Australian Dictionary of Biography

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Wilson, Sir Leslie Orme (1876–1955)

by Peter Cahill

This article was published in Australian Dictionary of Biography, Volume 12, (MUP), 1990

Sir Leslie Orme Wilson (1876-1955), soldier, politician and governor, was born on 1 August 1876 in London, son of Henry Wilson, stockbroker, and his wife Ada Alexandrina, née Orme. Educated at St Michael's School, Westgate, and St Paul's School, London, he was appointed second lieutenant in the Royal Marine Light Infantry in 1895, lieutenant in 1896 and captain in 1901.

After serving (1899-1901) in the South African War in which he was wounded, mentioned in dispatches, and awarded the Queen's Medal with five clasps and the Distinguished Service Order, he was aide-de-camp (1903-09) to Sir Harry Rawson, governor of New South Wales. On 10 June 1909 at Christ Church, Mayfair, London, Wilson married Winifred May, eldest daughter of Charles Smith, a Sydney merchant.

While a captain of the Berkshire Royal Artillery (Territorials), Wilson won Reading in 1913 and took his seat in the House of Commons in early 1914. With the outbreak of war he was made a temporary lieutenant-colonel in the Royal Marines and given command of the Hawke Battalion of the Royal Naval Division. Following service at Gallipoli, during which he was again mentioned in dispatches, Wilson was sent to France in 1915 where, in the following November, he was severely wounded. He was appointed C.M.G. in 1916.

In late 1918 he became parliamentary assistant secretary in the war cabinet, in 1919 chairman of the National Maritime Board, and in 1921 parliamentary secretary to the treasury and chief Unionist whip. At the historic Carlton Club meeting in October 1922 he sided with the Conservative breakaway. Having won South Portsmouth at a by-election, he was sworn to the Privy Council in 1922 and served as chief government whip. In 1923 he was appointed G.C.I.E. and governor of Bombay.

The uneasy system of diarchy by which India was governed, together with the serious depression of the cotton textile industry on which Bombay so largely depended, made the position of governor no sinecure. Sir Leslie dealt with the most serious and prolonged strike in the history of the Indian manufacturing industry with firmness and goodwill. He preferred persuasion to intervention. As chief scout of Bombay he improved facilities for education, while his Governor's Hospital Fund (keenly supported by Lady Wilson) increased the efficiency of voluntary institutions. In 1928 he completed his office and in 1929 was appointed G.C.S.I.

On 13 June 1932 Wilson was sworn in as governor of Queensland. Although he had accepted a less exacting and responsible charge than Bombay, he carried out his constitutional, social and philanthropic duties with zest. A regular traveller to remote areas of the State, he was particularly interested in the welfare and progress of North Queensland. Closely associated with organizations as diverse as the Australian Institute of International Affairs and the Kennel Association of Queensland, he was the driving force behind the Bush Children's Health Scheme. In 1935 the University of Queensland awarded him an honorary LL.D. and in 1937 he was appointed G.C.M.G..

The Queensland government obtained a second quinquennial appointment for Wilson, followed by three annual extensions necessitated by the war: in all, he served fourteen years as governor, a British gubernatorial tenure unequalled since Jonathan Duncan's term at Bombay. Handsome and courteous, Wilson had natural presence. His affable nature, keen interest in sport and the unflagging support he and Lady Wilson gave to organizations and service functions during the war years were warmly regarded by Queenslanders.

Wilson left office on 11 April 1946 and retired to England, but revisited Australia several times to see his son who had a property in Queensland. Survived by his wife, son and daughter, Sir Leslie died in hospital at Chertsey, Surrey, England, on 29 September 1955 after a road accident. His portrait by William Longstaff hangs in Parliament House, Brisbane.

Select Bibliography

  • Queensland and Queenslanders (Brisb, 1936)
  • F. Brockway, Inside the Left (Lond, 1942)
  • Parliamentary Debates (Queensland), 6 Aug 1946, p 1
  • Brisbane Courier, 17, 25 Feb, 1 June 1932
  • Queenslander, 16 June 1932
  • Times (London), 1 Oct 1955
  • Wilson collection (University of Queensland Library).

Citation details

Peter Cahill, 'Wilson, Sir Leslie Orme (1876–1955)', Australian Dictionary of Biography, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University, http://adb.anu.edu.au/biography/wilson-sir-leslie-orme-9143/text16133, published in hardcopy 1990, accessed online 31 October 2014.

This article was first published in hardcopy in Australian Dictionary of Biography, Volume 12, (MUP), 1990

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