History of West Australia/John Wilson



IT was not surprising to hear that London capitalists and investors fairly lionised Mr. Wilson on his recent visit to England. His youth and abilities attracted notable men at home. Reports, fired from the loaded "Maxims" of enthusiasm, spread amid an admiring crew that Mr. Wilson was the youngest mayor in the world. Discussion became rife, bets exchanged, and reference books consulted to prove the affirmative or confute the negative. The press, reflecting the spirit of the moment, gave the matter publicity, and soon innocent Mayor Wilson became an object of novelty and curious concern. Though his right to that title cannot be upheld, owing to the existence of a younger mayor in Australia, still, if we take into full consideration the conditions and general surroundings of Mr. Wilson's early life, we are forced to admit, if not priority in age, then certainly priority in esteem.

Mr. Wilson was born on 10th September, 1867, on Totara Plains, near Oamaru, Otago, New Zealand. It was never his fortune to receive either an elementary or a secondary education. Yet he schooled himself in the lessons of the world. His mind digested every scrap of information of probable utility. His daily tutors were the great environing forces of nature; his hourly preceptors were his own observant mental powers, attracting to their fresh pasture-land the nourishing dews of knowledge. Like many another, he was self-taught. At an early age he joined the Electric Telegraph Department in the New Zealand Government service and was soon made an operator. Its narrow limits and close confinement, however, became unbearable. Longing for the free fresh air of heaven on distant moors, he set out for a sheep station near Gisborne, Hawkes Bay district. There for eighteen months young Wilson revelled amid the liberties of individual control. Various pursuits, from wire-fencing to bush-contracting, were engaged in. His energies and skill seemed to fly forth to every handicraft and every profession. In him the proverb, "What thy hand findest to do, do well," found exemplification by practical exercise. Of a reflective turn of mind, the solitary surroundings could not but incite his imagination to dream heavily of nature, himself, and their relation. Metaphysical reveries gave him the stimulus to work and develop his higher faculties. How often have men of world-wide fame turned from the rural bliss of simplicity, with all its natural reactions on the human mind, to the halls of science and learning! History always repeats itself, and Wilson, like many another historic nature, forsook communion with nature on solitary fields for that scientific mill which grinds shapeless matter into a uniform mass which may sweeten the mental palate.

In Auckland he started studying for the New Zealand Bar. Here was he, who had never received a handful of scholastic erudition, bent on mastering abstruse and deep intellectual phases of thought. Yet, with the words of Horace flitting across his troubled mind, "Nil mortalibus ardiu est"—nothing is difficult for mortals—he never flinched from his ambitious step. Severely handicapped as he was, he succeeded by dint of energy and laborious study. Perseverance in his studies and high brain pressure maintained for weeks in grinding up his lectures soon brought him abreast of his class-fellows. And to his praise, be it said that he forged slowly ahead of many, and when the intellectual race was over he had out-distanced them by many leagues, and had beaten them on every track.

He passed the final examinations for solicitor and barrister, and was admitted to the New Zealand Bar on 1st July, 1890. Few on any continent can produce a record like this. Considering the many disadvantages under which he laboured, his success reflects great credit on himself and his alma mater. Should we frame a logical hypothesis, and suppose, as an antecedent, that he had the usual preliminary advantages for a university curriculum, then we should be warranted, without the least possibility of fallacious assumption, in assigning him an unusually brilliant university career.

For some time he practised his profession in the north of Auckland. From there he proceeded to Brisbane, where he became associated with the legal firm of Messrs. Rathning and Byron. He remained two years there, and in October, 1894, he left for Western Australia. He arrived in Kalgoorlie on the lst November, 1894, about twelve months after its discovery. The town was still in the mere rib-work stage of development, devoid of form, flesh, and automatic or voluntary regulation. The Progress Committee, a useful constitution, was doing its best to create for it organic faculties, so that they might behold an efficient mechanism. Mr. Wilson willingly lent his skill to the constitution-builders, and by his shrewd judgment and practical craft he soon rose to be the consulting legislative mechanic. Mr. Wilson's services were so esteemed that when Kalgoorlie was declared a municipality, in May, 1895, he was elected its first mayor. In the following December Mr. Wilson was elected unopposed to the mayoralty. His term of office expires in November, 1896, and it is not likely that he will seek re-election.

