Wilson, Daniel (1816-1892) (DNB00)

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WILSON, Sir DANIEL (1816–1892), archæologist and educational reformer, was the son of Archibald Wilson, wine merchant, of Edinburgh, who married, on 2 June 1812, Janet, daughter of John Aitken of Greenock, a land surveyor. He was one of eleven children: a younger brother was George Wilson (1818–1859) [q. v.] He was born in Edinburgh on 5 Jan. 1816, and educated first at the High School, then at the university of Edinburgh. Embarking on a literary career, he went to London in 1837, and wrote with varying success for the press; but in 1842 he returned to Edinburgh, and gave special attention to archæological subjects, publishing in 1847 his ‘Memorials of Edinburgh in the Olden Time,’ which he illustrated with his own sketches; a revised edition appeared in 1891. In 1845 he was appointed honorary secretary of the Scottish Society of Antiquaries, and in 1851 published his great work on the archæology of Scotland.

In 1853 Wilson was appointed professor of history and English literature in Toronto University. From his arrival in Canada he devoted himself with marked success to the furtherance of education in the colony. In 1854 he was offered, but did not accept, the post of principal of McGill University, Montreal. In 1854 he became editor of the journal of the Canadian Institute, and in 1859 and 1860 was president of the institute. In 1863 he received the first silver medal of the Natural History Society for original research. In 1881 he became president of Toronto University, in 1882 vice-president of the literature section of the Canadian Royal Society, and in 1885 president of that section. He was knighted in 1888.

Wilson's work in Canada is fairly described in his own words: ‘I have resolutely battled for the maintenance of a national system of university education in opposition to sectarian or denominational colleges. In this I have been successful, and I regard it as the great work of my life.’ The position now held by Toronto University is largely due to Wilson. He died at Toronto on 6 Aug. 1892. He married, in 1840, Margaret, daughter of Hugh Mackay of Glasgow. A daughter survived him unmarried.

Apart from papers of high philosophic and scientific merit in journals of various learned societies, and articles in the ‘Encyclopædia Britannica,’ Wilson's chief works were: 1. ‘Oliver Cromwell and the Protectorate,’ Edinburgh, 1848. 2. ‘The Archæology and Prehistoric Annals of Scotland,’ Edinburgh, 1851; 2nd edit. 1863. 3. ‘Prehistoric Man: Researches into the Origin of Civilisation in the Old and New Worlds,’ Cambridge, 1862; 3rd edit. London, 1876. 4. ‘Chatterton: a Biographical Study,’ London, 1869. 5. ‘Caliban, the Missing Link,’ Oxford, 1873. 6. ‘Spring Wild-Flowers: a collection of poems,’ London, 1875. 7. ‘Reminiscences of Old Edinburgh,’ Edinburgh, 1878. 8. ‘Anthropology,’ 1885. 9. ‘William Nelson: a Memoir’ (privately printed), 1890. 10. ‘The Right Hand: Left-handedness,’ 1891.

[Times, 9 Aug. 1892; Montreal Gazette, 9 Aug. 1892; Rose's Cyclopædia of Canadian Biogr. 2nd edit.; Appleton's Cyclopædia of American Biogr.; Morgan's Bibl. Canadensis; Proceedings of Royal Society of Canada, XI. ii. 55.]

C. A. H.