How good was he?
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DESCRIPTIONAbstract WCB Wilson was one of Queenslands early pioneering surveyors. While we have heard of Dixon, Staplyton and Warner, few of us know the exploits of Wilson. In this sesquicentenary of Queensland as a state, I thought it appropriate to add some character to a name that we may only see on a plan. I also explore the accuracy of one of his surveys in terms of following in his footsteps when reinstating boundaries created by Wilson almost 150 years ago.
<ul><li> 1. How Good Was He?By Paul McClellandAbstractWCB Wilson was one of Queenslands early pioneering surveyors. While we haveheard of Dixon, Staplyton and Warner, few of us know the exploits of Wilson.In this sesquicentenary of Queensland as a state, I thought it appropriate to add somecharacter to a name that we may only see on a plan. I also explore the accuracy ofone of his surveys in terms of following in his footsteps when reinstating boundariescreated by Wilson almost 150 years ago.IntroductionIn January 2009, one of my surveyors sought my advice on the plan presentation of asurvey he was examining. During the course of our discussion, plans S3122 (1864)and RP77632 (1952) came to light. The latter plan was a subdivision of Portion 270created 88 years earlier on S3122. RP77632 showed an original reference tree at eachcorner of the portion. I thought this would provide an excellent example of thecomparison between early survey techniques and technology and more modernmeasurement and survey equipment. During the course of my research into the plans,I happened to ask Bill Kitson, former curator of the Lands, Mapping and SurveyingMuseum what he knew of the original surveyor, WCB Wilson. Bills response piquedmy interest in Surveyor Wilson. Bill said he won the Blue Cross in a war in theMediterranean before he came to Australia.I thought here was an opportunity to put some history behind a name on a plan to gainan appreciation of one of our pioneering surveyors. Through my research, I havegained a respect for Surveyor Wilson and his accomplishments over a working lifethat spanned 62 years across two continents. The following is a short history on thelife of Surveyor William Charles Borlase Wilson. I complete the history with acomparison of his survey shown on plan S3122 carried out in 1864 with later surveys.Army LifeBorn on Boxing Day 1807 at Newcastle in England, William Charles BorlaseWilson (Charles) was the eldest of seven children of John and Elizabeth Wilson. JohnWilson, born in Kent in 1788 was a Captain of the 60th Rifles and also of the 2ndRegiment (or Queens Royals). He had served on the expedition to Walcheren,Netherlands in 1809, the Peninsular Campaign in 1811-1814 in Portugal and later inCanada where he lost his life in 1820. Charless father had died at Quebec, Canadapossibly during the war against the French. John Wilson was a surveyor in the armyhence his sons interest in studying surveying and cartography while at Sandhurst.Charless grandfather, James Wilson was a Lieutenant in the 1st Veteran Battalion.Thus, Charles was born into a military family and it was only natural that hegravitated to the army life.In 1822, at the age of 14 years and 8 months, Charles entered the Royal MilitaryAcademy at Sandhurst. His height was listed as 4 feet 11.25 inches (1.505 metres) andhis fathers occupation was listed as late Captain, 60th Regiment of Foot.Page 1 of 20</li></ul><p> 2. Charles received a commission in the 51st Foot on December 21 1826, just before his19th birthday at the recommendation of the College Commander. He eventually leftthe college in December 1827 at age 20 to join his regiment. He was an Ensign withthe 51st from 1827 to 1835, serving with them in Corfu in the Mediterranean duringthe Greek War of Independence.The Greek War of Independence which began in 1821 ended with the formalrecognition by the Ottoman Sultan of the independence of Greece in the Treaty ofAdrianople in 1829. Albanians gave significant support to the Greek struggle.Intervention by the Great Powers in the form of Great Britain, France, and Russia wasalso important to Greek success. The London Convention of May 7, 1832, confirmedan independent Kingdom of Greece (under the protection of Great Britain, France,and Russia) and delimited its boundaries to include the entire PeloponnesusPeninsular and a northern boundary extending from the Gulf of Volos on the AegeanSea westward to the Gulf of Ambracia.The Greeks honoured Charles Wilson in 1833 at Arta after the retreat of the Turk,Tafil Bougis. Charles was presented with a citation by the citizens of Arta full ofpraise and rhetoric mentioning his traits of courage and generosity in saving residentsof the town during a siege.In 1836, King Othon awarded him the Royal Order of the Croix de Chevalier for hisaction in 1833 at Arta. Figure 1 Royal Order of the Croix de ChevalierCharles served under Colonel George Baker on the international commission fordelimitation of the boundaries of Greece. He was fluent in Greek and had become anexcellent draftsman and surveyor. A series of letters exist written by Charles in thewinter of 1834 to his