In the 1860s an Ordnance Survey of Jerusalem was carried out. It was overseen by Charles William Wilson, who had been born in Liverpool in 1836.
Charles William Wilson was born in Wesley Street, which was off Upper Hill Street in Toxteth, on 14th March 1836. He attended Liverpool College and then boarded at Cheltenham College before going on to the Royal Military Academy in Woolwich.
After being commissioned as an officer with the Royal Engineers, Wilson went to Canada as a secretary to the British Boundary Commission. They were were mapping the Canada/US border along the 49th Parallel between Manitoba and British Columbia. After four years in North America, Wilson was hired by philanthropist Baroness Burdett-Coutts, one of Britain’s wealthiest women, to conduct an Ordnance Survey of Jerusalem, in the hope of finding better sources of drinking water.
No new sources were uncovered, but his mapping of the Old City was perhaps the most comprehensive yet. He also uncovered an arch close to the Western (Wailing) Wall, that was supporting a bridge connecting Temple Mount to Western Hill. This was named Wilson’s Arch in his honour. Wilson conducted one of the first major excavations of Temple Mount in 1867 as part of the Palestine Exploration Fund (PEF) He maintained an interest there for the rest of his life being a director of the Palestine Pilgrims Text Society, which published texts for pilgrims, and chairman of the PEF.
After his Middle Eastern adventures, Wilson spent most of the 1870s in Britain, overseeing the Ordnance Survey for Scotland, being a director for the Topological Department of the War Office, Assistant Commissioner for the Boundary Commission and Quartermaster General for the Intelligence Department.
In 1879 Wilson was back on his travels, becoming Consular General for Anatolia (covering most of modern day Turkey), a post he held for three years. In 1882 he helped Viscount Wolseley suppress the rebellion of Colonel Urabi in Egypt and also took time to edit the multi volume Picturesque Palestine, Sinai & Egypt.
Wilson remained with Wolseley and they took part in the Khartoum Relief Expedition of 1884-85, but arrived too late to save General Gordon and 5-10,000 others from slaughter. Recriminations followed with Wolseley and Wilson blaming each other for not getting there in time.
In December 1885, Wilson was back in Liverpool as a guest at his old school, Liverpool College, to hand out the certificates and prizes. He was asked not to make a speech about his career, but more recollect his time at the school. Recalling that they were six of the happiest years of his childhood, he said that there was nothing he learned there that was not of use at some time in his later life. His desire to enter the military, he said, was listening to memories of the Peninsular Wars and his love of classical literature was down to the Headmaster George Howson, to whom he was grateful for being able to translate Greek and Latin into English. He also encouraged anyone who had an interest in history to couple it with geography, as that helped add picturesqueness to the text. He rounded off by encouraging the boys to be strong in all areas of their life, before handing out the certificates and prizes.
Wilson remained in Britain from then on, becoming Director General of the Ordnance Survey in Ireland until 1894, then Director General of Military Education. He died in Tunbridge Wells, Kent, in 1905. A biography by Sir Charles Moore Watson claimed that Wilson “probably did more than any other man to increase the knowledge of the geography and archaeology of Asia Minor, Palestine and the adjacent countries”