William James McWilliams was born at Bream Creek, near Sorell, Tasmania, on 12 Oct 1856, the youngest son of Thomas Cole McWilliams and Eliza Caldwell. He had two brothers and two sisters: Robert George, born 1844; Thomas, 1847; Frances Jane, 1859 and Margaret Annie, 1862.
William was educated in Hobart and became a journalist with the Tasmanian Mail and then The Examiner in Launceston. At the age of 27 he became editor of The Daily Telegraph in Launceston. He was elected to the House of Assembly for Ringarooma in 1893. On 19 Oct of that year at Christ Church, South Yarra, Melbourne, he married Josephine Fullerton, nee Hardy, widow of Ernest Thomas James Fullerton who had died in 1888. They had three children: Horace Gordon Roy, born 29 Jun 1894; Vera Josephine, 26 Jan 1896 and Winifred Grace, 11 Apr 1899.
He bought the Hobart based Tasmanian News in 1896 and stood for the House of Assembly seat of Glenorchy but was defeated. He won the Federal seat of Franklin in 1903 which he held until 1922 and again in 1928-29. He caught a chill while campaigning in the 1929 election and died on 22 Oct within hours of the declaration of the poll, which he won.
William was active on several boards, committees and commissions. He was said to be '... a man of independent mind and political skill with considerable communication abilities.' (ADB - online edition)