Missionary, who made significant contributions to the study of Indian languages and literature. Born near Lauder (Scottish Borders), the eldest of seven children, Wilson was educated at the parish school and at the University of Edinburgh. Ordained a minister in the Church of Scotland in 1828, he married the same year and sailed from Newhaven with his new wife bound for Bombay (now Mumbai, India) as a representative of the Scottish Missionary Society (est. 1796). There he preached the gospel, absorbed the culture and founded the Oriental Christian Spectator in 1830.
An enthusiastic linguist, he learned the local languages and his work translating rock inscriptions in Gujarat (NW India) brought him a Fellowship of the Royal Society. He founded the Ambroli English School in 1842, which subsequently developed into Wilson College and later became part of Bombay University. He was Vice-Chancellor of this University and also President of the Bombay Branch of the Royal Asiatic Society.
Wilson toured the Holy Land while on a return visit to Scotland in 1843 and this led to his most notable work, The Lands of the Bible (1847).
He died in Bombay and is remembered in the names of various educational institutions in India, together with the John Wilson Educational Society.