EVANS, THOMAS, soldier; b. 9 March 1777, near Wolverhampton, Staffordshire, England, the son of Richard Evans; d. 11 Feb. 1863 at Quebec.
Thomas Evans volunteered for the British army in 1793 and later claimed that his “juvenile exertions” at that time resulted in the enlistment of “more than 150 men for the Service.” An unusually active and ambitious officer, he purchased an ensign’s commission in the 113th Foot, then served in the 93rd Foot, and became a lieutenant in the prestigious 8th, or King’s Regiment, on 11 Oct. 1796. He saw active service in the West Indies with the 93rd, participating in the taking of Demerara and Berbice (both now part of Guyana). En route to England in 1797, however, his ship was captured by the French, and he was kept in close confinement for several months at Saintes, France.
Evans rejoined the 8th Regiment early in 1798 and won special recognition for his services as lieutenant and adjutant during the Egyptian campaign of 1801. On 19 Nov. 1803, while serving at Gibraltar, he purchased his captaincy – an advancement influenced by the patronage of the Duke of Kent [Edward Augustus*] and Evans’ commanding officer, Colonel Gordon Drummond*. Shortly after Drummond’s promotion to major-general on 1 Jan. 1805, Evans was seconded to his staff as aide-de-camp. He served the first half of 1808 with the 8th, but by August he was in Quebec, again seconded to Drummond, now second in command in British North America. Evans was later military secretary to Drummond until the general’s recall in the summer of 1811. At that time Captain Evans was posted to Upper Canada as brigade-major to Major-General Isaac Brock*.
Promoted on merit to a majority on 16 Feb. 1812, Evans assumed onerous additional duties as deputy adjutant-general in Brock’s command on the outbreak of war with the United States in June. In his dual staff role he was primarily responsible for preparing the expedition which compelled the surrender of General William Hull’s army at Detroit on 16 August. His brilliant handling of reinforcements at Queenston on 13 October, following the death of Brock, proved a vital contribution to Major-General Roger Hale Sheaffe*’s victory in that crucial battle.
Although honoured with a lieutenant-colonel’s brevet retroactive to 13 Oct. 1812, Evans returned to the 8th as a major at the end of January 1813. He commanded five companies of his regiment in Sir George Prevost*’s combined operation against the American base at Sackets Harbor, suffering three wounds in that ill-starred venture. He recovered, however, in time to play important roles in the expulsion of the Americans from Forty Mile Creek on the Niagara peninsula in June and in the remaining actions of the campaign of 1813.
Late in the winter of 1813–14 Evans commanded six service companies of the 2nd battalion of the 8th, as well as 230 seamen posted to the fleet at Kingston, on a forced snowshoe march through the wilderness from New Brunswick to Quebec. Successfully completing this assignment in March, he then proceeded to Upper Canada and the command of the 8th’s 1st battalion, winning commendation for effective leadership at the battle of Chippawa on 5 July, and at Lundy’s Lane on the 25th. He was wounded for the fourth time in the abortive assault on Fort Erie on 15 August, but continued on active service until the end of the war, by which time he had won ten honourable mentions in dispatches and general orders.
Evans assumed command of the 2nd battalion of the 8th in Montreal in February 1815 and returned to the United Kingdom with the battalion in August. On 14 March 1816 he exchanged for a majority in the 70th (Glasgow Lowland) Regiment and two days later was created a cb. He returned to Canada in 1816 and joined the 70th in Kingston in July. During the next 11 years he served with that distinguished regiment – frequently as its commanding officer – in Kingston, York (Toronto), Quebec, and Montreal. Moreover, he commanded the garrison in Lower Canada from June 1824 to September 1825 during the absence of Governor General Dalhousie [Ramsay*].
Posted from Canada to Ireland in August 1827, the 70th subsequently garrisoned Gibraltar during 1834–36 and Malta during 1836–38. Evans had purchased its immediate command on 24 Sept. 1829, and had been granted its colonelcy on 22 July 1830. He retired from active service on promotion to major-general in 1838. Promoted lieutenant-general in 1851, he was subsequently honoured with the colonelcy of the 81st, and promoted general on 18 May 1855.
Evans’ connections with Canada had been given further personal continuity by his marriage in Montreal on 12 March 1810 to Harriet Lawrence, daughter of an eminent loyalist, Judge Isaac Ogden. Evans lived in Montreal from 1848 until shortly before his death, and six of his eight children were born in Canada. One of his four sons, Richard John, became a prominent businessman in Toronto and Montreal after serving 18 years in the British army, principally in India; his daughter Catherine Maria married in 1847 Isaac Hellmuth*, an evangelical Anglican clergyman who was then vice-principal of Bishop’s College in Lennoxville and completed his career in Canada as bishop of Huron; Emily Anne married in 1856 Adam Crooks*, later attorney general and minister of education for Ontario. In retirement Evans actively supported Hellmuth’s promotion of evangelical Anglicanism in Canada, and it was he who offered to assist the financing of a church in Montreal of which Hellmuth would be rector, a project that incurred the wrath of Francis Fulford, high church bishop of Montreal.
It was said of General Evans that he participated in some 42 general actions and minor affairs and that testimony was borne to his distinguished conduct on almost 70 different occasions. It is also recorded that in his last seven years with the 70th, “he was never forced to order corporal punishment or to see his court-martials reversed.” Such tributes are exceptional in the annals of the British army.
PRO, WO 17, Monthly returns, Nova Scotia and dependencies, 1808; Canada, 1808–27; WO 25/798, no.4479. Select British documents of the Canadian War of 1812 (Wood). Montreal Transcript, 17 Feb. 1863. G.B., WO, Army list, 1794–1839. Hart’s army list, 1840–63, especially 1863, p.364. Montreal directory (Mackay), 1848–62. William Kingsford, The history of Canada (10v., Toronto, 1887–98), VIII, 239.