Dictionary of National Biography, 1912 supplement/Evans, John

1506211Dictionary of National Biography, 1912 supplement, Volume 1 — Evans, John1912Warwick William Wroth

EVANS, Sir JOHN (1823–1908), archæologist and numismatist, born on 17 Nov. 1823 at Britwell Court, Burnham, Buckinghamshire, was second son of Arthur Benoni Evans, D.D. [q. v.], headmaster of the grammar school of Market Bosworth, Leicestershire, by his wife Anne, daughter of Thomas Dickinson, R.N. Anne Evans, [q. v.] was a sister, and Sebastian Evans [q. v. Suppl. II] a brother. John was educated at his father's school, and was entered in 1839 for matriculation at Brasenose College, Oxford, of which college he was towards the close of his life (1903) made an honorary fellow. He did not, however, proceed to the university, but after spending seven months in Germany entered in 1840, at the age of seventeen, the paper-manufacturing business of John Dickinson & Co., at Nash Mills, Hemel Hempsted, Hertfordshire, of which firm his uncle, John Dickinson, F.R.S., was founder and senior partner (The Firm of John Dickinson, 1896, p. 15). In 1850 Evans was admitted a partner. He proved a strenuous man of business, keenly alive to every scientific improvement and quick to grapple with complicated details.

Although he did not retire from active duties of his firm till 1885, he always pursued many and diverse interests. When a boy of nine he had shown leanings towards natural science, and had hammered out for himself a collection of fossils from the Wenlock limestone quarries at Dudley. His later scientific studies were partly influenced by the practical requirements of his business. Water-supply being of primary importance to the paper-manufacturer, and his firm being engaged in an important law-suit, Dickinson v. The Grand Junction Canal Co., he made a special study of the subject, on which he became a recognised authority. He gave evidence before the royal commission on metropolitan water-supply, 1892. In his own district he explored the superficial deposits, as well as the deeper water-bearing strata, and investigated such matters as the relations between rainfall and evaporation, and the percolation of rain through soil. He kept in his own care the rain-gauges and percolation-gauges erected by his uncle at Nash Mills. In 1859 Evans accompanied Sir Joseph Prestwich [q. v. Suppl. I], the geologist, to France, as his assistant in an examination of flint-implements found in the old river-gravels of the valley of the Somme. Prestwich and Evans confirmed the opinion of the discoverer, Boucher de Perthes (circ. 1841–7), that these chipped flints were human handiwork and that they helped to prove the antiquity of man in western Europe. Evans wrote in 1860 in the 'Archæologia' on 'Flint Implements in the Drift, being an account of their discovery on the Continent and in England' (xxxviii. 280; cf. xxxix. 57). He now began to devote more continuous attention to the traces of early man in river-gravels and cavern-deposits, and formed a remarkable collection of stone and bronze implements, partly by the purchase of representative examples, partly by his own keenness in the discovery of specimens, even on ground already explored by other collectors. From time to time he published notices, in the 'Proceedings' of the Society of Antiquaries and of the Royal Society, of the discovery and distribution of new specimens. He was also interested in fossil remains of extinct animals and published an important paper, ('Nat. Hist. Rev.' 1865; cf. 'Geol. Mag.' 1884, pp. 418–24) on the 'Cranium and Jaw of an Archeopteryx.' Evans also formed various collections of mediæval and other antiquities, Anglo-Saxon, Lombardic jewellery, posy-rings, bronze weapons, and ornaments. In two books on primitive implements Evans gathered together all the evidence as to provenance, types, and distribution, and they were recognised as standard treatises. The first, 'The Ancient Stone Implements, Weapons and Ornaments of Great Britain,' was published in 1872 (French trans. 1878), a second and revised edition being issued in 1897. The other work, 'The Ancient Bronze Implements, Weapons, and Ornaments of Great Britain and Ireland,' was published in 1881 (French trans. 1882).

Evans had a special predilection for numismatics, and formed splendid collections of ancient British money, of gold coins of the Roman emperors, including some unique specimens, and of Anglo-Saxon and English coins, among which the gold series was especially noticeable. To the pages of the 'Numismatic Chronicle' he made more than a hundred contributions, many of them accounts of hoards and of unpublished coins from his own cabinets. His important paper ('Numismatic Chronicle,' 1865) on 'The "short-cross" Question,' was the outcome of an examination of more than 6000 specimens of the early silver pennies inscribed with the name Henricvs, and he was able to show that these coins belonged to several classes and that they were attributable to the respective reigns of Henry II. Richard, John, and Henry III. But his attention was chiefly concentrated on the coinage of the ancient Britons. His paper 'On the Date of British Coins,' published in the 'Numismatic Chronicle' for 1849–50 (xii. 127), was the first attempt to place the study of this coinage on a scientific basis. He showed, with pre-Darwinian instinct, that the appearance on these coins of horses, wheels, and ornaments, of which, previously, fanciful explanations had been given, was due to a slow process of evolution, and that the designs ('types') on the coins were the remote and degraded descendants of those on the gold staters of Philip of Macedon. Evans a conception of evolution as applied to the 'types' and 'fabric' of coins has since borne fruit in other branches of numismatics (cf. Keary, Morphology of Coins, and Evan's own paper, 'Coinage of the Ancient Britons and Natural Selection,' in the Transactions of the Hertfordshire Natural History Society, vol. iii. 1885). In 1864 he published the standard work, 'The Coins of the Ancient Britons,' for which he was awarded the Prix Allier de Hauteroche of the French Academy. A 'Supplement' was published in 1890, in which Evans described the discoveries subsequent to 1864, and inserted a map showing the find-spots of British coins.

