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Frederick Augustus Packer (1839–1902)

by R. L. Wettenhall

This article was published:

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Frederick Packer, by J. W. Beattie, n.d.

Frederick Packer, by J. W. Beattie, n.d.

State Library of Tasmania, U617910

Frederick Augustus Gow Packer (1839-1902), musician and civil servant, was born in Reading, England, eldest of twelve children of Frederick Alexander Packer, organist of Reading Abbey and an associate of the Royal Academy of Music, and his wife Augusta, also of that academy, daughter of the composer Nathaniel Gow and granddaughter of Neil Gow, described as Scotland's 'national musician'. Instructed by his parents, Packer sang and played the organ as a boy, gaining presentations to the choirs of St George's Chapel, Windsor, and the Chapel Royal, St James.

In 1852 the family migrated to Hobart Town. They settled at New Town and soon became prominent in the musical life of the colony. Packer followed his father not only as organist of St David's Cathedral, Hobart, but also as a teacher of music and as a composer who attained some eminence beyond the colony. The organ in the Hobart Town Hall was procured mainly through his efforts, as a result of which he became honorary city organist. Some of his songs became long-running hits in nineteenth-century Australia: he was called on to compose the Ode of Welcome and to conduct royal concerts when the Duke of Edinburgh visited Australia; he composed commemorative pieces for science congresses and colonial exhibitions; his comedy operas had successful seasons; he was also renowned as a skilled pianist and a most sympathetic accompanist. On retiring from his official position he was encouraged by musical publishers to visit England to avail himself of the wider scope for publishing his compositions there. Other members of Packer's family also distinguished themselves in music, including his uncle, Charles Sandys Packer, with whom he has sometimes been confused.

Packer was first appointed to the colonial civil service as chief operator in the telegraph office in 1859. After a short time as landing-waiter in the Customs Department in Launceston, he returned in 1862 to Hobart, where he served as clerk in several departments. He became chief clerk in the telegraph department in 1866 and superintendent of telegraphs in 1873. In 1878 he moved to the House of Assembly as assistant clerk and librarian, and was clerk of the House from 1882 till his retirement in 1894. He was twice married in Hobart: first, on 1 March 1869 to Marianne Chamberlain; and second, on 22 November 1890 to Clarice Octavia Allison. Packer moved in 1895 to Sydney and after long illness in the Parramatta Asylum died on 1 August 1902.

Several of his brothers became civil servants in Tasmania and Queensland, and two rose to permanent headships: in the Tasmanian Treasury and Public Works Departments. Sir Frank Packer (1906-74) of Consolidated Press, Sydney, was a grandnephew. The Tasmanian State Library has the scores of many of Packer's songs, both religious and secular.

Select Bibliography

  • Tasmanian Mail, 11 May 1895
  • Mercury (Hobart), 2 Aug 1902.

Additional Resources

Citation details

R. L. Wettenhall, 'Packer, Frederick Augustus (1839–1902)', Australian Dictionary of Biography, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University,, published first in hardcopy 1974, accessed online 18 April 2024.

This article was published in hardcopy in Australian Dictionary of Biography, Volume 5, (Melbourne University Press), 1974

View the front pages for Volume 5

© Copyright Australian Dictionary of Biography, 2006-2024

Frederick Packer, by J. W. Beattie, n.d.

Frederick Packer, by J. W. Beattie, n.d.

State Library of Tasmania, U617910

Life Summary [details]


Reading, Berkshire, England


1 August, 1902 (aged ~ 63)
Parramatta, Sydney, New South Wales, Australia

Cause of Death


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