John Cracroft Wilson

Sir John Cracroft Wilson KCSI CB (21 May 1808 – 2 March 1881), also known as Nabob Wilson, was a British-educated civil servant in India, farmer and politician in New Zealand.

Sir John Cracroft Wilson

John Cracroft Wilson sitting on a chair, visible from above the lower leg, wearing medals pinned to his jacket, with a full white beard.
Member of the New Zealand Parliament
for City of Christchurch
In office
1861 – 1866
Preceded byHenry Sewell
Succeeded byJames FitzGerald
Member of the New Zealand Parliament
for Coleridge
In office
1866 – 1870
Preceded bynew constituency
Succeeded byJohn Karslake Karslake[1]
Member of the New Zealand Parliament
for Heathcote
In office
Preceded byJohn Hall
Succeeded byJames Temple Fisher
Personal details
Born21 May 1808
Onamore, India
Died2 March 1881(1881-03-02) (aged 72)
Cashmere, New Zealand
  • Elizabeth (née Wall)
  • Jane Torie (née Greig)
Children8 (Laura, William, Emma, Frederick, Constance, Alexander, Laura, and Walter) from first marriage
ResidenceCracroft Wilson estate
  • civil servant
  • farmer
  • politician

Early lifeEdit

John Cracroft Wilson was born in Onamore, India, the son of Alexander Wilson FRS, a judge in the Madras Civil Service and a noted botanist, and Elizabeth Clementina Wilson (née Cracroft). His mother was from a long established family—the Cracrofts of Hackthorn Hall in Lincolnshire. Her family name was given to him as a second Christian name, a custom that has been followed by the family ever since; they are thus known as the Cracroft Wilsons.[2]

He was educated at Haileybury College and Brasenose College, Oxford. He returned to India in 1828 and entered the Bengal Civil Service as a cadet, advancing to become a magistrate.[3][4] Advancing to the rank of assistant commissioner to William Sleeman, he was assigned to the Doab region in 1832 where he investigated men who were accused of thuggee.

He married Elizabeth (née Wall), probably on 4 November 1828 at Westminster, or Brixton, Surrey. His wife died in 1843 in Moradabad after giving birth to their eighth child.[4][5] He was married again, on 12 October 1844, to Jane Torie Greig in Bareilly near Moradabad. There were no children from this second marriage.[6]

Australia and New ZealandEdit

In 1853 his health broke down and he was ordered to convalesce in a cooler climate. He wanted to find a country suitable for the retirement of employees of the East India Company. Accordingly, he sailed to Australia on the Queen with his wife, daughter Emma, many servants, stock and exotic livestock. He did not like Australia, but met Alfred Cox, who was buying sheep for his next venture in the Canterbury region of New Zealand. Wilson decided to also go to Canterbury, and, after purchasing sheep and cattle in Sydney, took them to Lyttelton in the Akbar.[2] After a disastrous journey where much of his stock died and 1,200 sheep had to be jettisoned, he arrived on 8 April 1854. His stock was transferred to the nearby Gollans Bay (the bay in Lyttelton Harbour beneath Evans Pass[7]), where he lost more stock to tutu poisoning and southerlies.[2] His party made its way over the Port Hills via the Bridle Path.[2] He took up 108 hectares (1.08 km2) of land on the other side of the Port Hills and named the farm Cashmere (now a suburb of Christchurch) after Kashmir in India.[8] He leased three more runs further away from Christchurch which he named Broadlands, High Peaks, and Cracroft. The run at Cracroft, near Hinds, was at 20,392 hectares (203.92 km2) the second largest in Canterbury. At his Cashmere station, he built a house with 11 rooms and several farm buildings. Wilson left Lyttelton on 19 December 1844 on the Waterwitch for India, and the following year, his eldest son arrived to take over the management of the properties.[9][6]

His wife and daughter would follow him some time later, and they would not arrive in Moradabad before 1857. His daughter Emma met Logan Campbell on the journey; they married on 25 February 1858 at Meerut, NWP India; they lived in Europe then in Auckland, New Zealand.[6]

Service in IndiaEdit

Wilson arrived in India in May 1855. During the Indian Rebellion of 1857, he secured special powers from the Lieutenant-Governor and acted to prevent the spread of disaffection. His intervention was so effective that, after the Mutiny, Lord Canning, the Viceroy, recommended him for a distinction

because he has the enviable distinction of having, by his obstinate courage and perseverance, saved more Christian lives than any man in India … at the repeatedly imminent peril of his own life.

