EVANCE, Stephen (c.1655-1712), of the ‘Black Boy’, Lombard Street, London

Published in The History of Parliament: the House of Commons 1690-1715, ed. D. Hayton, E. Cruickshanks, S. Handley, 2002
Available from Boydell and Brewer



1690 - 1698

Family and Education

b. c.1655, s. of John Evance of New England and London, merchant. unmsuc. fa. bef. 1669; kntd. 14 Oct. 1690.1

Offices Held

Apprentice, Goldsmiths’ Co. 1669, freeman 1676, livery 1682, member, ct. of assts. 1691, prime warden 1692; receiver, poll tax, London, Mdx. 1690.2

Commr. excise 14 Oct. 1689–98, wine licences 1690–1701; cttee. loans on Poll Act 1693; receiver, contributions on salt and beer duties 1694; commr. leather duty 1697; jeweller to K. William 1697–1702, to Q. Anne 1702–d.; receiver, stamp duties 1703; trustee, loan for Emperor 1706; commr. subscriptions to S. Sea Co. 1711.3

Asst. R. Corp. Co. 1691; gov. Hollow Sword Blades Co. 1691–2; cttee. R. Fishery Co. [I] 1692; gov. Hudson’s Bay Co. 1692–6, 1700–11, cttee. 1696–1700; member, Mines Co. 1693; gov. Bridewell and Bethlem Hosps. 1708–d.4


Evance’s pedigree has not been fully ascertained. His father, possibly the John Evans who emigrated from London to Virginia in 1635, was a merchant based in Newhaven, New England, from where he had been trading to Barbados from at least the early 1650s. Evance was born in Newhaven, but in 1669, aged 14, he was sent to London as an apprentice to the Goldsmiths’ Company. In a critical appraisal of his subsequent career, the Earl of Ailesbury (Thomas Bruce†) described Evance as having been ‘a poor boy in the goldsmith’s shop and at the Revolution [he] went on errands for his master; and in a small number of years he was reputed to be worth £200,000’. In 1681, with his reputation as a banker well established, he became chief cashier of the Hudson’s Bay Company, entrusted with much of its financial business. He arranged the sale of the company’s annual intake of beaver coats and parchments, and was instrumental in establishing trade with Russia in furs and hemp. In February 1684 he bought company stock, and although he sold out briefly in 1689, he was to enlarge his holdings considerably in later years, owning £4,300 in stock by 1704. Evance’s loans to the company in this period were often the only means by which it remained solvent, but they were also precarious – in 1687 alone he signed bills for £10,510 yet received only £5,411. At about this time he also bought stock in the White Paper Makers’, Royal African and East India Companies.5

Evance was involved in a myriad of other business enterprises. He financed a partnership between Prince Rupert and the 1st Earl of Shaftesbury (Anthony Ashley Cooper†), for making steel and guns. Other interests were to a degree an extension of his involvement with the Hudson’s Bay Company. In August 1691 he emphasized his knowledge of New England in a petition for letters patent for a 31-year lease to develop royal copper mines there, in return for paying a tithe to the crown and delivering the copper to the Royal Mint. He also petitioned for letters patent to develop and use a newly invented air pump to allow divers to salvage wrecks, and to establish a company in the north of England for the manufacture of hollow sword blades. He had already paid for 20 families to be settled in the north for this work, and in September 1691 he became the company’s first governor. After the Revolution he became more prominent as a government financier. From the summer of 1689 onwards he made substantial loans to the crown, supplying, often in partnership with other leading bankers, money for the armies in Ireland and Flanders, subsidies for the allies in Europe and credit for both the army and navy. In October 1689 he was appointed to a new excise commission, with a salary of £800 p.a., in return for contributing to a loan of £175,000. Ministers were not ungrateful for this service, and he was knighted in October 1690. On several occasions between June and November he was also given as royal bounty sums amounting to £1,368. In September 1690 he was made a commissioner of wine licences as reward for a loan of £30,000, and in 1691 and 1692 various industrial consortia to which he belonged were successful in petitioning for incorporation as chartered companies. In subsequent years he engaged in supplying clothing to troops in Flanders, arms to the garrison at Kinsale and stores to the navy from Maryland, New Hampshire and Sweden, having formed a trading association to make tar, pitch and resin.6

