1756-1826. He was born at Redgrave, Suffolk, on 4 March 1756 to a family that originated from Westmoreland, the third son of Hon. Thomas Wilson who served as chief judge of Dominica, and of his wife, Lucinda Holt. His maternal uncle, Rowland Holt, represented Suffolk for many years in parliament.
Wilson first went to sea in 1769 aboard the frigate Alarm 32, Captain John Jervis, remaining with that vessel under Captain John Stott for a further two years following Jervis’ departure. He afterwards served aboard the guardship Barfleur 90, Captain Sir Peter Parker, at Portsmouth.
In 1775 he went out to North America with Commodore Molyneux Shuldham and saw service on the cutter Gaspée, Lieutenant William Hunter, and the armed ship Lord Howe, Captain Thomas Pringle. On returning to England he was accepted onto the Foudroyant 80 by Captain Jervis, in which ship he remained for the next five years, being promoted lieutenant on 28 January 1776 and fighting at the Battle of Ushant on 27 July 1778.
In 1779 Wilson joined Admiral Sir George Rodney’s flagship Sandwich 90 as her third lieutenant, participating in the capture of the Caracas convoy, and the Moonlight Battle off Cape St. Vincent on 16 January 1780. He was posted captain without having been employed in the rank of commander on 1 February, and placed in command of the prize Guipuscoana 64 which he got safely to England.
In the spring of 1781 he commissioned the new frigate Eurydice 24, and after going out to the Leeward Islands he was present at the Battle of St. Kitts on 25-26 January 1782 and the Battle of the Saintes on 12 April. Following death of Captain Robert Barbor in June Rodney promoted him into the Fame 74, in which he went north to America with the fleet in July, returned to the Leeward Islands in October, and sailed home at the peace, being paid off in July 1783.
Wilson was not re-employed until the end of the Spanish Armament of 1790 when he commissioned the new frigate Inconstant 36, paying her off at Woolwich in September 1791 after spending a great deal of time pressing homeward bound seamen for the Russian rearmament.
He again went on half-pay before joining his final command, the thirty-three year-old Bellona 74 in 1793.Attached to the Channel fleet, he participated in the autumn cruise of 1793 and the chase of Rear-Admiral Vanstabel’s squadron on 18 November, but he missed the Battle of the Glorious First of June in 1794 when his ship formed part of Rear-Admiral George Montagu’s detached squadron.
At the end of 1794 the Bellona went out to the Leeward Islands with Rear-Admiral Benjamin Caldwell, and on 5 January 1795, being in company with the frigate Alarm 32, Captain James Carpenter, she fell in with a French 50-gun ship, a 36-gun frigate, two corvettes and ten transports off Désirade. The French warships quickly formed line of battle to receive Wilson’s attack, so despatching his consort in chase of the transports he fought his way up the enemy line. Unfortunately he only managed to force the surrender of the troopship Duquesne 44 carrying four hundred men, at which point the rest of the French line fled. Ordering the Alarm to remain with the prize, Wilson set off in pursuit but was forced to call off the chase later that evening. He was later accused of mismanagement and failing to take advantage of a great opportunity.
Continuing to serve in the Leeward Islands, he captured the privateer schooner Bellone on 11 May 1795, and subsequently assisted at the capture of Trinidad on 18 February 1797 and in the unsuccessful assault upon Puerto Rico later that year.
The Bellona returned to England in April 1797, but her arrival at Spithead was greeted by a Channel Fleet in a state of mutiny following the outbreak on 16 April. Wilson was ordered to delay the de-commissioning of the Bellona in case she was required to fight under the flag of Vice-Admiral John Colpoys against his own mutinous flagship, the London 98, but when that threat passed he paid his ship off and retired to his country estate.
Wilson was never employed again, but in due course he was promoted rear-admiral on 14 February 1799, vice-admiral on 23 April 1804 and admiral on 25 October 1809.
He died at Redgrave Hall, Suffolk, on 6 March 1826 and was buried in Redgrave Church.
Wilson married Catherine Pollard of Ewell, Surrey, on 22 August 1801, and the couple had four sons and three daughters. His seat was at Redgrave, Suffolk, which he had inherited from a maternal uncle in 1799.
He was regarded as a friendly gentleman and considered to be better equipped as a genial host than a man-of-war.