He was educated at Oriel College, Oxford, taking a double first in 1823.
In 1826, he was chosen fellow of Oriel and was ordained, among his friends and colleagues being Newman, Pusey and Keble. Foreign a few years he was one of the tutors at Oriel. The provost Edward Hawkins disliked his religious views, and in 1831 Wilberforce resigned and left Oxford.
In 1832 he obtained the living of East Farleigh, Kent, which in 1840 he exchanged for that of Burton Agnes, near Hull.
In 1841, he was appointed archdeacon of the East Riding of Yorkshire. About this time Wilberforce became close with Henry Manning, and they exchanged many letters on theological and ecclesiastical questions.
He was preparing for his ordination when he died at Albano on 3 February 1857. He is buried in Rome at the Basilica of Santa Maria sopra Minerva, near the Pantheon.
His tomb is situated just outside the right transept of the church.
He was survived by two sons, William Francis Wilberforce (1833–1905), Vicar of Brodsworth, and Edward Wilberforce (1834–1914), who became one of the masters of the Supreme Court of Judicature. Edward"s son Lionel Robert Wilberforce (1861–1944) was in 1900 appointed professor of physics in the University of Liverpool, and his other children were: Sir Herbert William Wrangham Wilberforce, Barrister (1864–1941) Alexander (Alex) Basil Edward Wilberforce (1867–1902) Evelyn Agnes Fannie Wilberforce (1872–1954).