Robert Thomas Wilson

Robert Thomas Wilson

Sir Robert Thomas Wilson (17 August 1777 – 9 May 1849) was a British general and politician who served in Egypt, Prussia, and was seconded to the Imperial Russian Army in 1812. He sat as the Liberal MP for Southwark from 1818 to 1831. He served as the Lieutenant Governor of Ceylon and later as the Governor of Gibraltar from 1842 until his death in 1849.

Early career

Born in London, he was the grandson of a Leeds wool merchant, and the fourth child of painter and portraitist Benjamin Wilson. Orphaned at the age of twelve he was raised and educated by his uncle and guardian, William Bosville.

He eloped in his twenties with Jemima, the daughter of Colonel William Belford. She bore him thirteen children in the following 15 years.

Military life

He had a distinguished career in the Army and the diplomatic service. In 1794, as an ensign in the 15th Light Dragoons, Wilson fought in the celebrated Battle of Villers-en-Cauchies where a handful of cavalry smashed a much larger French force. In 1804 he became a lieutenant-colonel in the 19th Light Dragoons. He was expelled from Russia as a spy after the Treaty of Tilsit. During the Peninsular War he organized Portuguese soldiers into the Loyal Lusitanian Legion. [Chandler, p 490] On 12 August 1809, Wilson with 4,000 men, including two battalions of the Legion, was defeated by French forces under Marshal Michel Ney at Puerto de Baños. He lost nearly 400 men while inflicting 185 casualties on the French. [Smith, p 331] Wilson returned to Russia in 1812 as a liaison officer. He was a sharp observer during the events of Napoleon's disastrous retreat from Moscow and was present at the Battle of Krasnoye.


In 1818, Wilson became an MP for Southwark. In 1821, now a Radical MP he attended the funeral of Queen Caroline (the wife of George IV), a very controversial figure whose treatment by her husband had led her to be celebrated by the 'loud' section of the general populace. Her supporters, considering that they were not being allowed by the authorities to celebrate this occasion as they wished, began to become unruly. Soldiers escorting the cortege but also on duty because of the Establishment's fear of the mob, upon being stoned, fired over the heads of the crowd. Wilson strode up and stated that, "It is quite disgraceful to continue firing in this manner, for the people are unarmed. Remember you are soldiers of Waterloo; do not lose your honours gained on that occasion. You have had cannon shot at your head, never mind a few stones." The firing ceased as the officer in charge recognised Wilson, and the troops, although maintaining their cohesion 'retired'. A few weeks later Wilson was dismissed from the Army by the Duke of York. He was, however, to again serve his country. See Jasper Ridley 'Lord Palmerstone' Panther Books 1972 (pb)

Later career

Wilson was promoted to lieutenant-general in 1830 and full general in 1841. He was appointed Governor of Gibraltar in 1842. He wrote a great deal about history and politics. [Chandler, p 490]


* Chandler, David. "Dictionary of the Napoleonic Wars." New York: Macmillan, 1979. ISBN 0-02-523670-9
* Smith, Digby. "The Napoleonic Wars Data Book." London: Greenhill, 1998. ISBN 1-85367-276-9

Other reading

Two biographies exist: Giovanni Costigan, "Sir Robert Wilson: A Soldier of Fortune in the Napoleonic Wars", Madison, Wisconsin, 1932 and Herbert Randolph, ed., "Life of General Sir Robert Wilson", 2 vols., London, 1862.



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