DEATH OF EVAN EVANS (AYE) – 1810 -1845 & THE VERY MOVING POEM OF LITTLE WILLIE

Readers of these stories will recall that some time ago I wrote about George Adams, and in that story I referred to the fact that no record could be found of the burial of Evan Aye who was referred to in the Coroners inquest (see below)It now transpires that the reason for this was that the name AYE was indeed a nickname and not his real name which was in fact EVANS. As in all these most sad and harrowing stories one can only imagine the terrible tragedies and sufferings they endured not least the lack of basic medical attention which seems to be a common theme in many. Following on from this short and sad story of Evan Evans I have once again published another poem, this time referring to the burial of paupers from Workhouses which was written by the famous Victorian poet Gerald Massey in 1856. He had personal knowledge of the conditions of these poor individuals, having himself experienced poverty in his early years. It is highly likely therefore that this poem was written from personal experience of his friendship with a childhood friend  just like poor Evan Evans from the Carmarthen Workhouse…The poem, if I may say so, exemplifies everything wrong with Victorian society at the time and is a remarkable heart rendering piece of story telling, even after 150 years.

 

 The Welshman 4th July 1845 page 2.

The poor idiot named Evan Evans, and nicknamed Evan Aye, from his peculiar mode of expressing himself, died on Monday last, in the Carmarthen Union Workhouse. He was well known to almost every inhabitant of South Wales as a cattle driver or general assistant of drovers at fairs. His life was an eventful one, and those who knew his history pitied his misfortunes. It is said that the poor fellow was not an idiot from his birth, but that the cruel treatment of his father bereft him of his senses. As is usual in persons afflicted with idiosyncrasy, he was faithfully attached to those who behaved with kindness to him, amongst whom may be reckoned the late lamented John Jones MP. Evan attached himself to Mr. Jones’s party, and at elections always wore his colours (Red); at one election in particular, when party feeling ran high in Carmarthen, he was suspended over the bridge, and threatened that unless he cried out, “Blue for ever” he should be thrown into the river below. Faithful to the last, the poor fellow stuck to his colours, & refused to desert the cause of his kind patron. He was eventually released from his perilous position. The cause of poor Evan’s death may be attributed to an accidental burning of his right arm and side at Abergwili fair, and the wound not having been dressed so soon as it ought to have been, is supposed to have accelerated his departure from this busy world, in which during the long space of forty dreary years, he had not enjoyed a single portion of this world’s happiness. “After life’s fitful fever, he sleeps well”

 

The poet Gerald Massey 1860
John Jones MP. By Thomas Brigstocke. By kind permission of Carmarthenshire County Council.
The burial register with details of EVAN EVANS

 

 

 

 

 

 

The comments mentioned below from the Coroner referred to the inquest into the death of George Adams of the Workhouse, who is featured in a separate story in “What’s in a Name”. George Adams died in October 1846 over a year after Evan (Aye) Evans. It is strange therefore for the Coroner to refer to his death as having been “a short time ago” but nevertheless the descriptions of the living conditions of these poor defenceless individuals is plain to see.

“The Coroner said that he had heard that in the case of a poor idiot named Evan Aye, who died a short time ago, an inquest ought to have been held. Inspector Young stated that on one occasion when he entered the room where Evan Aye was sleeping, the stench was so intolerable that he was compelled to make a precipitate retreat. The Coroner said that it appeared to him that the workhouse authorities were anxious to withhold something from the public which they were afraid to have known. However he really hoped that in all cases in future, intimation would be given to him in order that he might exercise his discretion as to whether an inquest was requisite or not”

 

LITTLE WILLIE

“Poor little Willie,

With his many pretty wiles;

Worlds of wisdom in his looks,

And quaint, quiet smiles;

Hair of amber, toucht with

Gold of heaven so brave;

All lying darkly hid

In a workhouse grave.

 

 

You remember little Willie;

Fair and funny fellow! he

Sprang like a lily

From the dirt of poverty.

Poor little Willie!

Not a friend was nigh,

When from the cold world,

He croucht down to die.

 

 

In the day we wandered foodless,

Little Willie cried for bread;

In the night we wandered homeless,

Little Willie cried for bed.

Parted at the workhouse door,

Not a word we said:

Ah, so tired was poor Willie,

And so sweetly sleep the dead.

 

 

Twas in the dead of winter

We laid him in the earth;

The world brought in the New Year

On a tide of mirth.

But for lost little Willie

Not a tear we crave;

Cold and hunger cannot wake him,

 In his workhouse grave.

 

 

We thought him beautiful,

Felt it hard to part;

We loved him dutiful –

Down, down poor heart!

The storms they may be beat,

The winter winds may rave;

Little Willie feels not,

In his workhouse grave.

 

 

No room for little Willie;

In the world he had no part;

On him stared the Gorgon-eye

Through which looks no heart.

Come to me said Heaven:

And, if Heaven will save,

Little matters though the door

Be a workhouse grave”

GERALD MASSEY.