John Evans graduated from Cambridge University in 1926 and gained his DSc from the University of Tasmania in 1949. Prior to his appointment to the Australian Museum, Evans worked as an entomologist in Australia for the Council for Scientific and Industrial Research (CSIR, now CSIRO), and the Tasmanian Department of Agriculture (1935-44), and in England for the Commonwealth Institute of Entomology (1945-48) and Ministry of Agriculture and Fisheries (1948-54).

A contemporary institution

Evans arrived at the Museum in 1954. After decades of little growth or innovation, he found the galleries ‘overcrowded’ and the exhibits ‘indifferently arranged, poorly labeled, and unlit.’ Evans introduced changes to the galleries and exhibits, bringing the Museum into line with contemporary display methods in major international public institutions.

Evans successfully obtained government funds for additions to the Museum building, the first major expansion since 1910. The completion of the basement and sub-basement in June 1960 meant that for the first time in its history, the Museum had work areas designed specifically for scientists, along with badly-needed collection storage space. The five upper floors of the William St wing including a top floor cafeteria were completed in 1963.

The number of suitably qualified scientific staff increased and links with universities were fostered, enhancing the Museum’s scientific reputation. Evans also increased the curatorial support staff by eleven, giving scientists more time to undertake and to publish research on the collections.

Evans’ own research was mainly focused on the order Hemiptera, leafhoppers, or ‘true bugs’. Although by nature reserved, Evans was the first director to seek the opinions of his staff both at regular formal meetings and informal gatherings. Evans was respected and well-liked by staff and his decision to take early retirement in January 1966 was received with universal regret.