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James Wilson

Born: 3-Jun-1805
Birthplace: Hawick, Scotland
Died: 11-Aug-1860
Location of death: Calcutta, India
Cause of death: unspecified [1]
Remains: Buried, Mullickbazar Cemetery, Calcutta, India

Gender: Male
Religion: Quaker
Race or Ethnicity: White
Sexual orientation: Straight
Occupation: Publisher

Nationality: England
Executive summary: Founder of The Economist

James Wilson was infuriated by a series of early 19th century British laws imposing import duties on corn. The law had no discernible impact on Wilson -- he was a hat maker -- but he believed in free markets and objected to the Corn Laws on principle. He wrote and published a pamphlet, Influences of the Corn Laws as Affecting All Classes of the Community, which brought him to a leadership role in the Corn Law opposition. With financial backing from the Anti-Corn Law League, Wilson launched The Economist, a newspaper targeting the business class, which published its first edition on 2 September 1843. He was the paper's publisher and wrote most of its content for seventeen years.

Wilson was the son of a wealthy wool manufacturer, and claimed Adam Smith as his hero. In his teens he apprenticed for a hat-maker, but only for a few months, until his father bought the business as a gift for Wilson and his brother. He was elected to Parliament in 1847, and appointed Secretary to the Board of Control (overseeing colonial India) in 1848. He founded the Chartered Bank of India, Australia and China (now Standard Chartered Bank) in 1853, and later served on the Legislative Council of India as Secretary of Finance to Governor-General Charles John Canning. Overseeing the Indian economy, Wilson introduced that nation's first paper currency and income tax. His daughter Elizabeth married Walter Bagehot, who was the third editor of The Economist. The Corn Laws that motivated Wilson's activism were repealed in 1846.


[1] Dysentery, according to obituaries, or "from the combined effects of climate, anxiety and labour", per the engraving on his tombstone.

Father: William Wilson (wool manufacturer, b. 1764, d. 1832)
Mother: Elizabeth Richardson Wilson (d. 1815)
Brother: William Wilson (hat maker)
Wife: Elizabeth Preston Wilson (m. 5-Jan-1837, six daughters)
Daughter: Elizabeth Wilson Bagehot
Daughter: Julia Wilson Greg
Daughter: Zenobia Wilson Shipley
Daughter: Sophia Victoria Wilson Halsey

    High School: Friends School, Ackworth, Scotland

    UK Member of Parliament Westbury, Wiltshire (1847-59)
    Secretary to the Indian Board of Control (1848-52)
    UK Financial Secretary to the Treasury (1853-58)
    Chartered Bank of India, Australia and China Founder (1853)
    Legislative Council of India Secretary of Finance (1859-60)
    Anti-Corn Law League
    The Economist Founder & Publisher (1843-57)
    Scottish Ancestry

Author of books:
Capital, Currency, and Banking (1847)


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