In June 1877, Oscar Wilde wrote to his friend Reginald ‘Kitten’ Harding expressing his sorrow at the unexpected death of a cousin. This ‘cousin’ was Wilde’s half-brother, Dr. Henry Wilson, one of three children born to his father, William, before his marriage to Jane Elgee. Each one of these children, a son and two daughters, was acknowledged privately by their father and supported by him.
Henry Wilson, who was thirteen at the time of his father’s wedding, was commonly passed off as his nephew. Yet, Wilde took a keen interest in his eldest son’s progress, paying for his education and bringing him into St. Mark’s Ophthalmic Hospital, the hospital he had founded, to work alongside him until he succeeded him as senior surgeon.
Wilson’s death came as a dreadful shock to his family. Just four days earlier, Oscar had attended a dinner party he hosted and had attested that his half-brother seemed in perfect health. Wilson had fallen ill that evening, an illness that Oscar attributed to a chill he had caught while out riding.
Despite the best efforts of six colleagues who remained with him during his final days, Henry Wilson died of pneumonia on 13 June 1877. He was thirty-nine years old and had never married. An obituary in the Dublin Journal of Medical Science described Wilson as being ‘under the guardianship of his relative Sir William Wilde’, and eulogised him as a learned and popular man with a ‘kindly and cheerful manner’ and a ‘genial nature’.
Willie and Oscar Wilde were chief mourners at Wilson’s funeral and fully expected to be the main beneficiaries of his will. Instead, he bequeathed £8,000, subject to a life interest granted to two unnamed female relatives, to St. Mark’s Ophthalmic Hospital.
‘In Memoriam Henry Wilson’ Dublin Journal of Medical Science, Volume 64, Issue 1, 2 July 1877, pp.98-100