The Palestine Exploration Fund

Major General Sir Charles William Wilson, 1836-1905

Major General Sir Charles WilsonK.C.B., K.C.M.G., F.R.S., D.C.L., LL.D., M.E.

Charles Wilson was born in Liverpool and was educated at St. David's, Liverpool Collegiate Institute and Cheltenham College. He obtained a commission in the Royal Engineers in 1855.

In 1864, at the instigation of George Grove, Baroness Angela Burdett Coutts helped finance the Ordnance Survey of Jerusalem. Volunteers were called for from the Royal Engineers to carry out the work and Wilson was selected. The aim of the work was to lay the basis for the improvement of the water supply of Jerusalem, which at the time was severely polluted. In addition to producing a topographical map of the city and its immediate environs, in 1865 the survey party carried out a series of levels from the Mediterranean to the Dead Sea, which established the relative levels of the two bodies for the first time.

Above image: PEF/P/Portraits: Wilson, military

While Wilson was still in Palestine engaged on the Survey, the Palestine Exploration Fund was founded. On Wilson’s return to England, the PEF Committee engaged him to carry out a 'feasibility study' for proposed Survey of Western Palestine and to identify suitable sites for future exploration. In November 1865, Wilson and his party landed in Beirut and surveyed their way south to Palestine, planning the Great Mosque of Damascus along the way. From January to April 1866, Wilson carried out reconnaissance and survey work in Palestine, paying particular attention to the archaeology and ancient synagogues of the region. In the same year, Wilson was appointed to the Ordnance Survey of Scotland and, in 1867, acted as Assistant Commissioner on the Borough Boundary Commission. In this year, also, he became a member of the Committee of the Palestine Exploration Fund.


In 1868, he volunteered to take part in the Ordnance Survey of Sinai, along with Capt. H.S. Palmer. The report of their work contains Wilson’s chapters on the route of the Israelites and the prehistoric and Byzantine archaeology of the region. In recognition of Wilson’s work in Jerusalem, he was awarded the Diploma of the International Geographical Congress in 1871. In 1872, he was elected to the Council of the Society of British Archaeology and in 1874 he became a Fellow of the Royal Society. On returning to England he became Director of the Topographical Department at the War Office and Assistant Quartermaster‑General in the Intelligence Department. In 1876 he received a C.B. (civil) for the organisation of the Department. He then had charge of the Ordnance Survey of Ireland and also served on the Royal Commission for the Registration of Deeds and Insurances in Ireland in 1878. Later in1878, he was appointed British Commissioner on the Serbian Boundary Commission. From 1879 to 1882, he served as Consul‑General in Anatolia and travelled extensively in the remoter districts of Turkey.

Major William Wilson, Sinai expedition 1869In the summer of 1882 he took part in Sir Garnet Wolseley's expedition to Egypt to suppress the rebellion of Col. Arabi. In 1884, Wilson was Chief of the Intelligence Department on Wolseley's expedition to relieve Gordon at Khartoum. On his return to Britain, Wilson was appointed Director of the Ordnance Survey in Ireland and was Director‑General of the Ordnance Survey from 1886 to 1894. From 1895 until his retirement in 1898 he was Director‑General of Military Education.

Throughout his military career Wilson remained in touch with the Palestine Exploration Fund, serving as its Chairman during the period from 1901 to 1906.

 

Above image: Wilson on the PEF's Sinai Survey, 1869 (PEF/P4991, group photograph)

The Palestine Exploration Fund, 2 Hinde Mews, Marylebone Lane, London, W1U 2AA
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