Australian Dictionary of Biography

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William Henry Paling (1825–1895)

by Andrew D. McCredie

This article was published:

William Henry Paling (1825-1895), musician, merchant and philanthropist, was born on 1 September 1825 at Woerden, Netherlands, son of John Paling, pianoforte manufacturer. He was trained in music under Berthold Tours, a leading violin pedagogue, who favoured Paling as a pupil and made possible his appointment as violin teacher at the Academy in Rotterdam. In later advertisements he described himself as 'first violinist of the Royal Holland Academy' and as director of an academy of music in that country. He sailed for Sydney and arrived in 1853.

Paling attracted quick recognition as a music teacher and entrepreneur. He offered private tuition in both violin and piano, and was also a 'professor of music' at Springfield College, a ladies' boarding school founded at Darlinghurst by Lady Murray. From the same period dates the first W. H. Paling music warehouse at 83 Wynyard Square, 'an unpretentious place, built of timber and galvanized iron, and surrounded by an uneven wooden fence'. As composer he issued his 'Sydney Railway Waltz' to commemorate the inauguration of the Sydney to Parramatta railway on 26 September 1855. Later that year he appeared in concerts as soloist in the Beriot concerto and in association with Edouard Boulanger, Flora Harris, Sara Flower and the Sydney Philharmonic Society; the most favoured venue was the concert room of the Royal Hotel. In November Paling announced the opening of a 'New South Wales Academy of Music—arranged on a continental system'. It was established at 5 Bligh Street although the notices were issued from Paling's residence at 66 Macquarie Street. He also inaugurated a Quartette and Glee Club for Gentlemen Amateurs, and a society, Erudito Musica, which first met in January 1856. In that year he assumed exclusive direction of the Academy of Music, took charge of piano classes at the School of Arts, appeared as organist with the Sydney Choral Society and conducted a Philharmonic Society concert.

The favourable economy of the golden years generated demand for imported European pianofortes and local topical sheet music. Paling obtained an agency from European pianoforte manufacturers and his commercial enterprises rapidly brought him affluence and influence. They also enabled him to combine concert promotion with his philanthropic aspirations; among the most spectacular was a vocal and instrumental concert on 12 April 1858 to raise funds for victims of the Indian mutiny. Such successful fund-raising concerts, mostly on behalf of local institutions including the Bent Street Library in 1860, increasingly absorbed Paling's energies. His own compositions then reflected not only the taste for topical programme titles but also acknowledged the fascination of the popular European virtuoso repertory in such work as the 'Fantasia for Violin on themes from Bellini's Norma' in 1858.

In 1864 Paling went to Europe to obtain new instruments and sheet music for sale in the colony. On his return he advertised in the Sydney Morning Herald, 7 June 1865, that friends and the public were invited to inspect his large and varied 'selections of Pianofortes from the best makers … being guided by many years' experience respecting the most suitable instruments for the climate'. He went to Europe again in 1870-71 and in 1884-85 when he made contact with the Austrian musician-entrepreneur Pietro Marich, who joined the company as his personal secretary, became general manager in 1888 and managing director in 1895. Expanding business compelled Paling to seek larger premises than the original building in Wynyard Square. He acquired a site in Barrack Street, opened an extensive showroom at 352 George Street in 1875 and another in Ash Street in 1880. In 1883 he bought large premises at 356 George Street for £45,000 and reorganized the business as a limited liability company. In 1891 Paling moved to the company's present site at 338 George Street. He also established branches at Toowoomba in 1884, Brisbane in 1888 and Newcastle in 1892.

Paling's zest for civic and philanthropic activities won him many honorary public offices. He was made a justice of the peace in 1872 and regularly attended the bench in Sydney until unpaid justices of the peace were replaced by stipendiary magistrates. In 1879 he had become a founding director of the Mercantile Mutual Insurance Co. In 1880 he was elected a member of the Royal Society of New South Wales. He lived at Stanmore and was an alderman of Petersham Municipality in 1876-89 and mayor in 1881-82. In June 1886 he presented a clock for the tower of the local town hall, where it remained in service until the building was demolished in 1938. His far-sighted preoccupation with questions of sanitation, health and hospital accommodation culminated in his presentation to the colony on 23 April 1888 of his 450-acre (182 ha) model farm Grasmere at Camden, valued at £20,000, to be used as a hospital for convalescents and incurables; he also donated £10,000 for the erection of suitable buildings. A public committee led by Sir Henry Parkes raised a further £15,000 for equipment and development at the Carrington Convalescent Hospital on the site.

Paling made his last trip to Europe in 1892 and in November 1894 returned in failing health. He died at Stanmore on 27 August 1895 and was buried in the Waverley cemetery. His first wife Mary Anne, née Maney, whom he had married at Norwich, England, died on 27 September 1877 and was buried in the old Balmain cemetery. At 53 he married the widow Anne Lake, née Leeder; neither union had any issue. His estate was valued for probate at £208,563 and was mostly left to his three stepsons.

Paling's brother, Richard John, also migrated to Sydney. He moved to Melbourne and ran a music store and importing agency from 1857 to 1886. He became a partner in his brother's firm and returned to Sydney; he died at Bondi on 6 March 1914 leaving an estate of £36,500.

Select Bibliography

  • W. A. Orchard, Music in Australia (Melb, 1952)
  • E. Keane, Music for a Hundred Years (Syd, 1954).

Related Entries in NCB Sites

Citation details

Andrew D. McCredie, 'Paling, William Henry (1825–1895)', Australian Dictionary of Biography, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University,, published first in hardcopy 1974, accessed online 14 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

Life Summary [details]


1 September, 1825
Woerden, Netherlands


27 August, 1895 (aged 69)
Stanmore, Sydney, New South Wales, Australia

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