commanding officer, Colonel Baker. The letters were writtenfrom Carpenisi and Argos where he established his billets. The letters tell a story ofthe harshness of the conditions under which he worked as well as the ill health of bothhimself and a fellow officer, Captain Dunn. They indicate the difficulty of workingwith a multi-national team with officers from both France and Russia mentioned. ThePage 2 of 20 3. letters also show he was not self sufficient with repeated requests for funds to pay fortheir billets and living expenses. He also sought support from Colonel Baker forreimbursement of his expenses on his return to his regiment in England.In 1836 he purchased a Lieutenancy in the 69th Foot but moved to the 73rd Foot (TheBlack Watch) in 1837, serving with them in Gibraltar, Malta and the Ionian Islandsuntil April 1839 when he was de-commissioned from the Army. Charles was 32 whenhe retired from the Army.Grafton1839 was an eventful year for Charles. In the same year he married his cousin,Elizabeth Hall and soon after departed for the colony of New South Wales. Shortlyafter their arrival, he became a father for the first time with the birth of his daughterElaine at Parramatta. Figure 2 William Charles Borlase Wilson Figure 3 Elizabeth WilsonCharles and Elizabeth arrived in Sydney on board the Lady Raffles. The newlywedswere accompanied by Charless mother and brothers Christopher and George andtheir families. His other brothers John, Francis and James were already in Australasia.Charles and Christopher, both surveyors in the Army had resigned their commissionsto take up surveying positions in New South Wales. Charles was referred to sociallyas the late Lieutenant of Her Majestys 73rd Regiment. When they arrived in NewSouth Wales, the Surveyor General, Major Thomas Livingstone Mitchell was onPage 3 of 20 4. leave in England receiving his knighthood and his deputy, SA Perry would not takethe brothers on as staff surveyors, instead employing them as contract surveyors.In October 1839, Charles was employed by contract to make a survey in full detail ofthe Clarence River, and accordingly left Sydney in a cutter bound for the Big River.Charles reported:On board the cutter were 10 persons, including 6 prisoners. The latter were sodestitute of clothing when they were delivered to me that I was detained in quarantineharbour until Sunday morning, the 29th ultimo, in fitting them out with completeequipment.When off Reids Mistake, near Newcastle, a severe storm occurred, and the cutter wastaken to Moon Island for refuge, and there she was washed ashore by fearful sea. Ihave great pleasure in being able to report that the conduct of the assigned prisonershas been worthy of encouragement. Through all our trials they worked for both dayand night up to their waists in water, and that, too, without any hopes of reward orremuneration being held out to them, and I have ventured to write a separate letter toHis Excellency on their behalf.Apparently, it was not until June 1840 that Charles and his party arrived in what isnow Grafton on the Clarence River. The contract the Wilson brothers accepted wasthe plotting of natural features of the south side of the river, dividing the country intoParishes and marking out sections of square miles for settlement. A third contractsurveyor was also engaged on the survey. Surveyor Major Edward Lewis Burrowesworked on the contract until he was laid off with the Wilson brothers. By 1857,Burrowes had moved to Brisbane where he was a district surveyor in the SurveyOffice. He applied for the newly created Surveyor General position when Queenslandbecame a state but the position was awarded to AC Gregory.On despatching his plans to Sydney with his account for payment, Charles received ahand written requisition from Major Mitchell which extended to three written pages. Figure 4 Sir Thomas Livingstone Mitchell Page 4 of 20 5. Mitchell had returned from his leave to a New South Wales that had enjoyed buoyantyears in 1839-1840 during his absence. The tide had turned prior to his return inFebruary 1841 and the colony was sliding into depression. Mitchell had personallysuffered criticism from Governor Gipps for his extended absence from the colony.Gippss successor, Fitzroy wrote to the Secretary of State: it is notorious that SirThomas Mitchells unfortunate impracticability of temper and spirit of opposition ofthose in authority over him misled him into frequent collision with my predecessors.Part of the blame for these clashes with Governors and other senior officials lay withseveral traits of Mitchells character, his arrogance, his independent spirit, his activesense of wrong and his volcanic temper. It was in this environment that Mitchell despatched his requisition to Charles in July1841. From the tone of some of the comments in the letter, perhaps there was alsosome jealousy on Sir Thomas Mitchells part with having a decorated hero in hisemploy as a contract surveyor.In the requisition, Mitchell criticised Charless choice of parish boundaries, his namesfor the parishes, the accuracy of his descriptions and the affront of asking for paymenton receipt of the instruction.Mitchells requisition