Date of this Version
The George Eliot Review 46 (2015)
George Evans, the elder brother of Robert Evans, George Eliot's father, has generally been disparaged as a drunkard who died young, but the following account of further research into his life aims to set the record straight. What is known for certain is that he died on 28 October 1857 at his daughter's house in Swinney Lane, Belper, Derbyshire, and was buried in the Churchyard of St Peter's Parish Church at Belper. He was 90 years of age. On the death certificate his occupation is given as 'A shoemaker at Derby (Master),
The immediate descendants of his daughter, Elizabeth, knew that there was a definite link between 'their' Evans and the Norbury Evans family and that Elizabeth was a first cousin of Mary Ann - although they were unable to piece together her exact background and history. It was fortunate that her father's Bible, with pages giving birth and death entries from 1800 to 1857, passed down to her son, William Wheeldon, to his daughter Florence Annie and to her son Dr Douglas Woods (father of John Woods, a current member of the George Eliot Fellowship). These entries in George Evans's Bible provided the crucial information needed to begin the current investigation.
The Wheeldons of Belper were proud of their connection with the great writer. Florence encouraged her three sons to read the Eliot novels 'because she was family’, saying that when she herself was a child (in the late 1870s and 80s) there was always much talk at home about Mary Ann. The Wheeldons were acquainted with Herbert Spencer and Florence was pleased to tell her sons that 'her father, William Wheeldon, had brought her from Belper to take tea with Herbert Spencer at his home in Derby' .1 Herbert Spencer's father was secretary to the Derby Philosophical Society - founded by Dr Erasmus Darwin of Derby and William Strutt2 - and William Wheeldon, a thinking as well as a practical man, had an interest in Darwinism and spiritualism. It would be surprising if his Evans ancestry were not also a topic of conversation.