Wills was the second son of William Wills, JP, of Edgbaston, Birmingham, and of his wife Sarah Wills, a daughter of Jeremiah Ridout. He was educated at a school in Edgbaston and at University College London, where he held exhibitions and scholarships in Mathematics, Classics and Law, graduating BA in 1849 and LLB in 1851.
Wills became a barrister from Middle Temple in 1851 and was appointed Queen's Counsel in 1872. He was first Recorder of Sheffield, 1881–84; a Judge of the Queen's and King's Bench Division of the High Court of Justice, 1884–1905, President of the Railway and Canal Commission, 1888–1893, and Treasurer of the Middle Temple, 1892-1893.
With his father William Wills, he co-authored An essay on the principles of circumstantial evidence : illustrated by numerous cases (1905), still a standard text often cited.
The ascent of the Wetterhorn by Wills and his party during 1854, which Wills mistakenly believed was the first (it was actually first climbed by the Grindelwald guides Melchior Bannholzer and Hans Jaun on 31 August 1844) is considered the beginning of the so-called golden age of alpinism. From that time on, climbing mountains as sport became fashionable.
He was the third President of the Alpine Club from 1863 to 1865.
A mountain refuge near Chamonix still bears his name.
- Wanderings among the High Alps
- The Eagle's Nest
- Wills on Circumstantial Evidence (ed.)
- Rendu's Théorie des Glaciers de la Savioe (translation)
In 1854 Wills married Lucy, daughter of George Martineau. She died in 1860, and in 1861 he married Bertha, daughter of Thomas Lombe Taylor, of Starston, Norfolk. His second wife died in 1906. He had three sons and two daughters.
- WILLS, Rt Hon. Sir Alfred at Who Was Who 1897-2006 online at Credo Reference (accessed 6 January 2008)
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- A good explanation of "An essay on the principles of circumstantial evidence" and its importance
- Refuge Alfred Wills
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