Letters of James Wilson (1805-1860)

Scope and Content

The content of the correspondence is commercial in nature.

Administrative / Biographical History

The politician and political economist James Wilson was born in Hawick, Scotland, on 3 June 1805. He was educated at Quaker schools at Ackworth, near Pontefract, and at Earl's Colne, Essex, before being apprenticed to a Hawick hat-maker. He continued to study after work and became interested in politics and statistics. With the help of his father he went into business along with his brother and they both moved to London. By 1844 he had retired, and some of his published work had begun to make him well-known, particularly Influences of the corn-laws as affecting all classes of the community (1839). His work influenced Cobden and the success of the anti-corn-law movement. Influential too was his Fluctuations of currency, commerce, and manufactures (1840). In 1843, Wilson invested most of his capital into a financial and commercial paper which is still known today as the Economist. It advocated the repeal of the corn laws and supported the cause of free trade, and it had the help of the free-trader Lord Radnor. Other publications include The revenue, or what shall the Chancellor do? (1841), and Capital, currency and banking (1847). Radnor encouraged Wilson to stand for Parliament in 1847 and he won the seat of the Borough of Westbury, Wiltshire, which he held again in 1852. In 1853, he was Secretary to the Treasury in Lord Aberdeen's administration. From 1857 he represented Devonport in Parliament, and in 1859, under Lord Palmerston, he was Vice-President of the Board of Control. That same year the Council of India was formed and Wilson was offered the post of financial member on the Council. In India, he introduced import duties and taxes and established a paper currency. He also reformed the system of public accounting. The climate however did not suit him and by August 1860 he was dead. James Wilson died in Calcutta on 11 August 1860.

Access Information

Generally open for consultation to bona fide researchers, but please contact repository for details in advance.


The biographical/administrative history was compiled using the following material: (1) Lee, Stephen (ed.). Dictionary of national biography. Vol. 21. Whichcord-Zuylestein. London: Smith, Elder and Co., 1909.

Compiled by Graeme D Eddie, Edinburgh University Library, Special Collections Division.

Other Finding Aids

Important finding aids generally are: the alphabetical Index to Manuscripts held at Edinburgh University Library, Special Collections and Archives, consisting of typed slips in sheaf binders and to which additions were made until 1987; and the Index to Accessions Since 1987.


Check the local Indexes for details of any additions.

Related Material

The local Indexes show references to James Wilson related material (check the Indexes for more details). Research will determine whether the material relates to James Wilson, politician and economist.

In addition, the UK National Register of Archives (NRA), updated by the Historical Manuscripts Commission, notes several locations of Wilson related material.