In April, 1896, he went to England, partly to recruit his health and partly to transact some business. It was his misfortune on reaching home to fall a prey to typhoid fever. For two nonths he lay in a prostrate condition, much enfeebled by the loathsome disease. On becoming convalescent, he proceeded to complete his business matters. His influential authority, as a leading spirit of the Hannan's fields, and his financial and commercial abilities, were soon instrumental in gathering round him large company-promoters and capitalists. Being generally acknowledged to be the most prominent citizen of Hannan's, it was but natural that companies should seek to vest their interests in his efficient and capable hands. In the formation of the Australian Territories Limited his name was associated with that of the Hon. George Leake, M.L.A., of Western Australia. Mr. Wilson and this honourable gentleman were appointed local representatives of this wealthy and influential corporation, which is a South African mining company with a capital of £250,000.

In his honourable official capacity, Mayor Wilson has been a beneficial and felicitous administrator of the public good. He did not repose with dignified grace on the ornamental honours of mayoralty, but strove with untiring energy to promote the interests of the town and to show himself worthy of their confidence in his capabilities. By zealous enthusiasm for Hannan's advancement and aggrandisement, and by conscientious regard for the duties of his office, he has showered heaps of utilitarian benefits on the burghers of Kalgoorlie. He was chairman of the Board of Health by virtue of his office. It was during his tenureship of this honourable position that the council extended the jurisdiction of the Board of Health to a six-mile radius. After strong representations, advocated by the mayor himself, the Government granted the council £2,000 for sanitary purposes not chargeable on incoming rates.

Countless improvements have been effected within his period of office. A Miners' Institute has been built by means of a Government grant of £500 gnd local contributions. Mr. Wilson is one of the trustees, and in his and other gentlemen's names the Government have vested the property. A great change is to be seen on the streets. Metalled roads and curbed pavements take the place of soft, clammy soil. The town has been extended so as to embrace several allotments in the south-west. A decided beneficial acquisition has been the establishment of a permanent hospital, under the supervision of the Government. Residential areas have been constituted round the boundaries of the town. Recreation reserves of twelve acres have been obtained as a grant from Government.

It would seem, on reviewing these new institutions, establishments, and constitutions, that Kalgoorlie has risen to the reputation of a town under his mayoralty. Responsibility was a natural sequence to quick development and municipal complexities, and on his shoulders the greatest weight fell. In municipal legislation his professional ability, experience, and skill were of paramount importance. His civic virtues tided the council safely over many shoals and quicksands. His shrewd and speculative judgment, underlying a strong policy of liberal progress, effected the high stage of evolutionary development in Kalgoorlie. His public services have been highly appreciated by all classes, and great regret is being expressed at his probable retirement. He has deserved well of Kalgoorlie, and for his reward his name will be handed down in the sacred annals of Hannan's growth. His bright and vivacious discharge of his official duties, coupled with a universal recognition of his remarkable upward career has brought prestige and fame on a town whose early extension will for ever be associated with his name.

In private his company is much sought and much respected for his kindly disposition and social bearing. At conviviums or at symposiums Mayor Wilson was ever the same, a bright, quick-witted, and entertaining host and guest. His countenance bespeaks the very virtues of his mind. In London his attainments and high official position made him an honoured guest. He has supped with the Lord Mayor of London at the Mansion House, and shared an elegant repast with the Lord Provost of Glasgow, Sir William Bell. The dignity and far-famed reputation of this gold-bearing centre could never have been better represented.