Riviera Reporter
Riviera Reporter

Colonel William Edwyn Evans of Cimiez

The British Colonel of the Indian Army with a street in Cimiez named after him.

The greatest challenge in the case of war or major disaster is finding and evacuating the injured, since the dead (unfortunately) can wait. Today we take emergency vehicles for granted, although the ambulance is a fairly recent invention of the 19th century.

Florence Nightingale “invented” modern nursing care, but it was the British Army, notably the Indian forces, that organised medical transport by a new breed of specialist Transport Officers. The subject of this article is one of these officers, a remarkable man who settled in his retirement in Cimiez who has the double distinction of having an avenue and a villa named after him.

William Edwyn Evans (1818-1896) entered Addiscombe Military Academy at the early age of 15, following family tradition. In the Evans family, the men went to India and, to prepare for this, Addiscombe was the best training. Evans learnt not only about discipline and warfare but he acquired essential engineering and organising skills, too. He sailed for Bombay and spent the following 26 years with the Royal Bombay Fusiliers in the most dangerous of military situations. He served in India, where his elder brother’s family was massacred during the Bombay riots, but also partook in – and was one of the few who survived – the risky taking of Aden and went on to the further horrors of the Crimean War. He was awarded the military Legion d’Honneur.

In 1861, Evans retired at the ripe age of 43. Soon after he married a beautiful and very rich “secret” fiancée, who had patiently waited for years to marry him.

Caroline Ann Griffith (1827-1909) was heiress to an impressive fortune. Her father was a lawyer, who spent most of his working life buying and developing land in London. His daughter was well versed in property dealings, buying up sections of the hillside on Cimiez, starting with 7 hectares, then amassing parcelles (lots) until she owned a large section of the Cimiez hillside. Queen Victoria enjoyed her promenades in Carrie’s garden during her spring visits.

The Colonel knew exactly what they wanted for their villa, and chose a very young man, the 21-year-old Aaron Messiah, as his architect to build the Torre di Cimella, his version of an Italian Renaissance villa. The name refers to a Roman-built military tower, that once stood on the hillside. The original construction was later expanded and several times enlarged; it was one of the first villas in Cimiez to have water pipes and a sewage system, as well as electric lights and heating in addition to the monumental fireplaces.

Torre di Cimella

The Evans marriage was excellent: they shared the same ideas about life, art and charity and Carrie’s great fortune made of them a pillar of Nice society, though they never had children as she was over thirty when they married. His health was not good, having suffered from a “fever” caught in India that was probably malaria although he was surprised to read his own obituary, as the death of a visiting brother Henry was reported as his own, before the newspaper retracted and apologised.

Perhaps because of his own frail health and all the suffering he had seen, Evans was particularly sensitive to the illness and pain of others. He accepted the Presidency of the Nice Asile Evangelique, a medical charity set up for non-Catholics in this very Catholic town; in those days most hospitals were religious institutions. He contributed very generously to the expenses of the Asile and was active in the management issues, too.

At his funeral in Holy Trinity, in the presence of the Mayor and the Préfet, the huge crowd admired the Line of Honour by members of the local Pompiers, who thanked him for his advice and pecuniary help to the Fire Brigade. It made front-page news, not only in the local papers: The Boston Globe reported it as the passing of one of the “Last Great Anglo-Indians”. He and his wife donated and left enormous sums to various charities, medical, social, military orphanages, both at home and afar.

Carrie Evans remained in Nice after the death of her husband, and as noted in one of her obituaries, nobody was turned away from her door without help. She survived her husband by 13 years and left to her two nieces the villa and a fortune estimated in today’s value at about £23 million.

At the Caucade English Cemetery in Nice, the Evans’ faith is clearly demonstrated at their grave. Instead of being buried side by side, they chose a linear design to be face to face, like they lived: in a clear, straight line.

The author wishes to thank Dorothy Ramser for her help with genealogical research.

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