Untold lives blog

17 October 2023

Gerald Sidney Wilson, Indian Police

A previous post on this blog looked at the career of William Henry Wilson, an officer in the Bombay Staff Corps who had a distinguished career in the Bombay Police.  Another member of the Wilson family was also involved in law enforcement in India.  This was Gerald Sidney Wilson, William’s nephew, who served in the Indian Police in Bombay.

Photograph of Wilson giving a speech at Bardoli, 10 July 1932 Wilson giving a speech at Bardoli 10 July 1932 - Mss Eur F764/10/7 f.26

Gerald Sidney Wilson was born on 29 October 1880 in Hampstead.  He joined the Indian Police on 23 November 1901 as a 3rd Grade Assistant Superintendent of Police and was stationed at Dharwar.  Wilson had a long career, working his way up to Inspector General of Police for the Bombay Presidency from 1932 until his retirement in 1934.  He was awarded the King’s Police Medal in 1918 and the Companion of the Most Exalted Order of the Star of India in 1931.

Photograph of Women's Congress Procession in Bombay 1930  with two policemen in the foreground.

Photograph of Women's Congress Procession in Bombay 1930 - Mss Eur F764/10/4

Wilson served in the police during a turbulent time in modern Indian history.  His papers include some fascinating material relating to the struggle for Independence.  He kept a scrapbook of cuttings from Indian newspapers in 1930 that reported on many key events that occurred in the Bombay Presidency, such as the Congress flag salutation ceremony and women's Congress procession, the release of Vallabhbhai Patel from jail, Khilafat procession in Bombay, and demonstrations on Jawahar Day.  Wilson also collected several editions of The Bombay Congress Bulletin between 1930 and 1932.  These were propaganda sheets issued by the Congress Party in Bombay.  They reported on the activities of party activists and on demonstrations against British rule in India, and took every opportunity to denounce the British authorities.  As Wilson at that time was Commissioner of Police for the city of Bombay, he often came under fire in the Bulletin. The issue of 29 November 1930 reported that Wilson had failed to fulfil his vow to crush Congress: ‘Citizens of Bombay! You have quelled the puffed up pride of this Wilson and made him eat his words by your wonderful solidarity with the Congress movement’.

Bombay Congress Bulletin  29 November 1930  - artlcle about 'Proud Police Chief' WilsonArticle about 'Proud Police Chief' Wilson in The Bombay Congress Bulletin 29 November 1930 - Mss Eur F764/10/7 f.2

In 1932, Wilson had the task of arresting Gandhi.  His papers include his fascinating account of this, which took place in the early hours of 4 January at Mani Bhuvan, Gandhi’s home in Bombay.  When he arrived Gandhi was asleep.  ‘On being awakened Mr Gandhi sat up but uttered no word as it was his silence day.  I said to Mr Gandhi “It is my duty to arrest you” and showed him the warrant to take him to Yeravda Jail under the old Bombay Regulation of 1827.  I read out the warrant and touched his shoulder in token of having arrested him and told him that I would give him half an hour to get ready.  Asking for paper and pencil he wrote “I will be ready in exactly half an hour”.’

Congress stamps with Gandhi's image and the words 'Boycott British Goods. Non-Violence'.Congress stamps - Mss Eur F764/10/4

Gandhi described the arrest simply in his diary entry for that day: ‘Spun 190 rounds.  The police came and arrested me at 3 o’clock in the morning.  Left after reciting a bhajan.  Elwin, Privat, Mills and others were present.  Vallabhbhai also was arrested at the same time.  We met in the jail and are lodged together.  I may say I spent the day resting.  I could take a walk for the first time today after landing [Gandhi had recently returned from the Round Table Conference in London].  Started reading Will Durant’s book [The Case for India].  Ate no fresh fruit today.  Had two seers of milk’.

John O’Brien
India Office Records

Further Reading:
Gerald Sidney Wilson’s papers are part of a recently catalogued collection of India Office Private Papers now available to researchers in the British Library’s Asian & African Studies reading room: Papers of the Wilson Family, Mss Eur F764 that charts the family’s connection with India over four generations.

Papers relating to the career of Gerald Sidney Wilson in the Indian Police, 1901-1933. Shelfmark: Mss Eur F764/10/3

Scrapbook of cuttings from Indian newspapers, 1930. Shelfmark: Mss Eur F764/10/4.

The Bombay Congress Bulletin, 1930-1932. Shelfmark: Mss Eur F764/10/7.

Account by Gerald Sidney Wilson of the arrest of Gandhi on 4 January 1932. Shelfmark: Mss Eur F764/10/9.

Gandhi: Prisoner of Hope by Judith M Brown (New Haven; London: Yale University Press, 1989).

The Collected Works of Mahatma Gandhi, Vol.49, January-May 1932 (Government of India Publications Division, 1958-).

 

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