Notable Ancestors: James Wilson

James Wilson (1783-1857) was a surgeon and lecturer in Midwifery. In 1834, he helped found the Glasgow Lying-In Hospital, the first permanent maternity hospital in the city (located at that time in Greyfriars Wynd). The hospital was intended to help poor and homeless women, and took in the unmarried as well as married mothers. It was funded entirely through donations, subscriptions and bequests, and the stigma attached to its policy of accepting unmarried women meant that fundraising could be difficult.

portrait of James Wilson now hangs in the headquarters of the Royal College of Physicians and Surgeons of Glasgow.


James (my 5x great uncle) is a very recent addition to my family tree. Although I had found the details of his (and his siblings’) birth and baptism a while ago, and had noticed from census records that there was a doctor with the same name and approximate year of birth, I hadn’t followed it up very far, as his profession and social status didn’t seem to match with the rest of the family. Finding the will of his older brother George on ScotlandsPeople, however, provided a wealth of information about the family, including the married names of all the sisters and the occupations of his brother and brothers-in-law. It proved that my James Wilson and the Glaswegian surgeon were one and the same.


James WILSON was born in Douglas, Lanarkshire on 30 June 1783 to parents George WILSON, a wood merchant and wright, and Elizabeth THOMSON. He was the second youngest of seven children, and shortly after his birth, the family moved to Lanark.

On 29 May 1821, James married Grace GRIEVE (c.1790-1872), daughter of surgeon John GRIEVE and Elizabeth GALLOWAY, in Glasgow. They had seven children:

  • Elizabeth Galloway WILSON (1822-1903)
  • George Thomson WILSON (1823 – d. in infancy)
  • John Grieve WILSON (1825-37)
  • George WILSON (1827 – d. in infancy)
  • Grace Grieve WILSON (1828-72)
  • James George WILSON (1830-81) – succeeded his father at the Maternity Hospital
  • William Thorburn WILSON (1832-1915)

James died on 30 Sep 1857 in Blythswood, Glasgow, and he and his wife are buried in Sighthill Cemetery, alongside many of their children.

(This family tree constructed using records and information from ScotlandsPeople, Ancestry, the ‘Catalogue, descriptive and historical, of the pictures and sculpture in the Glasgow art gallery and museum, Kelvingrove’ (1908) and Memento Mori)


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