includes:I am sorry to have to notice various instances they present of carelessness in thedetails, and to say which I do with regret that I am not at all satisfied with them. Your descriptions are also erroneous, some in different respects. Those of (Parishof) Foothill are bound up with the numbers reversed. This evidence of carelessnesscannot easily be tolerated in a work performed by contract which should be submittedwith such uniformity and precision, as a fixed price entitles the parties to expect, aprice sufficient, one would suppose to spare me any further trouble, anxiety orresponsibility about it. I beg you will understand that it is my intention to employ onlysuch contract Surveyors as I can depend upon in every particular connected withtheir business, and that as the detection of even a single error throws doubt on theaccuracy of the whole work, such palpable carelessness and blundering throughoutthe whole work shakes my confidence in the whole of these productions. I also object altogether to the names you have given to the Parishes: all words onGreek derivation are decidedly objectionable for very obvious reasons: we want nofanciful or far fetched names, and I desire that they may be introduced no more. If youcannot find easy sounding names or others of descriptive or obvious character, youwill be pleased to leave a blank for the names, that they may be filled up here, andyou can be informed, so that you may be enabled to introduce them on Maps ofadjoining lands, and to refer to them in correspondence. In conclusion I would observe with respect to the urgent application made to theOffice by your agents for the payment of your accounts, that an attention to yourwishes in this particular would have been best insured by the most fastidious attentionto accuracy, and that it is not to be tolerated that a large mass of work should be Page 5 of 20 6. submitted to me in an imperfect state, and payment for it immediately demanded, as ifthe very labour of investigation were likely to insure payment without further enquiry.Your accounts are returned for any adjustment they may require in consequence ofthe required alterations.At the end of 1841, the Government put off the contract surveyors including theWilsons, having just imported eight staff surveyors. Two of these surveyors wereappointed to the Clarence River. They initially sat idle for over five months with sixconvicts as their assistants. They were given no proper equipment but one of theirexcuses for inaction was that they were afraid of the blacks. Charles, however, was anoted linguist and always maintained good relations with the Aborigines.Charles eventually finished his survey to the satisfaction of the Surveyor General.However, it is reported in Hansard of the New South Wales Legislative Council inDecember 1843 that the member Mr Windeyer presented a petition from WCBWilson, praying an adequate remuneration for the loss he will sustain by the abolitionof his contract with the Government, for the survey of the south bank of the ClarenceRiver.It is assumed that Charles and his brother continued to gain employment as surveyorsin the Grafton district, however, whether they received additional governmentcontracts is the subject of speculation.Suffice to say that in the early 1850s, Charles became the Clerk of Petty Sessions inGrafton, being the first to occupy this position. He continued in the position until1857.During his time in Grafton, Charles and his wife had a further 10 children, theyoungest born in 1863 when Charles was aged 56, just prior to his familys departurefor the young colony of Queensland.QueenslandFrom the moment Queensland became a state in its own right, Charles was keen tomove his family to the new colony. In 1860, he first applied to the Surveyor Generalof the new colony of Queensland, Augustus Charles Gregory, for a position with theSurvey Office. Grafton August 7th 1860.SirBeing desirous of eventually settling with my very large family in the new Colony ofQueensland (where I feel assured that a wider and more desirable career lies open tothem than in New South Wales) I do myself the honor of soliciting from youemployment in your department either as Draughtsman Surveyor in the field, or inany other official capacity that might be required of me.Without troubling you with the perusal of Certificates of my previous services andqualifications I beg leave to refer to Mr Deputy Surveyor General Burrowes on thatPage 6 of 20 7. head, who will I feel assured from his very long and intimate knowledge of me, beable to satisfy you respecting the same.Trusting to your favourable consideration of this application I have the honor to be,Sir,Your most obedient servant, W.C.B.Wilson.The Surveyor General responded on 23 August 1860:Mr Wilson to be informed that although there is not at present any vacancy in whichhis services are required, it is probable that there will be employment for LicensedSurveyors at the usual scale of fees. A.C.G.Charles Wilson again wrote to the Surveyor General on October 29 1860.SirHaving reference to the latter part of your letter of the 31st of August...</p>
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