Wilson, Daniel (1778-1858) (DNB00)

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WILSON, DANIEL (1778–1858), fifth bishop of Calcutta, son of Stephen Wilson (d. 1813), a wealthy London silk manufacturer, by Ann Collett (d. 1829), daughter of Daniel West, one of Whitefield's trustees, was born at Church Street, Spitalfields, on 2 July 1778. He was intended for the silk business, and apprenticed to his uncle, William Wilson, but in October 1797 he felt a call to the ministry, and, consent having been wrung from his father, he matriculated from St. Edmund Hall, Oxford, on 1 May 1798, and graduated B.A. in 1802, and M.A. in 1804 (he was created D.D. by diploma on 12 April 1832). While a graduate at Oxford he won the chancellor's prize in 1803 for an essay on ‘Common Sense;’ Reginald Heber won a prize for his poem on ‘Palestine’ in the same year. Having been ordained, he became curate of Richard Cecil [q. v.] at Chobham and Bisley in Surrey, was to a large extent moulded by Cecil, and became a strong evangelical preacher. He returned to Oxford a short while before 1807, when he became vice-principal or tutor of St. Edmund Hall, at the same time taking ministerial charge of the small parish of Worton, Oxfordshire. In 1808 he was licensed assistant curate of St. John's Chapel, Bedford Row, Bloomsbury (formerly the chief sphere of Cecil's great influence), and in 1812 he resigned his college offices on becoming sole minister of that chapel, which during the twelve years of his incumbency was well known as the headquarters of the evangelical party in London. Among his hearers at St. John's were Charles Grant (afterwards Lord Glenelg), Bishop Ryder, John Thornton, Zachary Macaulay, the Wilberforces, and Sir James Stephen. In June 1824 Wilson was appointed to the vicarage of St. Mary's, Islington, the living being in the patronage of his family. In 1832, mainly through the influence of Lord Glenelg and his brother, Sir Robert Grant, Wilson was nominated bishop of Calcutta, with a diocese extending over the entire presidency of Bengal, and exercising a quasi-metropolitan jurisdiction over the other sees of Bombay and Madras. He was appointed visitor of Bishop's College, Calcutta, and insured an income of 5,000l. a year. He was consecrated at Lambeth by the archbishop (Howley), assisted by Bishop Blomfield and other prelates, on 29 April 1832. On 16 May he spoke at the East India banquet at the London Tavern, and on 19 June he embarked in the ship James Sibbald, sailing from Portsmouth, and landing at Calcutta on 5 Nov.

India had been thrown open to missionaries through the influence of Wilberforce in 1813, and in the following year Thomas Fanshaw Middleton [q. v.] had been appointed English bishop of Calcutta. He was succeeded in 1823 by Reginald Heber [q. v.], since whose death in 1826 the see had twice been vacated by death. Upon his arrival in Calcutta Wilson found the jurisdiction of the bishop ill defined, the reins of authority much relaxed owing to the frequent vacancies in the see, and the records very deficient. Wilson, however, was a strong and masterful man, and, after a preliminary encounter with the presidency chaplains, he lost no time in showing his determination to establish his authority upon a firm basis. He made a large outlay upon the palace and accessories of state, and was accused of ostentation, as his predecessors Heber and Turner had been blamed for neglect in matters of etiquette. Eventually, by strict habits of business, in which he took delight, and by genuine administrative capacity, Wilson succeeded in establishing his own standard of episcopal propriety. His relations with the governor-general, Lord William Bentinck, were excellent, and, having been once acclimatised at Calcutta, he enjoyed robust health.

The chief events of his episcopate were the seven visitations, in the first of which, in 1834, he visited Malacca and Ceylon, while in the last he met Dalhousie at Rangoon in November 1855, and founded an English church there. On 14 Feb. 1833 he visited the venerable missionary William Carey (1761–1834) [q. v.], and received his blessing. In January 1835 the bishop visited the scene of Schwartz's labours at Tanjore, and took the important step of altogether excluding the caste system from the native churches of southern India, in which it had hitherto survived. In March 1839 the idea of building a new cathedral for Calcutta first took possession of his mind. The foundation-stone was laid on 8 Oct. 1839, and henceforth the bishop dedicated a large portion of his income to this object. In 1845, having been attacked by jungle fever, he was ordered to England, and on 19 March 1846 he was introduced by Peel, and had a private audience with the queen, to whom he submitted plans of the cathedral. The queen undertook to present the communion plate. He collected considerable sums for the building, and, after a farewell sermon at Islington on 31 Aug. 1846, he sailed for India the same evening. The cathedral church, St. Paul's, was finally consecrated on 8 Oct. 1847. During his later years the bishop spent much of his time at Serampore, and he was there when the mutiny broke out in the spring of 1857. His last sermon upon ‘Humiliation’ was preached in the cathedral on 24 July 1857, and was printed with a dedication to Lord Canning. He died at Calcutta on 2 Jan. 1858, and an extraordinary gazette requested the principal officers of the government to attend at his interment in the cathedral on 4 Jan. The coffin was borne by twelve sailors of the warship Hotspur, and his remains buried at the east end of the chancel. A memorial was erected in St. Mary's, Islington, while four scholarships and a native pastorate fund were founded at Calcutta in his memory. A ‘Bishop Wilson Memorial Hall’ was inaugurated at Islington in January 1891.

