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Australian Dictionary of Biography

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Wilson, James Alexander Campbell (1879–1963)

by R. F. Stockwell

This article was published in Australian Dictionary of Biography, Volume 12, (MUP), 1990

James Alexander Campbell Wilson (1879-1963), dentist, was born on 14 October 1879, at Carlton, Melbourne, twelfth child of Thomas Wilson, stone merchant, and his wife Martha, née Moffatt, both Scottish born. Educated at New College, Box Hill, in 1896 James enrolled in the Australian College of Dentistry, Melbourne (M.A.C.D., 1901); he also passed the Dental Board of Victoria's examinations. He graduated (D.D.S., 1903) from the University of Pennsylvania, United States of America, and went to England for further experience and study. On 16 August 1905 he married Agnes Rose (d.1931) at the Congregational Church, Stockport, Cheshire. Returning to Australia in 1905, he took a locum-tenency in Perth where he began his own practice in 1909.

Commissioned in the 11th Australian Infantry Regiment in 1908, Wilson held the rank of captain in the 88th Perth Infantry by August 1914. He was appointed major in the Australian Imperial Force in May 1915 and served briefly at Gallipoli with the 28th Battalion. Invalided to England with amoebic dysentery, he was discharged as medically unfit in April 1916 on his return to Fremantle.

Foundation secretary (1909) of the Western Australia Dental Society, Wilson was a member from 1910 (chairman, 1922-53) of the Dental Board of Western Australia and used that body as a base for his energy and talents. Following changes in 1920 to the Dentists Act (1899) which greatly reduced professional morale, he confided to Wynn Needham, the registrar of the board, his determination to see a dental hospital and dental school established in the State. With the co-operation of the board, dental classes were introduced in 1922 at Perth Technical School and the Perth Dental Hospital opened in 1927. Wilson's particular skill was in leading, inspiring and reconciling conflicting factions: he chose his colleagues carefully, even recruiting some of his strongest opponents to serve on the board of management of Perth Dental Hospital where they became staunch supporters of the scheme they had originally fought.

On 3 December 1932 he married Laura McCrae at St Patrick's Anglican Church, Inglewood. Innately modest and kind, Jim Wilson was 5 ft 6½ ins (169 cm) tall; alert and lively, he had a keen wit, a ready sense of fun and a love of sport, particularly motoring. At the investiture of his C.B.E. (1953) in Perth in 1954, Queen Elizabeth II inquired what branch of medicine he represented; when Wilson replied, 'the gentle art of painless dentistry', the Queen responded: 'Had I the time, I would debate that remark with you!'

After his retirement in 1953, Wilson practised part time at Rockingham when no district dentist was available. On a return trip, his car collided with a bus and he was fatally injured; he died in Royal Perth Hospital on 20 April 1963 and was cremated. He was survived by his wife, their son and daughter, and by two sons of his first marriage.

Select Bibliography

  • J. S. Battye (ed), Cyclopedia of Western Australia (Adel, 1912, 1913)
  • R. F. Stockwell, The History of Perth Dental Hospital and The Origins of the Dental Profession in Western Australia (typescripts, held by Dental School Library, Perth, and Royal Western Australian Historical Society and State Library of Western Australia)
  • private information.

Citation details

R. F. Stockwell, 'Wilson, James Alexander Campbell (1879–1963)', Australian Dictionary of Biography, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University,, published first in hardcopy 1990, accessed online 23 September 2020.

This article was first published in hardcopy in Australian Dictionary of Biography, Volume 12, (MUP), 1990

View the front pages for Volume 12

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