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Thomas Wilson (1787–1863)

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Thomas Wilson (1787-1863), solicitor and author, was born on 5 September 1787, and was related to the naturalist Alfred Russel Wallace. Educated in Germany, he acquired several modern languages and a knowledge of fine arts and music. Returning to England, he was articled to Bartlett & Beddome. With Wilson & Curtis he was later associated professionally with the building of the Portman market. He bought a country estate in Radnorshire, Wales, and gave evidence before the 1829-32 Royal Commission on the law of real property. He published anonymously A Descriptive Catalogue of the Prints of Rembrandt in 1836. Many of his engravings and prints, collected on the Continent, are in the British Museum.

In 1837 Wilson decided to emigrate. With some of his family he sailed in the Duke of Roxburgh and arrived in Adelaide in July 1838. He soon built an extensive and highly respectable practice, and for many years was a member of the firm of Smart & Wilson. In 1841 Governor (Sir) George Grey appointed him clerk of the Court of Appeals. He designed the official seal of the Municipal Corporation of Adelaide to which he was elected when it was constituted in 1840; he was elected alderman next year and mayor in 1842.

Wilson soon became equally popular for his literary and artistic attainments, and for his scientific interest in natural history. The South Australian Magazine published his lectures on engraving in 1843 and on English painting. He also contributed short translations from Anacreon and other authors to the South Australian Odd Fellows' Magazine. He lectured again on engraving to the Mechanics' Institute in 1847, and his lecture to the North Adelaide Institute on eminent female artists was published in 1854. His poems The Feast of Belshazzar, The Lonely Man of the Ocean, and Boyuca; or the Fountain of Youth, were published in Adelaide in 1856. According to the South Australian Magazine, November 1841, 'No man seems to possess more of the attribute of ubiquity than Mr. Wilson. Visit whatever part of Adelaide you may, during the hours of business, there you are sure to meet with him … he is blessed with a pair of such singularly active legs, as seemingly to annihilate distance and space, his presence in chambers, in the council room, in his own offices, and at the extremities of the city being apparently coeval in point of time'.

Wilson died on 31 March 1863 at Kensington, South Australia, predeceased by his wife Martha, née Grenell. He was survived by three daughters and five sons, of whom Charles Algernon was an amateur naturalist and became registrar of probates in 1858, and Rev. Theodore Percival was the first headmaster of the Collegiate School of St Peter. A portrait of Thomas Wilson is at the Adelaide Town Hall.

Select Bibliography

  • T. Worsnop, History of the City of Adelaide (Adel, 1878).

Citation details

'Wilson, Thomas (1787–1863)', Australian Dictionary of Biography, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University,, published first in hardcopy 1967, accessed online 20 April 2024.

This article was published in hardcopy in Australian Dictionary of Biography, Volume 2, (Melbourne University Press), 1967

View the front pages for Volume 2

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