George William Evans (January 5, 1780 – October 16, 1852) was a surveyor and early explorer in the colony of New South Wales. In 1815, he was the first colonial explorer to enter the Lachlan River Valley, naming the area the Oxley Plains after his superior the surveyor-general, John Oxley. He was the first explorer through the areas that now include the towns of Boorowa and Cowra.
Evans was born at Warwick, England. He came to Australia in October 1802, on 2 November was appointed a storekeeper at Parramatta, and in August 1803 helloa became acting-surveyor-general of lands during the absence on leave of Charles Grimes. He was made deputy surveyor of lands at Port Dalrymple on 27 October 1809, and three years later was appointed deputy surveyor of lands at Hobart.
Evans was recalled to Sydney in 1813 and on 19 November, accompanied by five men, one of whom had been with Gregory Blaxland's party at the first crossing of the Blue Mountains, began to follow the same track, taking seven days to reach the end of that journey. Four days later Evans reached the Fish River and for a week followed its course until he reached Campbell's River. On 9 December he came to the site of Bathurst, and on the 15th he was near Billiwinga. His farthest point near Chambers Creek was reached two days later. He began his return journey on 18 December 1813 and the Nepean River was reached three weeks later. Evans received £130 and a grant of land in Tasmania in recognition of his feat.
The discovery of so great a tract of good land was of the utmost importance to the colony, Governor Lachlan Macquarie at once began making a road over the mountains, and on 7 May 1815 the town of Bathurst was founded. Six days later Evans, who had been recalled from Tasmania, started from this point on another expedition travelling mainly towards the west which led to the discovery of the Lachlan River. On 1 June he found himself running short of provisions and returned to Bathurst where he arrived on 12 June. Another valuable stretch of country fit for settlement had been discovered. Though Evans had now finished his work as an independent explorer, when John Oxley went on his journey of exploration in April 1817, Evans accompanied him as his lieutenant, held the same position during the second expedition which started in June 1818, and did his work worthily. Oxley, in his report dated 30 August 1817, spoke of "the obligations I am under to Mr Evans for his able advice and cordial co-operation throughout the expedition, and, as far as his previous researches had extended the accuracy and fidelity of his narrative was fully exemplified". He also commended Evans in his report on the second expedition.
In August 1818, on Macquarie's recommendation, Evans was given a grant of £100. In the intervals between these expeditions he carried out his surveying work in Tasmania, and in 1821, backed by recommendations from both William Sorell and Macquarie, endeavoured to obtain an increase in his salary which was only about £136 a year. He published at London in 1822 A Geographical, Historical and Topographical Description of Van Diemen's Land of which a second edition under the title History and Description of the Present State of Van Diemen's Land appeared in 1824. A French translation was published at Paris in 1823. In November 1824 he applied to be allowed to retire on a pension, his position had recently been removed from any control by the surveyor-general of New South Wales.
In 1825 he was accused of receiving bribes from persons having business with his department, and Lieut.-Governor George Arthur found much difficulty in ascertaining the facts. In October 1826, in a dispatch to Earl Bathurst, he stated that Evans was proceeding to England by the same vessel conveying the dispatch and that he would "leave his address at your lordship's office". He sailed for England on 14 November 1826. Arthur found he could not justify Evans's conduct but in view of his services hoped he would not "be deprived of the retirement I have had the honour to recommend". The matter dragged on for some time but in the following year Evans was granted a pension Of £200 a year. It would appear that he had accepted money, but irregularities had grown up in the office and it is probable that Evans regarded this money as fees rather than bribes. Oxley as surveyor-general of New South Wales made the greater part of his income from fees; Governor Darling in a dispatch dated 5 September 1826 stated that though the surveyor-general's salary was only £1 a day the fees of his office were considerable and raised his income to £1000 a year. Darling's dispatch led to the fees system being discontinued, and instructions were given that the surveyor-general's salary was to be fixed at not more than £800 a year.
Evans returned to Australia about six years later and his name will be found in the New South Wales Calendar 1833-7 as a bookseller and stationer in Bridge-street, Sydney. He spent his last 10 years at Hobart and died there on 16 October 1852 (Launceston Examiner, 23 October 1852). He was married twice. Sketches by him of early Sydney and Hobart are in the Dixson gallery at Sydney.