Wallace Brothers

Musicians / Composers

Sign on wall of Military Barracks Ballina.
Author's Personal Photo
Theatre Royal Dublin.
Bridge in London.
Sore for "Maritana."
Mr. Grieve'" sketch for Desert Flower".
W.V.Wallace bust outside Waterford Theatre
Wallace sculpture at Waterford Quay.

The talented Wallace brothers, Spenser Wellington and William Vincent of the North Mayo Military, the Royal 29th Regiment Ballina, Co. Mayo became world-famous for their musical compositions Spenser Wellington as a professor of music, orchestra leader, violinist, flautist, arranger and composer while older brother William was famed as a musical prodigy, pianist, violist plus composer.  William Vincent Wallace musical pieces ranged from popular home making music to highly difficult virtuoso works.  His operatic pieces of “Maritiana “and “Lurline” displayed a considerable ability in the creation of a dramatic sustained line. He may have been the first composer of note to have used the flattened second degree of the scale. [i]


Musical Family

William Vincent was born in Colbeck Street Waterford on11th March 1812 the eldest son of Spenser and Elizabeth (McKenna from Cork), as the regiment resided in the area at that time.  Spenser Wellington was born in Tuam, Co. Galway during 1814 they had two sisters Eliza and Susanna, plus another Susanna later.  They were grandchildren of Jacob Wallace and Margaret Lyons. The Wallace family lived in Ballina, Co. Mayo as their father was bandmaster of the North Mayo militia based in the town.  (The North Mayo Militia had it’s The Headquarters in the Market Square / Pearse Street area of Ballina, it was established in 1793.)  Jacob Wallace with both Thomas and Spenser joined the North Mayo Militia as private solders but participated in the musicians section at various locations. As his father was often transferred the children stayed in Mayo with their mother.  During March 1825 the two boys, William aged thirteen years and Wellington aged ten both joined the 29th Regiment at Kinsale.  Spenser later bought his sons out of the regiment for 20 pounds. The family moved to Dublin after their mother’s demise during 1827.  The Wallace family was fortunate in that they had the use of the Military Band’s instruments at their home from a young age. (Their father played all instruments in the band.)  By his teens William performed as a pianist and violinist at The Theatre Royal in Dublin.  He was the Leader of Anacreontic Society.  During 1830 he secured an appointment as church organist at the R.C. Cathedral Thurles.  He taught piano lessons at the Ursuline convent in the town where he met Isabella Kelly, they married during 1831 then settled in Dublin.  Wellington was a member of the orchestra at the Theatre Royal, Dublin as first violinist also he was engaged to play the bassoon and 3rd Flute at the Adelphi Theatre.  He married Caroline Green on November 4th 1841 she was a soprano, vocalist plus an actress.  He made his debut as pianist on May 3rd 1845 at Miss Marie Billington Howe’s concert at Hanover Square. [ii]


William emigrated with Isabella and son as free emigrants on The Rachel ex Liverpool in July 1835 to Hobart, Tasmania.  They were followed by Isabella (as Governess), his father with Wellington, his wife, with two children as bounty immigrants on The James Patterson.  The Wallace’s arrival in New South Wales was announced in The Sydney Gazette on 14th January 1836. William became known as “The Australian Paganini.”   The brother’s debut concert was held on June 1st of that year in the Royal Hotel Sydney, that also included their younger sister Eliza who performed three solo numbers, at a major music event in September 1836 at St. Mary’s Cathedral in Sydney also featuring “The Hallelujah Chorus” followed by a second such oratorio concert in late January / early February 1838 on the occasion of the 50th celebration of the colony. They also gave performances in Parramatta and Windsor. They opened Australia’s first music school on Bridge Street in Sydney.  [iii]


