William Wedderburn ICS, founder of the Congress, who worked with the Indian freedom fighters

Sir William Wedderburn, 4th Baronet, JP DL (25 March 1838 – 25 January 1918), a Scottish man,  born in Edinburgh, was the  son of Sir John Wedderburn, 2nd Baronet and Henrietta Louise Milburn.  He was a civil servant and politician.  Educated at Edinburgh University, he joined the Indian Civil Service  to take up a job in India as his father and an older brother had done before.  He attempted to bring about reforms in banking to solve the problems of peasants during his working career. The British India government put his  reforms on the back burner and gave him no support.  He retired to help found the Indian National Congress and support local self-government.

William Wedderburn ICS, politician and Indian sympathizer. Wikipedia

Indian freedom struggle.  Quora

Entering  the Indian Civil Service in Bombay in 1860,  he began his official duty at Dharwar (Karnataka) as an Assistant Collector, later he served as District Judge and Judicial Commissioner in Sind and subsequently he worked in different capacity,  holding a variety of positions. He was secretary to Bombay Government, Judicial and Political Departments; and from 1885 acted as Judge of the High Court, Bombay. He retired as acting Chief Secretary to the Government of Bombay in 1887.

statue of Annie Besant and a bust of ‘Sir Wedderburn Bart thehindu.com

Sir William Wedderburn and the Indian Reform Movement.  eBay\

While on assignments in the rural parts of India, he got first hand  information on the problems being faced by the Indian farmers such as famine, poverty, loans, etc and when he got down to the bottom of it he found out the peasants' grievances were up to their neck. They  were appalling and needed to be addressed. It was primarily caused by money lenders; actually they were almost like loan sharks demanding exorbitant interest on the loan.  Wedderburn  came up with a novel idea  and  suggested that co-operative  agricultural banks be established to provide credits  to the needed farmers at reasonable rates. The proposal was supported in India but was blocked by the India Office in London. The indifferent attitude of the British India government disappointed him, so he took the cudgels against the bureaucracy.

Indian freedom struggle against the british. photoartinc.com

Wedderburn, toeing the line of  Lord Ripon wanted to introduce certain reforms  to develop local self-government and equality to Indian judges. Then, Indian judges were not treated on par with British judges by the judiciary.  Indian judges could not try British subjects / convicts in their courts!! The British India government did not like his reforms that would favor the Indian natives and became suspicious of Weddeburn's loyalty to the British government. Many in officialdom went to the extent of  considering him  a 'Traitor" on account of his humane and sympathetic attitude toward Indians. This resulted in the denial of  a judge post in the Bombay high court because Wedderburn gave priority to aspirations of Indians to rule their land. Being an honest and unbiased official, he retired as early as 1887.  He plunged into India's freedom struggle through democratic means  and became a Congress man.  Along with Allan Octavian Hume he was a founder of the Indian National Congress and served as its president in 1889 (4th session; Bombay session) and 1910 (Allahabad Silver Jubilee Sessions). INC was formed to fight for freedom from Britain through democratic means. 
 “What are the practical objects of the Congress movement? They are, to revive the national life, and to increase the material prosperity of country; and what better objects could we have before us? Lastly, as regards our methods, they are open and constitutional, and based solely on India's reliance upon British justice and love of fair play.”  From the Presidential Address - William Wedderburn I.N.C. Session, 1889, Bombay

Indian freedom struggleGiGlee Magazine

Politically inspired, he worked with most influential Congress leaders in Bombay and in 1890 he chaired the British committee of the Indian National Congress. He attempted to support the Indian freedom movement through parliamentary action in Britain  and through publications. In the course of his work he became a close associate of G. K. Gokhale of the Congress. While in England, he served as Liberal Member of Parliament for Banffshire from 1893 to 1900.

He never failed to associate himself with the Indian affairs and considered a true friend of Indian movement. He was a member of many Royal Commissions  on India and  was the chairman of Indian Parliamentary Committee besides being the Chairman, British Committee of the Indian National Congress.  In 1910 he took serious efforts to sort out the differences  between Hindus and Muslims  and preferred a constitutional solution rather than  militant actions; the later will yield no results but apathy.

He succeeded to his brother's (Sir David)  baronetcy in 1879, adding that rather confusing Bart to his name. His wife was Mary Blanche Hoskyns and by her had two daughters, one was born in Pune.   He died at his home in Meredith, Gloucestershire on 25 January 1918 (aged 79).


01.  In the YMCA building, at 49 Moore Street (Second Line Beach, Chennai (Madras) there were  a statue of Annie Besant and a bust of ‘Sir William Wedderburn Bart”. They were, it, is believed, from the Gokhale Hall. Their connection with the YMCA building is a riddle. I don not know whether they are removed from the present location!

02. Wedderburn was member of the Welby Commission on Indian Expenditure (1895-1900), of which Dadabhai Naoroji was also a member.

03. He was the founder of the Congress and its president in 1889 and 1910.

04. He remained the Chairman of the British Committee of the Congress from July 1889 until his death.