TWO weeks ago, historian Mark Muller wrote about George Essex Evans, poet laureate of Australia. Here, he details a visit from Dr Heather Little, a retired Australian GP who visited Pembrokeshire in search of more information about the poet.

On the September 17, Heather and her husband Vince left their home in Toowoomba in Queensland, landed in Newcastle and began their marathon tour of the UK.

Heather has Welsh roots, her father having been born in Rhyl. He emigrated with his mother while very young and although he died when Heather was only a teenager, she can remember him speaking Welsh and singing Welsh songs.

Their tour came to an end in Pembrokeshire, where they hoped to find out a little more of the early life of George Essex Evans, the much respected poet who spent part of his childhood in Haverfordwest and emigrated to Australia in 1881.

Heather has been able to throw more light on George’s achievements and anticipating our meeting brought a huge number of original documents with her. From these and from Heather’s incisive knowledge of the man and his poetry it becomes obvious that George Essex Evans was more than a poet. He was a champion of the downtrodden and through his poetry he detailed the difficulties being experienced by the poorer classes and particularly by women. An example of this can be seen from a stanza of ‘Women of the West’, later made into a song and still popular.

They left the vine-wreathed cottage and the mansion on the hill,

The houses in the busy streets where life is never still,

The pleasures of the city, and the friends they cherished best:

For love they faced the wilderness—the Women of the West.

He also exposed the hypocritical attitudes expressed by many of those in positions of power in the late 19th century and was never afraid to speak his mind whether verbally or in verse.

George also wrote plays which were performed in both Toowoomba and Brisbane (both huge cities) and in these he presented, as part of the script, aspects of topical news that exposed corruption or the mismanagement of authorities... quite a feat for the times in which he was writing. Pity he left Pembrokeshire isn’t it!

A review of the first play, written in 1892, suggests among many flattering remarks that the play was, ‘brilliantly illuminated with Electric light specially laid on’.

The impact of George on Australia’s self identity was huge. It was George who was a prime mover in establishing national festivals in music, art and literature. He was so respected that at the point that he was stretchered into the Toowoomba Hospital in 1909, terminally ill, many residents, on witnessing it, paused and stood silently with men removing their hats.

Pilgrimages to the memorial erected to George began in 1929, 20 years after his death. At the first of these, many dignitaries spoke and among the tributes put forward was a message that George had had ‘higher ideals than his peers’ and that with his pen he had tried to lead others. A recently discovered first edition of his works was sent as a gift and mark of respect of his origins, to Wales, although it isn’t clear whether that went to the National Library of Wales.

Heather and Vince spent part of this week viewing the areas in Haverfordwest relevant to the poet’s childhood and then went on to Llwyngwair, near Newport, the home of George’s mother, a member of the Bowen family. They were planning to then head north to Rhyl to absorb some of the flavour of a Welsh background on their way back to Newcastle and finally home.

In two weeks time, on November 5, I will reveal Pembrokeshire's connection (albeit tenuous) with bonfire night.