Sir John Evans, K.C.B., D.C.L., F.R.S. Born November 17th, 1823; died May 31st, 1908. By the Right Hon. Lord Avebury, D.C.L., F.R.S.

In Sir John Evans the country has lost one of its greatest citizens, and some of us one of our dearest friends.

He was born on November 17th, 1823, and was the son of the Rev. Arthur Benoni Evans, D.D., headmaster of the Grammar School at Market Bosworth in Leicestershire, where he received his earlier education. It was at first intended that he should go to Oxford; but he was sent instead to Germany as a preparation for a business career. He made himself, however, a good classical scholar, and was well versed in Hebrew.

In May, 1840, when only sixteen, he was brought into the business of his uncle, Mr. John Dickinson, F.R.S., founder of the great paper-making concern in which he became a partner in 1850, and with which he was actively associated until it was turned into a limited company in 1885. He remained until his death president of the Paper Manufacturers’ Association

In 1864 he published his great work on the coins of the Ancient Britons, for which he received the Allier d’Hauteroche prize from the French Academy. His discussion of the derivation of the Ancient British gold coins from the beautiful coins of Philip of Macedon is most masterly.

In 1872 he issued, his monumental work on the Ancient Stone Implements, Weapons, and Ornaments of Great Britain, and in 1881 that on The Ancient Bronze Implements, Weapons, and Ornaments of Great Britain and Ireland, which are still the two standard works on their respective subjects. He also contributed many memoirs to archaeology, to the journal of the Numismatic and other scientific societies.

From boyhood he was an enthusiastic collector, and had certainly the finest private collection of antiquities in this country, or perhaps in the world. It is difficult to say whether his collection of coins, of gold ornaments, of bronze objects, or of stone implements was the most interesting, valuable, and illustrative of the subject.

In 1852 he was elected a Fellow of the Society of Antiquaries, and in 1864 of the Royal Society, of which he was elected vice-president in 1876, and treasurer for no less than twenty years—from 1878 to 1898—and several times vice-president.

He became secretary of the Numismatic Society in 1849, and president in 1874, an office which he retained for over thirty years ; in fact till his death—a length of office almost without a precedent.

He was president of the Geological Society in 1874-6, of the Anthropological Institute in 1878-9, of the Society of Antiquaries from 1885 to 1892, and of the Egypt Exploration Fund from 1899 to 1906. He was president of the Society of Chemical Industry in 1893, of the Ethnological Department of the British Association in 1870, of the Geological in 1875, of the Anthropological in 1890, and of the British Association as a whole at the Toronto meeting in 1897. In 1900 he was chairman of the Society of Arts. In 1880 the Geological Society presented him with the Lyell medal. In 1865 he was elected by the committee a member of the Athenaeum Club, the only honour which Herbert Spencer would ever accept. He was a D.C.L. of Oxford, LL.D. of Dublin, D.Sc. of Cambridge, D.C.L. of Toronto, and honorary member of various foreign societies. In 1892 he was created a Knight Commander of the Bath; he was a correspondent of the French Academy, and a trustee of the British Museum since 1885.

Besides being a great man of science and a successful man of business, Sir John Evans took a most active and useful part in local affairs, for which his capacity was first rate. He was High Sheriff in 1881, chairman of Quarter Sessions, vice-chairman and afterwards chairman of the Hertfordshire County Council, and when he retired from the chairmanship his colleagues presented him with his portrait by Mr. John Collier and a silver-gilt cup. As the West Herts Observer said, “His masterly grasp of essentials, his statesmanlike vision, his marvellous capacity for public business of all kinds was the admiration of all who knew him. And now, mourned by a whole county for whose welfare he worked so long and so strenuously, he goes to his rest full of days and full of honours.”

The trusteeship of the British Museum afforded opportunities both for his scientific and administrative abilities. He was one of the most active and useful members of that eminent body.

In private life he was a delightful companion, a genial host, and a staunch friend. In 1860 Sir Joseph Prestwich invited Sir J. Evans and me to go with him to Abbeville to examine the collections of M. Boucher de Perthes, who had found flint implements in the Somme gravels. His figures, however, did not do them justice, and they were generally regarded as accidental in their origin. We satisfied ourselves, however, that they were indisputably of human workmanship, and the trip was the precursor of many others and of a close and intimate friendship of over forty years.

He first married his cousin, the younger daughter of Mr. John Dickinson; secondly, Miss Phelps. His widow, Lady Evans, a daughter of Mr. Charles C. Lathbury, is herself a classical scholar and a keen antiquary.

His eldest son, Arthur, has made for himself a great and well-deserved reputation as an archaeologist by his interesting discoveries in Crete. He is an F.R.S.—the fifth generation of his family to be so. The second son, Lewis, inherits his father’s business ability and carries on the family business.

As The Times justly observed, until quite recently “his apparently unfailing vitality seemed to defy the advance of time.” He attended the meeting of the Trustees of the British Museum on the 23rd May and his mind remained to the last as clear, bright, and powerful as ever. But his health had been for some time a source of anxiety to his friends. At last an operation became necessary, and he had not strength to rally from it. He will be much missed and deeply mourned.


This obituary first appeared as: Lord Avebury. 1908. 'Sir John Evans, K.C.B., D.C.L., F.R.S. Born November 17th, 1823; Died May 31st, 1908.'. Man Vol. 8, pp. 97-98. Reproduced with permission.


To cite this article:

LORD AVEBURY. 1908. 'Sir John Evans, K.C.B., D.C.L., F.R.S. Born November 17th, 1823; Died May 31st, 1908.'. Man Vol. 8, pp. 97-98. (available on-line: