Wilson, James (1795-1856) (DNB00)

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WILSON, JAMES (1795–1856), zoologist, the youngest son of John Wilson (d. 1796), a gauze manufacturer, and his wife Margaret (born Sym), was born at Paisley in November 1795. ‘Christopher North’ (John Wilson, 1785–1854 [q. v.]) was his eldest brother. The father having died during James's first year, the family removed to Edinburgh, where young Wilson passed his school and college days. In 1811 he began to study for the law, but his health did not allow of his following this for long. In 1816 he visited Holland, Germany, Switzerland, and Paris. He afterwards returned to Paris to purchase the Dufresne collection of birds for the museum of the Edinburgh University. These he arranged in their new home, a congenial employment for one who from boyhood had had a great love for natural history. In 1819 he visited Sweden, soon after which symptoms of pulmonary disease appeared that compelled him to reside in Italy during 1820–1. In 1824 he married and settled down at Woodville, near Edinburgh, devoting himself to scientific and literary pursuits. Losing his wife in 1837, he took a winter residence in George Square, Edinburgh.

In 1841, with Sir Thomas Dick Lauder [q. v.], he made a series of excursions round the coasts of Scotland, at the request of the fisheries board, to study the natural history of the herring, and make other observations of interest to the fishing industry. Other trips followed at intervals between 1843 and 1850, besides which he took many fishing excursions inland. In 1854 he was offered but declined the chair of natural history in the Edinburgh University, then vacant by the death of Professor Edward Forbes [q. v.]

He died at Woodville on 18 May 1856. In 1824 he married Isabella Keith (d. 1837). Wilson had joined the Wernerian Society when only seventeen, and was also a fellow of the Royal Society of Edinburgh.

He was author of: 1. ‘Illustrations of Zoology,’ Edinburgh, 1826, 9 pts. 4to. 2. ‘Entomologia Edinensis,’ written in conjunction with James Duncan, Edinburgh, 8vo, 1834. 3. ‘Treatise on Insects,’ Edinburgh, 1835, 8vo. 4. ‘Introduction to the Natural History of Quadrupeds and Whales,’ Edinburgh, 1838, 4to. 5. ‘Introduction to the Natural History of Fishes,’ Edinburgh, 1838, 4to. 6. ‘Introduction to the Natural History of Birds,’ Edinburgh, 1839, 4to. 7. ‘The Rod and Gun,’ Edinburgh, 1840, 8vo; new edition, 1844. 8. ‘A Voyage round the Coasts of Scotland,’ Edinburgh, 1842, 2 vols. 8vo. 9. ‘Illustrations of Scripture. By an Animal Painter, with Notes by a Naturalist’ [signed ‘J. W.’], Edinburgh [1855], fol. For the ‘Edinburgh Cabinet Library’ he wrote the zoology of India, China, Africa, and the northern regions of North America; while he contributed the greater part of the natural history and a life of Professor Forbes to the seventh edition of the ‘Encyclopædia Britannica.’ He moreover published many articles in the ‘Quarterly,’ in ‘Blackwood,’ and in other magazines.

His niece, Henrietta Wilson (d. 1863), was a daughter of Andrew Wilson of Main House. She lost her mother in early life, but found a home with her grandmother and her uncle, Professor John Wilson (1812–1888) [q. v.], in Edinburgh. Subsequently she went to live with her other uncle, James Wilson, at Woodville, where, after the death of her aunt in 1837, she took charge of the house and remained till her death on 19 Sept. 1863.

She was author of: 1. ‘Little Things’ (anon.), Edinburgh, 1851, 18mo, which went through two German editions. 2. ‘Things to be thought of’ (anon.), Edinburgh, 1853, 12mo. 3. ‘Homely Hints from the Fireside’ (anon., the first edition of which appeared probably about 1858 or 1859); 2nd edit. Edinburgh, 1860, 12mo; new edit. 1862. 4. ‘The Chronicles of a Garden: its Pets,’ London, 1863, 8vo; 2nd edit. 1864.

[Memoirs of J. Wilson (with a portrait), by the Rev. J. Hamilton; Encycl. Brit. 8th edit. xxi. 876; Memoir of Henrietta Wilson, by the Rev. J. Hamilton, prefixed to her ‘Chronicles;’ Brit. Mus. Cat.; Allibone's Dict. of Engl. Lit.]

B. B. W.