Returned to Parliament for Bridport in 1690, Evance was listed as a Whig by Carmarthen (Sir Thomas Osborne†). He was subsequently named as a Court supporter by Robert Harley* in April 1691 and as a placeman on many of Carmarthen’s lists from 1692. Grascome also classed him as a Court supporter in this Parliament. In September 1692 he failed in a bid to be chosen an alderman of London. By 1694, although remaining one of the chief suppliers of government credit abroad, he found some of his other business threatened by the Bank of England. Like most of the goldsmiths, he opposed the formation of the Bank. This opposition, together with his poor attendance record at the Excise Board and apparent lack of diligence, led to recommendations that he be removed from the commission. Sir John Trenchard* considered Evance to be ‘very little serviceable in that employment’, while Lord Keeper Somers (Sir John*) listed Evance among other commissioners ‘who are at best so useless . . . that the commissions would certainly be improved by leaving them out, and putting diligent men in their room’. However, Shrewsbury informed the King that Evance was ‘very considerable in the City, and very useful to you upon all occasions of loans’. His usefulness as a financier clearly outweighed his negligence as an official, and he retained his place, although there was mounting criticism of his business practices: in November 1693 he had been censured for importing 100 bales of raw silk ‘upon pretence’ that weavers had need of the material, while in June 1696 a consignment of timber imported by Evance from New England was rejected as unfit for use by the navy, and commissioners examining the bills found a £601 discrepancy in his invoices. In April 1695, during an inquiry into alleged bribery by directors of the East India Company, his name appeared on company documents as having received three small sums, but, as he engaged in overseas trade, this was probably insignificant. In a list of placemen he was described as ‘a commissioner of excise, who by melting down the milled money, loans at the Exchequer and remitting our money to Holland has got above £50,000’. He also held securities in trust for foreign investors in English funds, thereby allowing them to evade taxes.7

Evance was re-elected after a contest at Bridport in 1695 and continued to support the ministry. He was forecast as likely to support the government in the division of 31 Jan. 1696 on the proposed council of trade, signed the Association in the following month and voted in March for fixing the price of guineas at 22s. However, his loyalty was insufficient to prevent him joining with other goldsmiths in the attack on credit, aimed at destroying the Bank of England. On 15 May 1696 he was summoned before the lords justices and warned against augmenting the government’s financial difficulties. He voted for the attainder of Sir John Fenwick† on 25 Nov. 1696, and in the same month (21 Nov.) the Commons read a petition of Sir Francis Wyndham, 3rd Bt.*, complaining that Evance stood upon his privilege and refused to pay £3,000 which had been lodged in his hands. After a debate the House gave the two parties a week to settle the matter, and nothing further was done. A somewhat similar petition from Sir Thomas Peshall, 3rd Bt., concerning £1,400, was presented on 20 Jan. 1697, but despite two orders for Evance to attend to answer the petition the affair petered out. He was also ordered into custody on 25 Jan. for being absent from a call of the House, but was released the following day.8

When he succeeded Sir Francis Child* in May 1697 as jeweller to the King, Evance’s career seemed to have attained a peak of success. However, as he controlled one of the private syndicates upon which the government depended for financing the war in Flanders, he stood to lose valuable contracts to the Bank of England which, having some of this business transferred to it by the Treasury, was undermining the importance of men like Evance in government finance. Moreover, the following autumn there was more trouble for him in the excise commission. Three members of the board, Edward Clarke*, John Danvers and Thomas Everard, presented to the Treasury a memorial concerning alleged mismanagement. The other commissioners, including Evance, responded with their own report, accusing Danvers and Everard of Jacobitism. The dispute went a stage further in February 1698 when a Tory Member of Parliament, Sir Thomas Dyke, at the instigation of Danvers and Clarke, urged one Thomas Webb to bring in prosecutions against Evance and some other commissioners, telling Webb that ‘they had done ill offices to some worthy gentlemen by giving false information’. The grounds of the complaint were that while already on the Excise Board they had been appointed to the commission for leather duties but had failed to retake the oaths. The threat of prosecution led to the introduction of a bill on 2 Apr. to extend the time for such people to qualify themselves. It passed the Commons but was rejected by the Lords as unnecessary, since all those concerned had taken the oaths when first appointed to the excise commission. Although Evance survived this crisis, ministers no longer valued his financial support enough to wish to continue him on the Board, and he was eventually removed in the following July. Indeed by this time he had ceased to make loans to government, his share in public finance taking the form of contracts for providing money overseas. He nevertheless kept his places as commissioner for wine licences, with a salary of £250, and as jeweller to the King.9

