Dictionary of National Biography, 1885-1900/Wilks, John

WILKS, JOHN (d. 1846), swindler, was the only son of John Wilks, by his wife Isabella (d. 19 Jan. 1846).

His father, John Wilks (1765?–1854), attorney, born in 1764 or 1765, was son of Matthew Wilks, minister at Whitefield's tabernacle in Moorfields. He was an attorney by profession, and on 31 July 1830 was returned to parliament for Boston in Lincolnshire in the radical interest, retaining his seat until 1837. He formed collections of books, works of art, and autographs, which were sold after his death by Messrs. Sotheby & Wilkinson. For more than twenty years he was honorary secretary of ‘The Protestant Society for the Protection of Religious Freedom.’ He was a member of the Statistical and Zoological societies. He died in London, at his residence in Finsbury Square, on 25 Aug. 1854, and was buried in Kensal Green cemetery. Besides his son John he left three daughters. He was the author of ‘An Apology for the Missionary Society,’ London, 1799, 8vo (Gent. Mag. 1854, ii. 629).

The son John followed his father's profession as an attorney. In 1825 he earned the name of ‘Bubble Wilks’ by floating a number of joint-stock companies, all of which were financial failures. On 13 June 1826 he was returned to parliament for the borough of Sudbury in Suffolk in the whig interest. In April 1828 he resigned his seat, and shortly afterwards he was charged before the lord mayor with forgery, but was acquitted on the non-appearance of the prosecutor. On his release he obtained the post of Paris correspondent to the ‘Standard,’ and signed his contributions to the London papers ‘O. P. Q.,’ Desirous of retrieving his fortunes, he spread false reports on the Paris bourse, and in consequence was ordered by the head of the police to leave France within four days. His friends, however, obtained the revocation by their intercession, and he next formed a joint-stock company to establish a newspaper entitled ‘The London and Paris Courier.’ After the journal had appeared for a few months Wilks fled, leaving the debts of the enterprise to be paid by an English partner. Shortly after he exploited a second company, to finance a monthly magazine called ‘La Revue Protestante,’ a project which proved more profitable to its author than to the cause of religion. After forming an unsuccessful Paris Parcels Delivery Company, he returned to London, and, settling in Surrey Street, Strand, attempted to found an Authors' Institute. His last project was the establishment of a fraudulent clerical registry office. Before his latest dishonesty was detected he died suddenly at Chelsea, on 17 Jan. 1846, leaving no property to compensate his victims.

Wilks was the author of:

  1. ‘A Christian Biographical Dictionary,’ London, 1821, 12mo.
  2. ‘Memoirs of Queen Caroline,’ London, 1822, 2 vols. 8vo.
  3. ‘Bianca: a Fragment,’ London, 1823, 8vo.

After his return to England he was a constant contributor to ‘Fraser's Magazine,’ supplying reminiscences of Louis-Philippe and other notable Frenchmen.

[Gent. Mag. 1846, i. 649; Notes and Queries, 5th ser. vii. 180.]

E. I. C.