Dictionary of National Biography, 1912 supplement/Wilson, Charles Henry

WILSON, CHARLES HENRY, first Baron Nunburnholme (1833–1907), shipowner, born at Hull on 22 April 1833, was eldest son of Thomas Wilson (d. 1869) o Hull and Cottingham by his wife Susannah, daughter of John West of Hull. In 1835 the father joined others in forming at Hull a ship-owning firm, of which he soon acquired the chief control. A regular line of sailing boats to Swedish ports was established; the importation of iron from Russia and Sweden was developed; a service to Dunkirk was added; and with the substitution of steamships for sailing ships Thomas Wilson's firm was assured a permanent place in the shipping world.

Charles, who was educated at Kingston College, Hull, early joined with his brothers his father's firm, which was re-christened Thomas Wilson, Sons and Company. Charles and his brother Arthur [see below] became in 1867 joint managers, and to their energy the firm's rapid development was mainly due. The Norwegian and Baltic service for cargo and passengers was greatly extended; Adriatic and Sicilian, Indian and American and home coasting services were inaugurated from time to time after 1870. In 1891 the concern was turned into a private limited company, with a capital of two and a half millions and a fleet of over 100 vessels, and it is now the largest private ship-owning firm in the world. In 1903 the fleet of Messrs. Bailey and Leetham of Hull was absorbed, and in 1908 that of the North Eastern Railway Company. Charles was also chairman of Earle's Shipbuilding and Engineering Company, Limited, and of the United Shipping Company, and vice-chairman of the Hull Steam Fishing and Ice Company, Limited.

Wilson played a prominent part in public affairs outside his business. He was sheriff of Hull. In 1873 he actively promoted the Hull and South Western Junction Railway bill. In 1874 he entered Parliament for Hull as a liberal, and sat continuously till 1905, representing West Hull from 1885. As an ardent liberal he was a pronounced free-trader and an advocate of temperance reform. An opponent of the South African war of 1899–1901, he yet showed public spirit by placing at the disposal of the government the Ariosto, one of his firm's vessels, for the purpose of transporting the newly raised City Imperial Volunteers to the Cape.

In 1899 he received the freedom of his native town, and in 1905 he was made a peer under the title of Lord Nunburnholme.

He died at his residence, Warter Priory, Pocklington, Yorkshire, on 27 Oct. 1907. On 5 Oct. 1871 he married Florence Jane Helen, the eldest daughter of Colonel William Henry Charles Wellesley, nephew of the first Duke of Wellington. He had issue three sons and four daughters; the eldest son, Charles Henry Wellesley Wilson (b. 1875), succeeded to the peerage.

The first Lord Nunburnholme's youngest brother, Arthur Wilson (1836–1909), born on 14 Dec. 1836 at Hull, was educated like him at Kingston College; he was associated with him in the ship-owning firm, and on the death of Lord Nunburnholme became its head. To his foresight was largely due the firm's development of the Norwegian timber trade and the foundation of the Baltic Exchange. A director of the North Eastern Railway Company and chairman of the shipping committee of the Hull chamber of commerce, he served in 1891 as high sheriff of Yorkshire. For many years a warm supporter of the liberal interest in Yorkshire, he objected to Gladstone's home rule proposal of 1886, joined the liberal unionists, and finally in 1909 supported tariff reform. He was a generous benefactor to Hull, and among the institutions in which he was specially interested was the Victoria Children's Hospital, of which he was chairman. Arthur Wilson was an ardent sportsman, and was for twenty-five years master of the Holderness hunt, the members of which in January 1904 presented him with his portrait by A. S. Cope, R.A.; it is now at his home at Tranby Croft. Of genial disposition, he dispensed a lavish hospitality. While Edward VII (when Prince of Wales) was his guest at Tranby Croft, in Sept. 1890, an allegation of cheating at baccarat was made against Sir William Gordon-Cumming, Bart., who was also staying at the house. In the prolonged trial of an unsuccessful action of libel which Sir William brought against Wilson's son-in-law and daughter Mr. and Mrs. Lycett Green, the Prince of Wales was a witness. The affair attracted worldwide attention and involved Wilson in undeserved obloquy which clouded the remaining years of his life. He died on 21 Oct. 1909 at Tranby Croft, after a long illness, and was buried at Kirkella. He married on 1 July 1862 Mary Emma, daughter of Mr. E. J. Smith, postmaster of Leeds, and had three sons and three daughters. The eldest son, Arthur Stanley, has been unionist M.P. for the Holderness division of Yorkshire since 1900.

[The Times, and Hull Times, 23 Oct. 1909; Burke's Peerage and Landed Gentry; The Times, and Hull Daily Mail, 28 Oct. 1907; private information; Handbook of Thomas Wilson, Sons & Co., Ltd.]

L. P. S.