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John Wilson (missionary)

File:John Wilson missionary.jpg
John Wilson, D.D., F.R.S

John Wilson (1804–1875) was a Christian missionary and educator in Maharashtra, India. In 1829 he married Margaret Bayne and together they went as Christian missionaries to Bombay, India. There he established Wilson College, Mumbai and a University of Mumbai for the people of Bombay. He was the president of the Asiatic Society of Bombay from 1835 to 1842; and later was elected Moderator of the Church of Scotland.

Early Life and studies

John Wilson was born in Britain in 1804, the eldest of four brothers and three sisters, and grew up in a farming family in Lauder, Scotland. His father, Andrew Wilson, who lived to the age of eighty-two, was a councillor of the burgh for over forty years and represented the parish they attended as an elder. John's mother, Janet Hunter, was the oldest of thirteen children; she had a strong character and also lived to the age of eighty-two. The family grew up in Lauder on a farm sprawled across seventeen hundred acres.

As a child he revealed that he was more intelligent than his siblings, learning to walk and talk at an early age. In school he was considered 'the priest' on the playground because was often seen preaching to his classmates. His being advanced for his age sometimes caused him trouble, and his preaching was sometimes seen as an offence.

When Wilson was four, he started at a school in Lauder, taught by a George Murry. He was only there for a year before he was moved to a parish school to be taught by Alexander Paterson, under whom he made such progress that he graduated from school at the age of fourteen. His progress was also in his spiritual life. Mr. Paterson affected not only his students spiritually but also the community.

After he finished school he attended the University of Edinburgh, where he studied linguistics, philosophy and theology for eight years, and also mastered the languages of Gujarati, Hebrew, Greek, Latin, Urdu, Hindi, Persian, Arabic and Zend. As he continued in his studies he discovered that teaching was a calling for him, and started to study in that field. He graduated from the University in 1828.

John Wilson's first experience of teaching was as a guide and tutor to the three boys of Colonel Rose Cormack. As he guided them through the Netherlands he tutored them. These young men went on to be successful, one becoming Sir John Rose Cormack, a physician in Paris. After touring for four years with the Cormack boys and studying at the University of Edinburgh during the same period he decided to dedicate his life to the people of India, specifically the people of Bombay in the education field.

Educational mission

In 1829, a year after his graduation, Wilson and his wife went to Bombay as Christian missionaries supported by the Church of Scotland. The couple first studied Marathi at Harnai; then in 1831 they moved back to Bombay, where John established the Ambroli church for the people. Determined to set up educational institutions for the young in Bombay, John first established an English school in 1832, and added a college in 1836 – now called Wilson College, Mumbai. With this School John was able to introduce European education, examinations and textbooks to the people of the city. This would gradually change the way in which schools in Bombay orchestrated themselves. In 1857 John helped to establish the Bombay University, and went on to become its Vice-Chancellor in 1869.

John's wife, Margaret, also influenced the education system in Bombay, and aided the female population by establishing schools for girls in 1829. In 1832 she established a boarding school for females, now called St. Columbia High School in Western India. This was western India's first boarding school for females.

The couple also opened schools in Marathi and Hebrew for the Native Jewish community of the Bene Israel of the Konkan region,teaching Boys as well as girls and translating the Holy Bible especially the Old Testament for their benefit.

Wilson was a passionate advocate for the preservation of Indian historical monuments, and Honorary President of what was then the Asiatic Society of Bombay, and when they established the Bombay Cave Temple Commission in 1848, also President of that. He was an important lobbyist for the establishment in 1861 of the Archaeological Survey of India.[1]


John Wilson was the author of many books. Early in his mission he started a periodical about religion, society, culture and European thought, called The Oriental Christian Spectator, which ran from 1830 to 1862. In 1838 he wrote A Memoir of Mrs. Margret Wilson, and in 1850 a Memoir of the Cave Temples and Monasteries and Ancient Remains in Western India. Also in 1838 he wrote, India Three Thousand Years Ago. As the years went on he wrote many books, including Parsi Religion (1843), Evangelisation of India (1849), History of the Suppression of Female Infanticide in Western India (1855), Aboriginal Tribes of The Bombay Presidency (1876) and Indian Caste (1877).

As an archaeologist he wrote two books, the first in 1861 called The Caves of Karla (Karla Caves) and the second in 1875 called Religious Excavations of Western India: Buddhist, Brahamanical and Jaina. He also published a small account about the origins of the Bene Israel Jewish community of the Konkan rigion in 1838.


  1. ^ Gordon, 231–234