Wilson married, on 23 Nov. 1803, at St. Lawrence Jewry, Ann, the daughter of his uncle, William Wilson; she died at Islington on 10 May 1827. The progress of the courtship was thus recorded in his Latin journal: ‘Ap. 1. Rem patri exposui de uxore. 25. Literas ad patrem dedi. Maii 7. Consensit avunculus. 14. Voluit consobrina mea. 17 Nov. Londinium perveni. 23. Nuptiæ celebratæ felicissimis auspiciis.’ Of a large family two survived him. Of these his eldest son, Daniel, born in November 1805, graduated B.A. from Wadham College, Oxford, on 14 June 1827, and became vicar of Islington, in succession to his father (1832). He became rural dean (1860), and prebendary of St. Paul's (Chiswick) in 1872, and died on 14 July 1886, aged 80.

Both as a parish priest and bishop Wilson was distinguished for independence, resolution, and energy, and he accomplished much valuable work both at home and abroad. He was a zealous opponent of the principles maintained in the Oxford tracts, against the tendencies of which he both spoke and preached with vehemence. His style of preaching was vigorous; his short pithy sentences were meant to have the effect of goads, and they were often pungent; but, as his biographer admits, ‘things were said many times that might have better been left unsaid. But though men might smile, they never slept. India is a sleepy place, and he effectually roused it.’ As a European traveller his narrowness is often conspicuous, and he is too frequently congratulating his fellow countrymen upon their freedom from ‘gross popish impostures.’ In his spiritual egotism and his eminently technical view of religion he was a typical evangelical. But he did not pride himself upon his taste or his tact; his qualities were more of the primitive apostolic order, and for his pure simplicity of mind and artlessness of demeanour he has been termed ‘a Dr. Primrose in lawn sleeves.’

A portrait of Wilson by Claxton, now in the Town Hall, Calcutta, was engraved by W. Holl for the ‘Life’ by Josiah Bateman, who married one of the bishop's daughters.

Wilson's most important publications were:

  1. . ‘Sermons on various Subjects of Christian Doctrine and Practice,’ London, 1818 and 1827, 8vo.
  2. ‘Letters from an absent Brother, containing some Account of a Tour through parts of the Netherlands, Switzerland, Northern Italy, and France in the Summer of 1823,’ London, 1825, 2 vols. (several editions).
  3. ‘The Evidences of Christianity: Lectures,’ 1828–30, 2 vols. 8vo; 4th edit. 1860, 12mo (a réchauffé of Paley, praised by McIlvaine in his subsequent ‘Lectures’).
  4. ‘The Divine Authority and Perpetual Obligation of the Lord's Day,’ 1831, 1840.
  5. ‘Sermons in India during a Primary Visitation,’ 1838, 8vo.
  6. ‘Sufficiency of the Scripture as a Rule of Faith,’ 1841, 8vo.
  7. ‘Expository Lectures on St. Paul's Epistle to the Colossians,’ 1845, 8vo; New York, 1846; London, 3rd edit. 1853. In these lectures the writer protests against the erroneous teaching of the Oxford tracts. A similar view was echoed in his son's ‘Our Protestant Faith in Danger’ (London, 1850).
  8. ‘The Bishop of Calcutta's Farewell to England,’ five sermons, Oxford, 1846, 12mo.

[Bateman's Life of the Rt. Rev. Daniel Wilson, D.D., London, 1860, and condensed, 1861 (with portrait); Bishop Wilson's Journal Letters, addressed to his Family during the first nine years of his Episcopate, edited by his son, Daniel Wilson, London, 1863; Foster's Alumni Oxon. 1715–1886; Gardiner's Wadham College Registers; Gent. Mag. 1858, i. 552; Times, 4 Feb. 1858; Smith's Life of William Carey, 1887, p. 371; Hist. of Christianity in India, Madras, 1895; Stock's History of the Church Missionary Society, 1899, vols. i. and ii. passim; Allen and McClure's History of the S.P.C.K. 1898, pp. 298 sq.; Smith's Life of Alexander Duff, 1879, ii. 334; London Review, July 1860; Quarterly Review, October 1863; Good Words, 1876, pp. 199, 271 (an interesting character sketch by Sir John Kaye); Illustrated London News, 6 Feb. 1858; Anderson's Colonial Church, ii. 370; Wheatley and Cunningham's London, iii. 293; Brit. Mus. Cat.]

T. S.