Sir Charles William 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.
was still in Palestine engaged on the Survey, the Palestine Exploration
Fund was founded. On
Wilsonís 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 Wilsonís chapters on the route of the Israelites and
the prehistoric and Byzantine archaeology of the region. In recognition of
Wilsonís 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.
In 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
Throughout his military career Wilson remained in touch with the Palestine Exploration Fund, serving as its Chairman during the period from 1901 to 1906.
Last modified 25/12/1999