Evans, Richard (c.1740?–1802), canal engineer, was born in Wales but little is known of his early life there until the mid 1760s, when he worked on Kymer's canal. In the mid 1770s he moved to Ireland and conducted a very public career as a canal engineer on major projects. He carried out preliminary work on a Shannon–Erne waterway intended to link the two rivers as part of a continuous inland route from Belfast to the Atlantic at Limerick. He built the first lock at Carrowl on the Woodford river in the 1780s and was consulted until 1801 at different stages of the slow and tortuous Shannon–Erne project, which was abandoned owing to half-hearted commitment from the board of inland navigation and their financiers. (The project was revived in the 1840s.) Evans achieved greater distinction, if not career satisfaction, on Ireland's more ambitious waterway projects: the Shannon Navigation and the Grand and Royal Canals from Dublin.
On the Shannon he carried out works during the 1780s on the section from Jamestown, Co. Leitrim, to Killaloe, Co. Clare. On the Grand Canal, by the time he succeeded Charles Tarrant as resident engineer (c.1783), Evans had designed the Leinster aqueduct; he then supervised its completion, bringing the canal westward across the River Liffey near Sallins, Co. Kildare, where works had progressed by 1779. Built on five limestone arches extending 233 ft (71 m) across a much narrower span of river, Evans's aqueduct appeared on a massive scale. Although he was the visible authority on the ground, Evans still had to refer decision-making to Tarrant. He was engaged with Archibald Millar on the Barrow line to connect the Grand Canal with the River Barrow through the difficult Ballyteague bog, reaching Monasterevin, Co. Kildare, in 1785 en route for Athy (reached in 1791).
During the Barrow line project Evans had several external consultancy engagements, to which the Grand Canal Co. objected, claiming that they prevented him from devoting his full attention to their projects. He lost his job in December 1789 when he refused to concentrate wholly on the Barrow line, leaving Millar to finish the work. Evans did not remain idle. From 1790 he was engaged by the recently incorporated rival Royal Canal Co. but was also employed elsewhere including, in the same year, the Boyne Navigation Co., where he was chief engineer. Already built in close proximity to the river between Oldbridge, Co. Louth, and Slane, Co. Meath, works were completed under Evans as far as Navan by 1800. He rebuilt Thomas Omer's (qv) unsuccessful 1750s series of locks from Slane to Stackallen and bypassed the Boyne between there and the terminus at Navan by installing a standard section of canal.
On the Royal Canal, started in 1790, the first eighteen miles (29 km), beginning at Spencer Dock in Dublin, were completed by 1792 and Evans was expected to extend it rapidly as far as Mullingar. When work slowed down in 1793 John Brownrigg (qv), formerly an assistant to Evans on the Boyne navigation and now engineer to the directors general of inland navigation, led the investigation. He was critical of Evans over the rate of progress and high expenditure, almost having him dismissed. The friction continued through 1794, when Evans was further criticised by Brownrigg for inefficiency, mismanagement of funds, and poor safety procedures. The summoning of Thomas Hyde Page (qv) and the eminent William Jessop (qv) to support Brownrigg's contentions was an embarrassing occasion for both of these men, who were reluctant to be drawn into the dispute. Evans, however, retained his position but progress continued to be slow and state funding was erratic, pending evidence to justify further increases.
In 1801 Brownrigg was again to the fore in denigrating the quality of work on the Royal Canal as the delays caused considerable anxiety and financial losses to the company directors themselves. Whether Richard Evans had any particular responsibility for their woes is unclear, but his reports to parliament described troublesome physical obstacles, mainly bog and resistant geology, which held up works including his Rye Water and Boyne aqueducts, which were incomplete when he died in January 1802. John Rennie (qv) was subsequently brought in as a consultant on the Royal Canal, which led, not without further crisis, to the completion of Evans's route to the Shannon in 1817. Much of Evans's work is preserved as national heritage in the care of Waterways Ireland.