Wilson was originally an apprentice to a surgeon in Lancaster, and later worked with Mr Rowland, a well-known Chester surgeon. Wilson studied in London and became MRCS in 1813. He moved to Manchester, where he played a major role in establishing the Manchester Institute for Curing Diseases of the Eye [later the Royal Eye Hospital] in 1814. He was on the staff of the hospital, and also worked for the Manchester and Salford Lying-In Hospital. In 1826 he was appointed honorary surgeon of the MRI and held this post until his death. He was president of MMS in 1843-5 and was president of the Provincial Medical and Surgical Association [later the BMA] meeting in Manchester in 1854.
Wilson is perhaps best remembered for the operation he undertook to remove the cataracts of the Rev. Patrick Brontë, father of the Charlotte, Emily and Anne Brontë. Charlotte accompanied her father to Manchester for the operation in August 1846.