Was born at Banff,
Scotland, on 29 February 1812, the third son of John Wilson, a shipowner.
Educated at Banff and Edinburgh, he emigrated to Tasmania in 1829, studied
practical engineering and afterwards became a ship's officer. He was
connected with the Cascade brewery for 14 years and became its manager. He
entered politics in October 1859 as member for Hobart in the legislative
council, and in January 1863 joined the Whyte (q.v.) cabinet as minister
without portfolio. In 1868, at the time of the visit of the Duke of
Edinburgh, Wilson was mayor of Hobart and on 4 August 1869 became premier
and colonial secretary in a ministry which lasted until November 1872.
Anthony Trollope, who came to Australia in 1871, formed a high opinion of
Wilson. "I thought I had not met a sounder politician in Australia. . . .
Victoria is desirous of annexing Tasmania. Perhaps when she has done so,
Mr Wilson will become premier for the joint colonies, and then great
things may be expected." (Australia and New Zealand, chap. XXXVI.)
In 1872 Wilson was elected president of the Tasmanian legislative council,
and held this position until his death on 29 February 1880. He married in
1847 Deborah Hope, daughter of Peter Degraves. Lady Wilson survived him
with children. He was knighted in 1873 and created K.C.M.G. in 1878. He
was a man of unbounded popularity, well-known, for his charities. He was
president of the Southern Tasmanian Agricultural Society and chairman of
committees and president of the Tasmanian jockey Club. As a politician
Wilson showed wisdom in his advocacy of free-trade between the Australian
colonies. Tasmania passed an intercolonial freetrade act in 1870 during
his premiership, but the question made no headway on the mainland.