William Henry Wilson was an officer in the Bombay Staff Corps in the second half of the 19th century. Born in Worcester on 13 September 1839, Wilson was appointed to the Indian Army in December 1856, and posted to the 18th Regiment of Bombay Native Infantry. Present during operations against insurgents in the North Canara and Bedee Districts in 1858, he was awarded the Mutiny Medal. He had a successful army career, and served in the Bombay Police.
In 1870, Wilson was the Superintendent of Police for the Kaira District, and was called on to oversee police arrangements for the fair at Dakore held in April of that year. The fair was a success and Wilson was commended for the judicious manner in which the arrangements were devised and carried out with due regard to the feelings of the people attending the event. Wilson noted in his papers that, 'There was a tremendous concourse of people, especially women……The Maharajah wanted to give me a sword but I said government would not approve as I had only done my duty'.
In 1885, Wilson was the District Superintendent of Police at Nasik. I n October of that year, he had to deal with a riot that broke out at Malegaon in the District. The cause of the riot seemed to be a dispute between members of the Hindu and Muslim communities who were celebrating the festivals of Dasara and Muharram. The unrest lasted four days and 42 people were arrested. At one point, a Hindu temple was attacked forcing the police guard to fire on the rioters wounding two men. The Government commended Wilson and the local Magistrate Mr Frost for their promptitude and discretion. In Wilson’s copy of the report on the riot, he noted in the margin that, 'It was a hot business' and that leading Muslim leaders had asked him to release the 42 men who had been arrested, to which he had refused. They were sentenced to terms of imprisonment of between three to eighteen months.
In 1887, Wilson, serving as Superintendent of Police in the Poona District, was involved in tracking down a gang of robbers. Wilson reported that, 'five of the Koli gang of dacoits have surrendered to Inspector Ganpatrao Malhar and that a sixth, who alleges he was pressed into the dacoit’s service against his will, has also given himself up' . Wilson recommended that the reward of Rs.500 should be increased to Rs.1000 and distributed to local villagers 'who have done so well and have suffered in the service'.
Between 1888 and 1893, Wilson served as Commissioner of Police for the Town and Island of Bombay. During that time, he met a number of visiting dignitaries, including Prince Albert Victor, Duke of Clarence in 1889. The following year, he met Tsesarevich Nicholas Alexandrovich, future Emperor of Russia, who was on a tour of India. Wilson wrote that it was rather a responsibility for the Governor, Lord Harris, especially as the Indian Government 'were very jumpy'. Of the Tsesarevich, Wilson wrote, 'He was very unformed in manners & never thanked me'. I n January 1893, the Archduke Franz Ferdinand of Austria visited Bombay as part of his tour of India during his trip round the world. Wilson commented that Lord Harris 'found him a pleasant guest; and he specially thanked me at the railway station on his departure'.
India Office Records
William Henry 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 service history of William Henry Wilson, 1866-1914, shelfmark: Mss Eur F764/7/1.
Official correspondence relating to William Henry Wilson's career, 1860-1893, shelfmark: Mss Eur F764/7/2.