Matilda Jane Evans

Henrietta Matilda Jane Evans, the writer Maud Jeanne Franc (1827-1886), was born at Peckham Park, Surrey, England on 7 August 1827, eldest of six children of Elizabeth (born Jacob) and Henry Congreve, variously described as doctor and schoolmaster. Little is known of her education, but probably she was taught by her mother.

After Henry Congreve lost 10,000 pounds in an unwise investment, the family emigrated to Adelaide in 1851. Elizabeth died en route to Australia; Henry died in 1852 leaving Matilda and her younger sister Emily with responsibility for three younger brothers, the oldest brother being at the gold diggings. Matilda took a position as a governess, near Mt Barker, teaching in a slab hut built for her by her employer. These experiences formed the basis of her first novel, Marian, or the Light of Someone's Home (1861). In 1858 she moved into Mt Barker township, where she ran a school adjacent to the Temperance Hall. It is believed that her sister Emily lived with her and taught music in the school.

In 1860 Matilda married Rev. Ephraim Evans, a widower with two small children. They lived in the Barossa Valley, where her two sons Henry Congreve and William James were born. On Easter Monday 1863 Ephraim died, leaving her with responsibility for four young children. As one of her fictional characters said '. . . what is there, indeed, that an educated woman can do but teach?' With Emily, and with the assistance of a public subscription, she opened a school at Angaston. She resumed writing novels, publishing Vermont Vale: or Home Pictures in Australia (1866), and Emily's Choice: An Australian Tale (1867).

In 1868, she moved to North Adelaide, establishing there a ladies' school, 'Angaston House'. The following year she was able to give up teaching and devote herself to her writing and her work in the North Adelaide Baptist Church. Two novels published in 1869, Minnie's Mission: an Australian Temperance Tale and Golden Gifts, were followed by another nine novels. She also wrote short stories and poems, as well as editing Christmas Bells (1882). Her novels had strong religious and temperance themes. Invariably the main character was a young woman who brought those around her to Christ. These novels, characteristic of a strand of nineteenth century women's literature, were said to be very popular as Sunday school prizes. A collected edition of her fourteen novels was republished a number of times, as late as the 1920s. As a deaconess of the church she visited sick church members, reviewed members' attendance at 'the Lord's table', and was in charge of visiting (presumably the poor) in her district which included Bowden- on-the-Hill, Ovingham and West Prospect. After her sudden death on 22 October 1886, her sister deaconesses wrote of their 'much valued friend', who passed away 'simply trusting on her Lord Saviour'.

Margaret Allen

All her Labours: Two, Embroidering the Framework 1984 ch 2.