Born on the Isle of Man, Wilks moved to India with the East India company in 1781 and was commissioned into the Madras army in 1782. During his time in India he progressed through the ranks, becoming private secretary to Edward, second Baron Clive. In 1808 poor health forced him to leave India. On 20 November 1812 Wilks was appointed governor of St Helena, which was still under the control of the East India company. Although Wilks was governor of St Helena when Napoleon Bonaparte arrived on the island in October 1815, he was not responsible for him. He did however meet Bonaparte and they discussed, through an interpreter, subjects such as chemistry and India. Wilks was replaced on St Helena by Sir Hudson Lowe and returned to England in 1816, retiring from the East India company in 1818.