Australian Dictionary of Biography

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John Wilson (1882–1967)

by Geoffrey Cossins

This article was published:

John Wilson (1882-1967), consulting engineer, was born on 5 July 1882 at Gilnahirk, Belfast, Ireland, son of Samuel Wilson, farmer, and his wife Jane Edgar, née Malcolm. John was educated at Tullycarnett School and Campbell College, Down, and at Kelvin House School and the Municipal Technical Institute, Belfast. In 1897 he became a clerk in the engineer's office, Northern Counties Committee, Belfast. From 1903 he studied engineering at Queens College, Belfast (B.E., 1907, Royal University of Ireland) while working at the Engineer's Office of the Midland Railway Co. in Dublin. Wilson migrated to Queensland in 1909 to join the engineering branch of the Department of Railways as a survey draftsman. He was assistant engineer at Rockhampton planning and designing lines, before spending a year at Dalby supervising day labour construction. For the next ten years he was resident engineer-in-charge of day labour construction of railway branch lines in various parts of the State.

In January 1922, from forty-five applicants, Wilson was appointed assistant engineer with the newly formed Main Roads Board; some months later he became engineer to the board. The construction of main roads was largely placed in the hands of local authorities, few of which employed full-time engineers. After a year Wilson resigned and during the next forty-four years was a successful consulting engineer, engaged principally in local authority works in south-eastern Queensland. At first he helped with the design and supervision of roads and associated bridges that, by 1942, totalled 1000 miles (1609.3 km). As economic conditions improved, he extended his services to urban water supplies and sanitation, including complete sewerage schemes for Bundaberg and Warwick with a Melbourne firm. On 14 December 1942 at St Andrew's Presbyterian church, Brisbane, he married Muriel Florence Geater, an English-born nurse.

From 1943 Wilson was the senior member of John Wilson & Partners, whose work expanded to provide virtually full engineering services to small local authorities, and branched into town planning. Outstanding projects included major water supply schemes for the joint Pine Rivers Shire and Redcliffe City as well as Redland Shire, each involving a significant dam. As local authorities grew and prospered, most appointed full-time engineers, but retained Wilson's firm as consultants for major investigation and design work.

An associate of the Institution of Civil Engineers (London) from 1920 (member 1928), Wilson was elected an associate of the Institution of Engineers, Australia, and then member in 1926; he was chairman of the Brisbane division in 1931-32 and president of the Institution of Engineers, Australia, in 1939. He served on the Board of Professional Engineers of Queensland from 1932 until 1956.

An able and efficient engineer, scholarly and well read, Wilson had a profound understanding of people. His integrity was his password. He remained in active practice until shortly before he died on 15 February 1967 in Royal Brisbane Hospital; he was buried in Bald Hills cemetery. His wife and their two daughters survived him.

Select Bibliography

  • G. Cossins (ed), Eminent Queensland Engineers, vol 2 (Brisb, 1999)
  • M. F. Wilson, John Wilson, July 5th, 1882 – Feb 15th, 1967 (manuscript, 1973, copy held Engineering Heritage Australia (Queensland), Brisbane)
  • N27821 (Queensland State Archives)
  • J. Wilson papers (privately held)
  • private information.

Citation details

Geoffrey Cossins, 'Wilson, John (1882–1967)', Australian Dictionary of Biography, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University,, published first in hardcopy 2005, accessed online 15 July 2024.

This article was published in hardcopy in Australian Dictionary of Biography, Supplementary Volume, (Melbourne University Press), 2005

View the front pages for the Supplementary Volume

© Copyright Australian Dictionary of Biography, 2006-2024

Life Summary [details]


5 July, 1882
Gilnahirk, Belfast, Ireland


15 February, 1967 (aged 84)
Brisbane, Queensland, Australia

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