In May 1860, Queen Victoria awarded him the Companion of the Order of the Bath (CB)[10] and, in 1872 Cracroft Wilson was offered, and accepted, the rank of Knight Commander (KCSI) of the Order of the Star of India.[11]

Later life in New ZealandEdit

New Zealand Parliament
Years Term Electorate Party
1861–1866 3rd Christchurch Independent
1866–1870 4th Coleridge Independent
1872–1875 5th Heathcote Independent

After he returned to New Zealand in 1859 Cracroft Wilson was elected to the House of Representatives for the electorates of City of Christchurch (1861–1866), Coleridge (1866–1870), and Heathcote (1872–1875).[6]

At the end of the 1866–1870 term, Cracroft Wilson retired from the Coleridge electorate due to an 'unfortunate accident' that he had suffered.[12] On 30 July 1872, he was elected unopposed in a by-election to represent Heathcote following the resignation by John Hall, who had accepted a position in the Legislative Council.[13] In the 1875–1876 general election, held on 4 January 1876 in the Heathcote electorate, Cracroft Wilson was defeated by James Temple Fisher.[14][15]

He was for some years Chairman of the Public Petitions Committee. He was a forceful and, at times, provocative debater. During the 1860s, when Māori affairs were frequently before the House, Cracroft Wilson drew freely on his Indian experiences to reinforce his arguments. He strongly urged the use of Gurkha troops as the most effective means of bringing the war to a speedy and successful conclusion.

He represented Ashburton on the Canterbury Provincial Council from May 1862 to May 1866 and Heathcote from March to July 1871, and again from April 1874 to abolition of the Provinces in October 1876.[16] He was on the Canterbury Executive Council from 15 April 1875 until its abolition, and during its last session (April to June 1875), he was its president.[6][17] In addition he served on numerous local bodies and was a keen member of the Canterbury Acclimatisation Society. He was an early member of the Canterbury Jockey Club and helped Cass to select the site of the racecourse. He commanded the Canterbury Yeomanry Cavalry, was a patron of opera and drama, a governor of Canterbury College, and a diocesan synodsman. As a farmer, he imported pedigree sheep, principally Lincolns, and founded a stud flock.

Cracroft Wilson died at Cashmere, Christchurch, on 2 March 1881.[18] He was survived by his wife and four of his children (Frederick, Alexander, Emma and Constance).[19]

During World War II, the military commandeered the Cracroft Wilson estate, founded by Cracroft Wilson in 1854, for their Southern Group headquarters, and secret work on the Cracroft Caverns underneath the house began in 1942.[20]


  1. ^ "The New Parliament". XXX (41). Nelson Examiner and New Zealand Chronicle. 18 February 1871. pp. Page 2. Retrieved 3 March 2010.
  2. ^ a b c d Roberts 1991, p. 9.
  3. ^ McLintock, A. H. (23 November 2011) [1966]. Wilson, Sir John Cracroft, K.C.S.I., C.B. An Encyclopaedia of New Zealand. Retrieved 2 March 2010.
  4. ^ a b "Sir John Cracroft Wilson. C.B., K.C.S.I". The Cyclopedia of New Zealand. Christchurch: The Cyclopedia Company Limited. 1903. Retrieved 3 March 2010.
  5. ^ "Alexander Cracroft Wilson, 1840–1911". Christchurch: Christchurch City Libraries. Retrieved 2 March 2010.
  6. ^ a b c d e Kristiansen, Tessa. "Wilson, John Cracroft – Biography". Dictionary of New Zealand Biography. Ministry for Culture and Heritage. Retrieved 10 July 2011.
  7. ^ Taylor 2001, p. 57.
  8. ^ Roberts 1991, p. 10.
  9. ^ Roberts 1991, pp. 9–10.
  10. ^ "The London Gazette". 18 May 1860. Retrieved 2 March 2010.
  11. ^ "No. 23863". The London Gazette. 31 May 1872. p. 2575.
  12. ^ "Local and General" (818). The Star. 10 January 1871. p. 2. Retrieved 3 March 2010.
  13. ^ "Heathcote Election" (1381). The Star. 31 July 1872. p. 2. Retrieved 3 March 2010.
  14. ^ "General Elections Heathcote Polling" (2429). The Star. 5 January 1876. p. 2. Retrieved 3 March 2010.
  15. ^ "Heathcote Election" (2430). The Star. 6 January 1876. p. 2. Retrieved 3 March 2010.
  16. ^ Scholefield 1950, p. 197.
  17. ^ Scholefield 1950, pp. 189, 191.
  18. ^ "Deaths" (4015). Christchurch: The Star. 3 March 1881. p. 2. Retrieved 2 March 2010.
  19. ^ "Obituary" (4016). The Star. 4 March 1881. p. 3. Retrieved 2 March 2010.
  20. ^ "Cracroft Caverns". Archives New Zealand. Archived from the original on 24 May 2010. Retrieved 2 March 2010.


New Zealand Parliament
Preceded by
Henry Sewell
Member of Parliament for Christchurch
Succeeded by
James FitzGerald
New constituency Member of Parliament for Coleridge
Succeeded by
John Karslake Karslake
Preceded by
John Hall
Member of Parliament for Heathcote
Succeeded by
James Fisher