Sir Charles William Wilson [1832-1905] -- By: Milton C. Fisher

Journal: Bible and Spade (Second Run)
Volume: BSPADE 02:2 (Spring 1989)
Article: Sir Charles William Wilson [1832-1905]
Author: Milton C. Fisher


Sir Charles William Wilson [1832-1905]

Milton C. Fisher

Sir Charles Wilson, with entrance to “Wilson’s Arch” visible beside the
Western Wall, left center.

Jerusalem stands as the prime “target” for Biblical archaeology. It was the capital of the United Monarchy of Israel, under David and Solomon, and of the kingdom of Judah for nearly four more centuries; it played a central role in the prophetic activity and proclamation of the Old Testament; it became the focal point of the ministry and cruel death of Jesus Christ, witnessing His resurrection and ascension, followed by the birth and early growth of the Christian church.

Only one problem: unlike ruins of most cities and towns named in Bible history, Jerusalem has been massively altered and extensively occupied on into modern times. Even the monumentalizing of traditional locations for ancient events which occurred within the city has raised as many questions as it could settle. Could the religious (often sectarian and competing) claims to identification of sites be trusted? What about installations (ancient walls, buildings, water tunnels, etc.) still buried from sight, or at least unexplored?

A special sort of man was needed to undertake the necessary fact-finding expedition. He must be bold, yet diplomatic, physically strong, yet intelligent - imaginative and skilled in surveying and engineering. By 1865, when the Palestine Exploration Fund was created in England under royal patronage (Queen Victoria) and distinguished chairmanship (the Archbishop of

York), such a man was standing in the wings. He was Captain (later Major-General) C. W. Wilson of the Royal Engineers, doubly experienced for the effort.

Wilson had served well, although the youngest member of the team, on the joint British-United States North American Boundary Commission, which surveyed, mapped, and physically marked out the border between the USA and Canada, from the Rocky Mountains to the Pacific Ocean (1858–62). Then, beginning in October, 1864, he undertook a volunteer task in Jerusalem which lasted nine months. An English lady philanthropist, Miss (later Baroness) Burett-Coutts, provided funds for the measuring and mapping of Jerusalem, with an aim to improving the city’s water supply and sanitation system. By the following November (1865) he was back, under Palestine Exploration Fund sponsorship, to complete his survey, make some archaeological soundings, and suggest other sites for exploration.

Having encountered difficulties on his previous topographical survey, Captain Wilson knew what a seemingly imp...

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