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Wilson, Ronald Martin (1886–1967)

by Don Watson and Blair Wilson

This article was published in Australian Dictionary of Biography, Volume 16, (MUP), 2002

Ronald Martin Wilson (1886-1967), architect and engineer, was born on 14 July 1886 at Yeronga, Brisbane, eldest of three children of Alexander Brown Wilson (1857-1938), architect, and his London-born wife Ellen Mary Watt, née Martin. Alex was born on 5 June 1857 at Glasgow, Scotland, fifth son of George Wilson, silk merchant, and his wife Margaret, née Watson. After the family migrated to Brisbane in 1864 he attended the Normal School. He began work with the Department of Public Works in 1875 and joined the architect F. D. G. Stanley as principal draftsman in 1882. Next year Wilson was admitted as an associate of the Royal Institute of British Architects. In 1884 he established his own practice. A founding fellow (1888) of the Queensland Institute of Architects, he served four times (1899-1900, 1910-12, 1914-16, 1920-23) as president. Survived by his wife, daughter and three sons, he died on 5 May 1938 at his Kangaroo Point home and was cremated with Presbyterian forms.

Ron, who attended Brisbane Normal and Grammar schools, passed the New South Wales junior public examination in 1902 and won a silver medal for physiology. He went to work in his father's office, becoming chief architectural assistant in 1908. While working, he graduated in civil engineering from the University of Queensland (B.E. Hons, 1915; M.E., 1921). Awarded a Walter and Eliza Hall travelling scholarship, he spent two years (1915-17) in the United States of America investigating structural steel and reinforced concrete construction. In Britain he joined (1917) the Ministry of Munitions and later the Ministry of Food, overseeing planning and construction of factories and cold stores. Before returning to Queensland in 1919 he studied town planning at the Architectural Association, London.

Entering into partnership with Alex Wilson in 1920, he practised alone after his father retired eight years later. On 21 December 1929 in the chapel of the Glennie Memorial School, Toowoomba, he married with Anglican rites 26-year-old Olga Esme Mansfield Wallis. His work included the Ithaca and St Lucia Presbyterian churches, Birt & Co. Pty Ltd's wharves at Newstead, the Cliffside Flats at South Brisbane, and butter factories and industrial buildings. A founding associate (1919) of the Institution of Engineers, Australia, and inaugural fellow (1930) of the Royal Australian Institute of Architects, he was a strong advocate of town planning.

Wilson was a member of the State government's university design select committee (1921) which recommended a permanent site for the institution, and the Greater Brisbane City Council's cross-river commission (1925) which proposed construction of the bridge which was named after J. D. Story in 1937. During World War II he was employed by the Commonwealth government to design sewerage plants for military establishments. In 1955 his son Blair joined the practice. Among the buildings for which the firm was responsible over the next twelve years were the Greek Orthodox Church of St George, South Brisbane, the Stanthorpe Civic Centre, extensions to the university's school of veterinary science and the Albany Creek crematorium.

Like his father, Ron Wilson was honorary architect to the Presbyterian Church, and a yachtsman. His interest in learning never waned and in his later years he attended lectures on anthropology and on topics such as the matrix theory for the design of indeterminate structures. He died on 19 July 1967 at his St Lucia home and was cremated with Presbyterian forms. He was survived by his wife and their son and daughter.

Select Bibliography

  • D. Watson and J. McKay, Queensland Architects of the 19th Century (Brisb, 1994)
  • Royal Australian Institute of Architects (Queensland), Centreline, July 1967, p 5
  • A. B. and R. M. Wilson collection (University of Queensland Library).

Related Entries in NCB Sites

Citation details

Don Watson and Blair Wilson, 'Wilson, Ronald Martin (1886–1967)', Australian Dictionary of Biography, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University, http://adb.anu.edu.au/biography/wilson-ronald-martin-12050/text21613, published first in hardcopy 2002, accessed online 18 October 2018.

This article was first published in hardcopy in Australian Dictionary of Biography, Volume 16, (MUP), 2002

View the front pages for Volume 16

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