Sir William Wedderburn was born in March 1838 in Edinburgh, Scotland. The Wedderburns of the Scottish Border were a family of great antiquity. In 1859 Weddeburn appeared for the Indian Civil Service examination.
He left for India in 1860 and began official duty at Dharwar as an Assistant Collector. He was appointed Acting Judicial Commissioner in Sind and Judge of the Sadar Court 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. His concern with these problems brought him in touch with the Indian National Congress.
After his retirement, Wedderburn threw his heart and soul into it. He presided over the fourth Congress held in Bombay in 1889. Meanwhile, after the death of his brother David, Sir William succeeded to the baronetcy in 1879.
He 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, 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.
He 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. 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 20 August 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. Wedderburn's main contribution to the promotion of national consciousness was his life - long labour on behalf of the Indian Reform Movement. The Montagu - Chelmsford Reforms were regarded by him as the crowning glory of his life's work.
“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