He was the son of James Wright, a Methodist Minister, and Matilda Whitaker, a tailor's daughter. He spent his early years in various parts of England with his father. In 1861, according to the census of that year, he was a printer in Ripon. Between 1866-1868, he was a Methodist preacher himself, but retired due to ill-health.
On the death of his father in 1870, the family emigrated to Toronto, Canada. Wright then travelled to Philadelphia, where he met and married Anna Edith Weightman in 1878. Wright made a fortune by promoting silver-mining companies in Leadville, Colorado and Lake Valley, New Mexico, although none of the companies made money for the unfortunate shareholders.
Wright returned to England, and promoted a multitude of Australian and Canadian mining companies on the London market.
In 1890 Wright purchased an estate named Lea Park in Haslemere, Surrey and the adjacent South Park Farm from the Earl of Derby, which included the Lordship of the Manor and control of Hindhead Common and the Devil's Punch Bowl. Whitaker Wright began to develop his new properties as a single estate named Witley Park and his wide-ranging landscaping works raised local concerns regarding the impact they were having on the natural landscape.
Wright’s financial empire crashed in December 1900. On 26 January 1904, Wright was convicted of fraud at the Royal Courts of Justice and given a seven year prison sentence. He committed suicide immediately afterward. He is buried in the cemetery at Witley.
Following his death, his estate was divided into lots for sale, and funds raised locally enabled the purchase of Hindhead Common, which was transferred to the National Trust. He was popularized along with his fictional great-grandson in a 2006 episode of Hustle.