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David Wilson (1830–1899)

by K. T. H. Farrer

This article was published:

David Wilson (1830?-1899), dairy expert, was born at Glasgow, Scotland, son of John Wilson, cotton spinner, and his wife, Mary, née Donald. David arrived in Victoria in the Marco Polo in 1854 with his wife Grace, née Elliott, whom he had married at Kelso, Roxburghshire, in 1853. After running sheep, he became a dairy-farmer at Inverleigh and then at Springbank, Mount Egerton. Keenly interested in improving practices and the quality of the product, he made a systematic study of dairying and was an early importer of the de Laval mechanical cream separators for farm use: he demonstrated and publicized the value of separators in saving the time involved in setting milk and skimming cream, and in reducing microbial contamination and improving quality. Wilson's butter was so good that Melbourne grocers paid a premium for it. He won major prizes at the Ballarat and Geelong shows; his achievement set an example for others to follow. In 1881 he successfully exported butter to Britain.

Appointed State dairy expert in 1888, Wilson superintended the government's model dairy at the Centennial International Exhibition. In 1889 he organized a travelling dairy under the management of Alexander Crawford who, during the next two years, covered northern and western Victoria, demonstrating the cream separator and instructing farmers in its operation. With regard to churning, butter working and packing, Wilson's and Crawford's initiatives facilitated the transition from making butter by hand to its production in centralized factories. Convinced of the importance of co-operation in the industry, Wilson drew up plans and articles of association for co-operative factory companies. He was a founding member of the Dairymen's Association of Victoria.

From 1889 Wilson supervised the beginnings of Victoria's butter export industry. Having visited Europe in the early 1890s to study 'pasteurized and fermentized' butter, in 1893-94 he recommended the adoption of pasteurization and predicted that it would eliminate the need for boric acid as a preservative. He also stressed the importance of fodder conservation, culling and breeding, testing cows individually and hygienic methods. At his instigation, a pasteurization plant designed by A. N. Pearson was installed at Tungarmah in 1899. Wilson was also responsible for the appointment of Henry Potts to lecture to factory managers and buttermakers, and of Robert Crowe as an instructor in the use of the pasteurizer.

Widowed in 1895, Wilson married with Presbyterian forms Mary Stewart, a teacher, on 17 November 1897 at Geelong. He died of abdominal cancer on 26 August 1899 at his South Yarra home. Survived by his wife, and by six daughters and three sons of his first marriage, he was buried in Boroondara cemetery.

Select Bibliography

  • Commonwealth Department of Primary Industry, Agricultural Production Branch, Dairy Farming in Australia, G. T. Laffan ed (Melb, 1964)
  • K. Sillcock, Three Lifetimes of Dairying in Victoria (Melb, 1972)
  • Parliamentary Papers (Victoria), 1895-96, 4 (92), p 743
  • Journal of Agriculture (Victoria), July 1951
  • Weekly Times (Melbourne), 2 Sept 1899
  • Leader (Melbourne), 2 Sept 1899.

Citation details

K. T. H. Farrer, 'Wilson, David (1830–1899)', Australian Dictionary of Biography, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University,, published first in hardcopy 1990, accessed online 17 April 2024.

This article was published in hardcopy in Australian Dictionary of Biography, Volume 12, (Melbourne University Press), 1990

View the front pages for Volume 12

© Copyright Australian Dictionary of Biography, 2006-2024

Life Summary [details]


Glasgow, Lanarkshire, Scotland


26 August, 1899 (aged ~ 69)
South Yarra, Melbourne, Victoria, Australia

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