lay before the Governor of New South Wales (Sir George Gipps), who then had superior jurisdiction over New Zealand, the views of the settlers on the land question, a Bill being then before the Legislative Council of New South Wales having for its object to cancel all rights acquired of the Maoris except such as her Majesty might allow. The Bill was passed, but it was really more particularly aimed at the exorbitant claims of- New South Wales residents like Mr. Wentworth, who professed to have acquired twenty million acres from the Maoris, than at the requirements of genuine settlers such as those at Port Nicholson. Dr. Evans and his colleagues were therefore successful in their mission, a fact which they reported to a public meeting on Dec. 11th. In the meantime the Government did not give satisfaction, and in July 1841, when Governor Hobson proposed revisiting Port Nicholson, Dr. Evans took an active part in opposing the presentation of a congratulatory address to him pending the disclosure of the Government policy on various matters affecting the welfare of the settlers. He carried an amendment to this effect, despite the support given to the motion for the address by Mr. Hanson. On August 30th Dr. Evans was one of a deputation which presented a petition to the Governor requesting the immediate grant of a charter of incorporation to the town. In 1843 Dr. Evans took a prominent part in representing the views of the settlers in relation to the melancholy Wairau massacre. He did so as the champion of those whose injudicious conduct caused the affray, and was sent as a delegate to Auckland to put their view of the matter before the Governor. He was also hotly opposed to the policy of Governor Fitzroy in cancelling the award of Mr. Spain (q.v.) in relation to the Wellington land claims. Dr. Evans was no believer in the treaty of Waitangi, that Magna Charta of the Maoris, and when in England in 1845 acted as the representative of the discontented colonists who demanded the recall of Fitzroy. On this subject he had interviews with the Under-Secretary for the Colonies (Mr. Hope), and corresponded with the late Lord Derby, then, as Lord Stanley, head of the department. Dr. Evans subsequently went to the colony of Victoria, and took a prominent part in the discussion of the various questions which agitated the early stages of its development under representative institutions. When responsible government was conceded he was returned to the first Legislative Assembly in 1856 for Richmond. He was Postmaster-General in the second O'Shanassy Ministry throughout the whole term of its existence, from March 1858 to Oct. 1859. When Sir Charles Gavan Duffy left the Government in March 1859, Dr. Evans took the additional portfolio of Minister of Lands, which he held till the dissolution of the Cabinet. In the third O’Shanassy Government Dr. Evans was Postmaster-General from Dec. 1861 to June 1863. He was for a considerable period editor of the Melbourne Herald. Dr. Evans died on Sept. 23rd, 1868.