Evans's varied knowledge, his grip of business, and habit of rapid decision made him a valuable officer of learned societies. He was elected F.R.S. in 1864, and for forty years took a conspicuous part in the society's business. He was a vice-president from 1876 and treasurer from 1878 to 1889. He joined the Geological Society in 1857, served as honorary secretary (1866-74), as president (1874^6), and acted as foreign secretary from 1895 till his death. In 1880 he received its Lyell medal for services to geology, especially post-tertiary geology, and his labours were eulogised as having bridged over the gulf that had once separated the researches of the archaeologist from those of the geologist. He became a fellow of the Society of Antiquaries in 1852, and was its president from 1885 to 1892. The Numismatic Society of London (since 1904 the Royal Numismatic Society) was one of the earliest bodies that he joined. He became a member in 1849, was hon. secretary from 1854 to 1874, and president from 1874 till his death. From 1861 onwards he was a joint-editor of the society's journal, 'The Numismatic Chronicle.' In 1887 he received the society's medal (struck in gold) for distinguished services to numismatics. He acted as president of the Anthropological Institute (1878-9), the Egypt Exploration Fund, the Society of Arts (chairman in 1890), the Paper-makers' Association, and the Society of Chemical Industry. He was president of the British Association in 1897-8 (Toronto meeting), when he gave an address on the Antiquity of Man, and was a trustee of the British Museum from 1885 till his death ; he took an active part in the meetings of its standing committee. Evans was a member of numerous scientific and archaeological bodies in foreign countries and had many academic honours. He was hon. D.C.L. of Oxford, LL.D. of Dublin and Toronto, Sc.D. of Cambridge, and a correspondent (elected in 1887) of the Institute of France (Academy of Inscriptions). In 1892 he was created K.C.B.

In spite of almost daily engagements in London, Evans lived nearly all his life at his home at Nash Mills, Kernel Hempsted, in an old-fashioned house, close to the mills. It was filled in every corner with books and antiquities (of. Herts County Homes, 1892, p. 138). Here Evans was seen in his happiest mood, showing his treasures freely and with undisguised pleasure, and entertaining almost every European antiquary of note, not excluding many young scholars and collectors, from whom he never withheld encouragement. He was active too in county business. For some years he was chairman of quarter sessions, and vice-chairman and chairman of the county council, Hertfordshire. He served as high sheriff of the county in 1881. He was president and one of the founders (1865) of the Watford (afterwards the Herts) Natural History Society, and for more than twenty-three years chairman of Berkhamsted school.

In 1905 Sir John built a house, Britwell, on the edge of Berkhamsted Common, removing from Nash Mills in June 1906. He maintained his activities in old age, dying at Britwell on 31 May 1908, after an operation. He was buried in the parish church of Abbot's Langley, where there is a marble memorial of him, with a portrait- medallion by Sir William Richmond, R.A. A memorial window was placed by subscription in the chapel of Berkhamsted school.

Evans married in 1850 Harriet Ann, daughter of his uncle, John Dickinson, by whom he had three sons and two daughters. The eldest son, Sir Arthur John Evans, F.R.S., is the well-known archaeologist and explorer of Crete. One daughter became the wife of Mr. Charles James Longman, the publisher. By his second marriage in 1859 to his cousin Frances, daughter of Joseph Phelps of Madeira, he had no children. He married, thirdly, in 1892, a lady of kindred archaeological tastes, Maria Millington, daughter of Charles Crawford Lathbury of Wimbledon. Lady Evans and the one child of the marriage, a daughter Joan, survive him.

Evans left his principal collections of implements, coins, rings, and ornaments to his son, Sir Arthur Evans, who has presented certain portions of them to the Ashmolean Museum, Oxford. His collection of Lambeth pottery was sold at Christie's on 14 Feb. 1911. Many of the later varieties of his collection of Roman gold coins were sold by auction at the Hotel Drouot, Paris, on 26 and 27 May 1909.

An admirable portrait was painted by A. S. Cope, R.A., for the Royal Society (there are photogravure reproductions issued by the Fine Art Society, New Bond Street, London). A second portrait by the Hon. John Collier was presented by subscription in 1905 in recognition of his public work in Hertfordshire (a replica is in the court house, St. Albans). A portrait-bust is on the obverse of the jubilee medal of the Numismatic Society of London (1887), engraved by Pinches from a drawing, and a large bronze cast medallion was executed by Frank Bowcher in 1899 for the Numismatic Society of London to celebrate Evans's fifty years' membership of the society (there is a reduced photograph of it in the 'Numismatic Chronicle,' 1899, pl. xi.). A good photograph is in the 'Geological Magazine,' 1908, plate i.

[Memoir by Sir Archibald Geikie in Proc. Roy. Soc. 1908, lxxx. B., p. 1; Geological Mag. 1908, pp. 1–10; Numismatic Chronicle, 1908, Proceedings, pp. 25–31 (B. V. Head); L. Forrer in Gazette numismatique française, 1909, with bibliography; Boule in L'Anthropologie, 1908; Proc. of Soc. of Antiquaries, 1909, p. 469 (C. H. Read); The Times, 1 June 1908; Athenæum, 6 June 1908; Men and Women of the Time, 1899; Burke's Landed Gentry, 1906; Who's Who, 1908; Rivista italiana di numismatica, pp. 459, 460; Cussans's Herts, iii. 93, 142; Pike's Herts in the Twentieth Century, 1908, pp. 19, 89; Victoria County Hist. Herts, geneal., 1907, p. 9; information kindly given by Lady Evans and Sir Arthur Evans; personal knowledge.]

W. W.