Alan Spearman Evans Collection

Scope and Content

The Alan Spearman Evans Collection comprises over 2000 photographic images of houses, house interiors, garden landscapes and industrial workplaces in New South Wales, taken by Alan Spearman Evans between 1924 and 1957.

The photographic images are in various formats including photonegatives (21 boxes), silver gelatin photoprints and 35mm slides. The photonegatives are stored with the original envelopes annotated by Evans and provide an historical record of photographic documentation – often providing detail on aperture settings, light conditions and type of film used.

The collection also includes family and general correspondence, property valuation certificates, the published book ‘Tail Up’ written by Sylvia Evans, a personal notebook and scrapbooks of newspaper clippings.

Biographical note

Alan Spearman Evans (1902-1963) was a Sydney-based amateur photographer who spent much of his life recording his houses, gardens and workplaces as well as those of his family and friends.

Evans married his childhood sweetheart, Sylvia Winifred Henderson (1902–1995), in 1927, and together they built their first home, Alwyn, in Arncliffe, in south-west Sydney. Photographing the construction of the house from its earliest stages, Alan initiated a routine of documenting the homes of his family and friends that would continue for over 30 years.

Employed as an accountant for Davis Gelatine (Aust) Ltd, Evans took his photographic hobby into the workplace, capturing images of the extensive Davis Gelatine industrial garden and factory complex in Botany. He was also photographer for the company newsletter Davis Gelatine Review. In 1933 the Davis firm leased the Cockatoo Island Dockyard in Sydney and Evans documented ship-building activity and ship launches there.

In 1944 Sylvia Evans published her book, Tail Up, illustrated with Alan’s photographs, and this, along with related correspondence, provides a curious insight into their lives at Arncliffe as seen through the eyes of their cross blue heeler/kelpie, Manna. Manna died unexpectedly in 1946 and the devastated Evans’ named their next property, in Mosman, Manna House in memory of their beloved kelpie.

Alan and Sylvia moved into Manna House in 1950 and Alan continued to document the house and garden until his death in 1963. Sylvia stayed in the house they had built together for another 30 years.

For more information about Alan and Sylvia Evans and the photo collection, see the story, A window to the past.

Provenance and access

Parts of the Alan Spearman Evans Collection were acquired between 2006 and 2008 on eBay and a subsequent direct purchase from the dealer of those parts of the Evans material relating to houses, interiors and gardens. It is believed that the material was originally disposed of following the death of Sylvia Evans in 1995. The extent of the original collection is unknown but many images relating to Cockatoo Island, other industrial sites managed by the Davis firm, some domestic photographs, and personal correspondence are known to have been dispersed via eBay.

Given the haphazard nature of the disposal and subsequent acquisition of the Evans collection, the Caroline Simpson Library & Research Collection (CSL&RC) is responsible for the current arrangement of boxes and folders.

  • For more information about Evans material held by other institutions see the list of related material below.
  • A range of Alan Evans photographs can be viewed online through our Pictures Collection catalogue

Download this finding aid

Alan Spearman Evans Finding aid PDF

For further access to Alan Spearman Evans Collection material, contact:

Caroline Simpson Library & Research Collection
Phone: +61 2 8239 2233
Email: library@mhnsw.au

  • The Australian War Memorial has acquired images of shipbuilding at Cockatoo Island taken by Evans and a photo album of the construction of an air raid shelter at the rear of Alwyn, 16 Loftus Street, Arncliffe (see Evans Collection: EC3/ALW for CSL&RC holding of negatives). This material can be accessed through the Australian War Memorial catalogue.
  • The National Archives of Australia holds a collection of images taken by Evans of shipbuilding activity at Cockatoo Island. Records of these images are available on the National Archives PhotoSearch catalogue.
  • The State Library of New South Wales has Photographs and scrapbooks of Cockatoo Island Dockyard, 1935-1943 / compiled by Norman Frazer and contains many photographs taken by Evans. Mitchell Library PXE 776.
  • Sydney Living Museums (formerly The Historic Houses Trust of New South Wales) manages Vaucluse House, Vaucluse. Detailed information is available on this website.
  • The New South Wales Heritage Branch has records of a number of properties photographed by Alan Evans on the NSW Heritage Database.