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William Wedderburn, 4th Baronet

Born  1838
Died  1918-01-25

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Scottish politician and civil servant in India, born March 1838, Edinburgh; died January 25, 1918.

Biography of William Wedderburn, 4th Baronet

William Wedderburn was born to a family of great antiquity. He was the third son of Sir John Wedderburn, 3rd Baronet. He was educated at Loretto School and Edinburgh University. He appeared for the Indian Civil Service examination in 1859 and the following year began official duty at Dharwar as an Assistant Collector. He was appointed Acting Judicial Commissioner in Sind and Judge of the Sadar Court, the highest court of appeal in the Province of Sind, seated in Bombay, in 1874. In 1882 he became the District and Sessions Judge of Poona. At the time of his retirement in 1887, he was the Chief Secretary to the Government of Bombay.

During his service in India, Wedderburn's attention was focussed on famine, the poverty of the Indian peasantry, the problem of agricultural indebtedness and the question of reviving the ancient village system. Along with Allan Octavian Hume (1829-1912) he was a founder of the Indian National Congress in 1885. After his retirement, he threw himself heart and soul into it and in 1889 presided over the fourth Congress held in Bombay.

After the death of his brother David, William succeeded to the baronetcy in 1882. He was unsuccessful parliamentary candidate in North Ayrshire in 1892 but entered Parliament in 1893 as a Liberal member and sought to voice India's grievances in the House. He formed the Indian Parliamentary Committee with which he was associated as Chairman from 1893 to 1900. In 1895, William Wedderburn represented India on the Welby Commission (i.e. Royal Commission) on Indian Expenditure. He also began participating in the activities of the Indian Famine Union, set up in June 1901, for investigation into famines and proposing preventive measures.

Wedderburn came to India in 1904 to attend the 20th session of the Indian National Congress in Bombay, which was presided over by Sir Henry Cotton (1845-1915). He was again invited in 1910 to preside over the 25th session. He remained the Chairman of the British Committee of the Congress from July 1889 until his death.

As a Liberal, William Wedderburn believed in the principle of self-government. Along with the founders of the Indian National Congress, he believed in the future of India in partnership with the British Commonwealth and welcomed the formal proclamation made by the British Government on August 20, 1917, that the goal of British policy in India was the progressive establishment of self-government. Some members of the old order condemned him as a disloyal officer, for his continual tirades against the bureaucracy, his incessant pleading for the Indian peasant and for his stand on constitutional reforms for India.

William Wedderburn's main contribution to the promotion of national consciousness was his life-long labour on behalf of the Indian Reform Movement.

    "The Indian village has thus for centuries remained a bulwark against political disorder, and the home of the simple domestic and social virtues. No wonder, therefore, that philosophers and historians have always dwelt lovingly on this ancient institution which is the natural social unit and the best type of rural life: self-contained, industrious, peace-loving, conservative in the best sense of the word...I think you will agree with me that there is much that is both picturesque and attractive in this glimpse of social and domestic life in an Indian village. It is a harmless and happy form of human existence. Moreover, it is not without good practical outcome."
We thank Andre Trombeta for information submitted.


  • W. Wedderburn:
    A Call to Arms.
    A series of articles meant to encourage the supporters and friends of the Congress.
  • Sumanta Banerjee:
    Sir William Wedderburn (1838-1918). President - Bombay, 1889; Allahabad, 1910.
    On a website of the Indian National Congress.

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