Evance did not stand in 1698, but was listed as a placeman in July and as a Court supporter ‘left out’ of the new Parliament. Although his political career was now at an end, he continued to be involved in public life and occasionally made use of Parliament to further his aims. On 26 May 1701 he was one of a number of men who petitioned for a bill to incorporate a company to manufacture woollen goods ‘perfect and true according to the laws and statutes in being’, through raising a voluntary subscription of £1,000,000. In the 1705 Parliament he pursued a claim for the recovery of £1,482 which had been owed to him and his associate Henry Cornish* since 1691: a restitution bill was introduced by Edward Strode on 1 Dec. 1705 which gained the Royal Assent on 16 Feb. following. Evance continued to be active as a banker and trader, and in 1700 he resumed the governorship of the Hudson’s Bay Company, his cash advances helping to carry the company through the difficult opening years of the new war. He also engaged in some private trading on his own account with Governor Thomas Pitt I*, with whom he had been in regular correspondence from at least 1702. He later became one of Pitt’s trustees in England, and when the young Robert Pitt* was sent back to England from Madras entrusted with his father’s great diamond, it was Evance who met him as he disembarked in London. Evance was for a time custodian of the diamond, which he kept in a trunk at his shop in Lombard Street. He was to show the same service to Pitt in later years, guarding numerous jewels and advising on their relative value and demand. During Anne’s reign Evance ceased all part in government funding and went into a speculative type of insurance, providing cover for merchants. This proved disastrous. By 1707 Pitt was hearing rumours of financial difficulties, and his son removed all his jewels from Evance’s care after learning that the latter was not only in ‘suspicious circumstances’ but, perhaps encouraged by these financial difficulties, was insisting on a 5 per cent ‘East India’ commission on the sale of the jewels. Evance’s finances were further strained when, having offered surety to Sir Thomas Littleton, 3rd Bt.*, he was obliged to pay £13,000 to Littleton’s widow to satisfy a deficit in accounts due from Littleton’s cashier, William Hubbald, and had to depend upon the sale of the latter’s estates to recover the money. At the beginning of January 1712 Evance was declared bankrupt ‘for above £100,000’: Ailesbury commented that ‘as ill got money never thrives, he broke . . . by grasping at too much’. On 5 Mar. 1712, no longer being able ‘to keep shop’, Evance shot himself in the temple, or, according to one report, hanged himself, at the house of Sir Caesar Child, who had married his niece, Hester. One of his numerous creditors, the Hudson’s Bay Company, which had often depended upon advances from him, claimed £844 from his estate but was initially only able to recover £11. However, in 1719 Evance’s trustees discovered that he had held £500 in Company stock in his own name, together with an additional £3,574 in stock held in trust for him by Thomas Lake, the son of the Company’s Governor. In this way Evance was able to leave a substantial estate to pass to his niece.10

Ref Volumes: 1690-1715

Authors: Paula Watson / Henry Lancaster


  • 1. Original Lists of Persons of Quality . . . ed. J. Camden Hotten, 84; Le Neve’s Knights (Harl. Soc. viii), 435.
  • 2. Goldsmiths’ Hall, apprenticeship bk. 2, f. 182; apprenticeship and freedom index; Wardens and Members of Ct. of Goldsmiths’ Co. 2; Cal. Treas. Bks. ix. 718.
  • 3. Cal. Treas. Bks. ix. 273, 817; x. 3; xii. 120; xvi. 424; xviii. 456; CSP Dom. 1698, p. 366; Luttrell, Brief Relation, iv. 228; Boyer, Anne Annals, iv. 126; Pittis, Present Parl. 349.
  • 4. CSP Dom. 1690–1, pp. 422, 522; 1691–2, pp. 3, 112; Sel. Charters, 239; E. E. Rich, Hudson’s Bay Co. Bk. of Letters Outward (Hudson’s Bay Rec. Soc. xx), 292.
  • 5. CSP Col. 1574–1660, pp. 370, 404; Ailesbury Mems. 241–2; E. E. Rich, Hudson’s Bay Co. 1670–1870 (Hudson’s Bay Rec. Soc. xxi), 154, 187, 191, 229, 461, 462; P. G. M. Dickson, Financial Revol. 491.
  • 6. Rich, Hudson’s Bay Co. 1670–1870, 100; F. G. Hilton Price, London Bankers, 128; Cal. Treas. Bks. ix. 40, 123, 366, 419, 595, 817, 1184, 1759; x. 3, 28–29, 205, 222, 424, 1376–7; xvii. 577, 586, 596; CSP Dom. 1690–1, pp. 485, 505–6, 522; CSP Col. 1693–6, pp. 246–7, 266, 427.
  • 7. Luttrell, ii. 566; CSP Dom. 1691–2, p. 437; 1694–5, pp. 179–81, 186; 1696–7, pp. 10, 17–18, 141; BL, Verney mss mic. 636/44, John Verney* (Visct. Fermanagh), to Sir Ralph Verney, 1st Bt.†, 12. Nov. 1693; Dickson, 252.
  • 8. Centre Kentish Stud. Stanhope mss U1590/059/5, Robert Yard* to Alexander Stanhope, 24 Nov. 1696.
  • 9. CSP Dom. 1696, pp. 178–9; 1698, p. 207; Luttrell, iv. 143, 173, 228; Cal. Treas. Bks. xiii. 18–19, 25, 29–31; Cal. Treas. Pprs. 1697–1702, p. 161; HMC Lords, n.s. iii. 223–4; Yale Univ. Beinecke Lib. Biscoe-Maunsell newsletters 9 Apr. 1698; Univ. Kansas Spencer Research Lib. Lowther mss, deposition of Thomas Webb, 18 May 1698.
  • 10. HMC Lords, n.s. vi. 388; ix. 104; Cal. Treas. Pprs. 1705–6, p. 675; C110/28, Evance to Thomas Pitt, 11 Aug. 1702, 11 Jan. 1703, c. Jan. 1705; Rich, Hudson’s Bay Co. Bk. of Letters Outward, 292, 340, 358, 375–6, 461–2, 467–8; Rich, Hudson’s Bay Co. 1670–1870, 468; HMC Fortescue, i. 5, 26, 30, 33, 64; Swift Stella ed. Davis, 462; Add. 22851, ff. 123–8; 22852, f. 11v; Brit. Mercury, 5–7 Mar. 1712.