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Packer, Charles Sandys (Stuart Shipley) (1810–1883)

by E. J. Lea-Scarlett

This article was published in Australian Dictionary of Biography, Volume 5, (MUP), 1974

Charles Sandys (Stuart Shipley) Packer (1810-1883), musician, was born at Reading, Berkshire, England, son of Charles Packer and his wife Amelia, née Sandys. He was early enrolled at the Royal Academy of Music, London, where he studied composition, pianoforte and singing. He claimed that as a youth he had composed an opera to a libretto by Mary Russell Mitford and played piano duets with Queen Adelaide. His pupils included the daughters of Sir Robert Peel. At Middlesex on 19 May 1836 he married Eleanor Mary Theresa Grogan.

On 4 February 1839 Packer was sentenced to life transportation for forgery and in May 1840 arrived at Norfolk Island in the Mangles. Transferred to Hobart Town in September 1844, he was allowed to take pupils while still assigned and soon began to appear in concerts as a pianist and vocalist. After a conditional pardon in 1850 he leased a theatre. At Hobart on 21 August 1852 he went through a clandestine marriage ceremony with Mary Frances Moore, daughter of the proprietor of the Hobart Town Guardian, and the union was advertised a fortnight later after a second ceremony by a Roman Catholic priest had been halted. Soon afterwards he moved to Sydney where one of his compositions, The City of Sydney Polka, was published in 1854.

Critics assessed Packer as Sydney's most talented resident musician after he had appeared as organist to the Vocal Harmonic Society and as conductor in a brief opera season in 1859. His success appeared to be assured by the production on 9 April 1863 of the first part of an oratorio, the Crown of Thorns, or Despair, Penitence and Pardon. It was presented complete on 15 October but the inclusion of a vocal part for Christ was criticized and not repeated until 14 February 1880 as part of the musical programme of the Sydney International Exhibition.

Meanwhile Packer's fortunes were reversed when he was tried for bigamy. His defence counsel R. M. Isaacs sought to subpoena Governor Young, who claimed protection of the court. On 22 December 1863 he was sentenced to five years' hard labour. His appeal was dismissed when the Full Court found his first marriage proved and that he had the means of knowing his wife was alive. In Darlinghurst gaol he composed sacred music and organized a choir for church services, but when the murderer Henry Louis Bertrand entered the chapel in 1866 Packer refused to conduct the singing. On his release he resumed teaching and conducted the revival of the Crown of Thorns but returns from his work and teaching on a borrowed piano were meagre and he was soon impoverished. Although his musical compositions were said to be voluminous, few were published apart from the Crown of Thorns and in 1883 his setting of a New South Wales anthem, Loyalty! or God Save our Queen.

Packer died from lung congestion on 13 July and was buried in Waverley cemetery after an impressive ceremony by brass bands and a choir performing two of his compositions before a crowd estimated at 6000. He was survived by three daughters by Mary Frances Moore and by two sons and a daughter by Frances Mary Little, with whom he had formed a liaison in 1862. His nephew, Frederick Packer, migrated to Tasmania.

Packer failed to form any lasting associations with musical organizations and his contribution to Australian music was negligible. His marital affairs kept him out of polite society and his attractive personality made him only an object of pity. His published works show that as a composer he was capable of writing satisfactorily in the clichés of the period.

Select Bibliography

  • F. C. Brewer, The Drama and Music in New South Wales (Syd, 1892)
  • Cases at law, Supreme Court Reports, 3 (1864), p 40
  • Sydney Morning Herald, 22 Dec 1863
  • Illustrated Sydney News, 4 Aug 1883
  • CO 201/530/24.

Citation details

E. J. Lea-Scarlett, 'Packer, Charles Sandys (Stuart Shipley) (1810–1883)', Australian Dictionary of Biography, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University, http://adb.anu.edu.au/biography/packer-charles-sandys-stuart-shipley-4353/text7071, published first in hardcopy 1974, accessed online 1 September 2016.

This article was first published in hardcopy in Australian Dictionary of Biography, Volume 5, (MUP), 1974

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