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Edward Evans, Gold Digger | Print |  Email
Friday, 04 March 2005
Edward Delacey Evans was no different from all the other Irishmen who headed to the goldfields of Australia…or was he? John Wright on a most unusual gold digger.

By John Wright

See more Wright Down Under tales.

When word got out in Australia that there was gold in the ground, people rushed there from all over the world. Edward Delacey Evans was no different from all the other Irishmen who headed to the goldfields…or was he?

He was from County Kilkenny, and had boarded the ship "Ocean Monarch" in Ireland in 1856. He spent 20 years on the gold fields and was married three times. In July 1879, however, he got a head injury falling into a hole in the Bendigo diggings, and not long afterwards was pronounced insane.

So, why do I say: "or was he?" One day, when attendants tried to bath the patient, they discovered that Edward was, in fact, a woman.

It was headline news all over the world. The Dublin Express called it: "An Extraordinary Case", and polite society did its bit too by acting shocked.

But, apparently, Edward was just one of 19 or 20 male impersonators on the Bendigo goldfields. Was it an identity crisis? Or did these women just want a piece of the action like the men, and needed the protection of a male identity to succeed?

Despite the tragic end, Edward (or should I now start saying Ellen Tremayne) had lasted the distance during the gold boom as a man, and had fooled them all. But what of the wives? Were they harmless accomplices so he could pull it off? Or was it their way of getting at the gold too?

Could any of the women 'he' met genuinely have believed Ellen, dressed as a man, was one (a man, that is), and only left 'him' when they found out he wasn't? By the way, don't worry if you're confused; you're not the only one!

Another possibility (and I'm sure you'll think of more) is that each was a genuine lesbian relationship. What is certain is that Ellen Tremayne must have been a pretty cool customer to have got away with the deception for so long.

Historian Mimi Colligan who set out to trace her family in Ireland, told me that Ellen's father was a tenant farmer in Harristown, near Waterford. "Harristown is very small," she said. Apart from being near the River Suir, in which, I'm sure, the water is much cleaner than the name suggests, "there is only an off-licence there now." (I have heard of villages with only nine houses and a pub before (I was born in one), but a village comprising just an off-licence sounds a particularly Irish arrangement to me.)

Anyway, back to Ellen. According to the Sydney Daily Mirror in 1979, when the 'scandal' broke, "the current Mrs Evans insisted she had always believed her 'husband' was a man." She wasn't saying who the father of her one-year old child was.

When Ellen left Ireland, she travelled as herself. Other passengers had, apparently, noticed the name on her small trunk: "Edward Delacey Evans." She supposedly told them it was her fiance's and that they'd planned to emigrate together.

She told them that he'd "failed to appear at the wharf, so she'd sailed without him. Most thought she was really a man posing for some reason as a woman."

On board Ellen met a woman called Rose Kelly, and they were soon seen on deck holding hands. But Rose fell ill and had to leave the ship in Rio de Janeiro when she became seriously ill.

"Ellen Tremayne stayed on board and became just as friendly with Mary Ann Delahunty. She was from Monakine in Kilkenny," the newspaper says, and had money with her that she'd recently inherited. Arriving in Melbourne and still dressed as a woman, Ellen went ashore with Mary.

Seven years later, in 1863, a widowed farmer in Bendigo, Michael Brennan, advertised for a married couple to do farm and housework. A couple calling themselves Mr and Mrs Delacey Evans applied for the job. He hired them and they stayed for three years.

The wife was a 24 year-old Irish woman whose maiden name was Sarah Moore. In 1866 they worked briefly at Bendigo's Great Eastern Hotel; then they rented a cottage and 'Edward' got a job in a local gold mine.

One day a woman, Elizabeth Thompson, selling patent medicines called at their house. She'd been on the "Ocean Monarch" with 'Edward' (then as Ellen) and recognised her, and apparently, asked after Mary Ann Delahunty. 'Edward' told her that Mary and her child had died of consumption. The woman wanted to know more, because "she came from the same village as Mary, namely Monakine in Kilkenny," according to the Sydney Daily Mirror.

"'Edward' replied: 'it was all sent back to Ireland. Her last wish was that it go to a convent." Elizabeth Thompson left.

Then in 1867 Sarah died, and was buried next to her two children, who'd been born while living with 'Edward'. A year later he married 25 year-old Julia Marquand who had a child in 1878.

Then Edward Delacey Evans' behaviour began to change. "His work deteriorated and he became lethargic. His workmates even started referring to the 'quiet Irishman' as 'an old woman'."

'Edward's' world must have started closing in on him a year later when he fell into the hole and was taken to Bendigo Hospital, where her real identity was discovered.

But was she insane? Or was her behaviour now to do with being terrified that she'd been found out? Had she loved any of her 'wives'?

'Edward' was forced to wear women's clothes, but "she refused to be treated as a woman, and fought to stay in bed." She was then transferred to the Kew Mental Asylum in Melbourne.

'Edward Delacey Evans' does seem to have been a survivor. After the fuss died down 'he' seems to have gone into obscurity, if not vanished again.

Some say 'he' went around Australia with a travelling circus as a kind of 'half man half woman' attraction. Or would that claim contradict 'Edward's' previous need for privacy? Given her urgency about remaining a man, it might be safe to assume she kept her male identity throughout her life.

So, was she really a woman who felt she was a man, or simply a cheeky prankster who wanted money or adventure or both? Was she a thief, a fortune hunter, or even a murderer, as some people tried to suggest?

Only one person, Ellen Tremayne and her alter ego, Edward, who died in Melbourne in 1901, knew the answer to every one of those questions.

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