Following the breakup of his marriage William Wallace plus Eliza sailed from Sydney to New Zealand then onto Valparaiso, Chile, the West Indies, Jamaicia, Cuba then Mexico.  He was Director of Music at the Italian Theatre in Mexico from 1841 to 1842.  During 1842 they made their debut in New Orleans then moved on to Philadelphia in 1842, Boston in 1843 and finally on to New York in 1844 where Wallace performed as a Violinist plus formed The New York Philharmonic Society.   During 1854 William Wallace became an American citizen he married in October 1850 Helene Stoepel a distinguished American pianist.   The Wallace’s returned to Europe during 1844,  prior to settling in London, for three years he had toured in Germany and Holland.  He made his Concert debut at Hanover Square Concert Rooms on May 8th 1845.  On the 9th February 1846 he performed at a concert in the Rotunda in Dublin.  His opera Maritana was performed at Drury Lane, London in 1847. This was followed by performances in Dublin, Vienna and Austria.  He followed this work with “Matilda of Hungry” in 1857, his second opera, “Lurline” during 1960, The Amber Witch 1861, “Love’s Triumph”1862, plus “The Desert Flower” in 1863.  He toured in the U.S.  As William Wallace’s heart condition worsened (he had suffered a series of heart attacks from 1854 he was advised by his doctor in 1860’s to move to Paris from London. [iv]  He went to the Château de Haget Vieuzos France belonging to Helene’s sister Marie – Therese and her husband the Baron of Saintegame (his opera “Estralla” left unfinished.)  He died aged fifty – three years there during 1865.  William Wallace’s Epitaph reads “Music is an Art that knows no locality but Heaven.”   [v] 

William’s brother Spencer Wellington moved from Sydney to Geelong, Victoria where it was reported in the New South Wales Advertiser on March 1st 1836 that his performance of “Fantasia du Bravura” plus his use of the violin “exudes wonder and enthusiasm.”   During 1852 it was reported that “The Masterly manner in which Mr. Spenser Wellington conducts his musical department renders the Geelong Theatre second to none in the Colonies, in point of interest or none.”   He died on 15th August 1852 at Geelong.  [vi]    (It is unfortunate that no pictures of Spenser Wellington Wallace are available.)  


The New York Times tribute stated that William Wallace was the most popular composer, “He poured out the melodies of his soul, his smaller works may be counted in hundreds and songs and pianoforte pieces were constantly issuing from the press.”   In 1865 according to that same paper they published; “William Wallace was and is the most popular composer that ever lived amongst us.”    Spencer Wellington’s demise was reported on “as a considerable loss to the Musical circles of the Colonies.”   A pen-and-ink sketch to William Wallace, aged forty-two years was reproduced in the Illustrated London News  in November 1845 also a water-colour portrait by Henshaw during 1853 is in the National Gallery, Dublin.  William Wallace is mentioned in several books etc including; Catherine Mackerras published an article on Wallace in 1967 the Australian Dictionary of Biography, Vol. 2. Plus “William Vincent Wallace – A Memorial”  1912 W.H. Grattan Flood. [vii] “Wallace, (William) Vincent’ in the Encyclopedia of Music in Ireland, edited by Harry White & Barra Boydell 2013 UCD Press pgs 1039 – 1040, [viii]  “William Vincent Wallace – A Vagabond Composer” 1994 Robert Phelan Celtic Publishers Waterford, [ix]  plus “William Vincent Wallace Composer, Virtuoso & Adventurer” 2012 Andrew Lamb Fullers Wood Press West Byfleet Surray. [x]   A bust of William Wallace was erected outside Waterford’s Theatre Royal during the 1990’s.  A Memorial service was held at the grave site of William Wallace in London’s Kensal Green Cemetery by Sydney born Conductor Richard Barrymore in 2007 plus Joan Sutherland made a noted recording of the “Maritiana” aria the “Senses that are the Brightest.”  [xi]  During 2005 a Financial services centre, named Maritana Gate was erected in Waterford in his honour, there is a statue of him in the atrium of the building. [xii] The music room in the Bishop’s Palace is dedicated to Wallace, the Friends of Wallace of Waterford erected a new headstone on his grave as it suffered a bad deterioration.   A special Medallion was commissioned of Wallace by the British Mint by Artist Weir (a side view cameo of his head) with five copies struck (then the dye destroyed) they were presented to The Tsar of Russia, the Emperor of Austria plus the King of Prussia with one copy held in Buckingham Palace. W. V. Wallce kept one himself then later donated it to his Publishers Wm. Hall and Sons in New York. [xiii]   On the 15th October 2012 Dublin City hosted a day of musical recitals with talks in celebration of Wallace’s life.  It tied in with a three programmed radio documentary series; “The Road to Maritiana” on R.T.E.’s lyric f m.  This event also coincided with the launch of a facsimile of a rare album, for four hands written by Wallace and Hélène Stopel (brother of composer Robert) published while they lived in the U.S. The 14 minute piece was called “Grand duo pour deux pianos sur L’Opera d’ Halevy L’ éclair.”   On the 22nd September 2012 A Gala Concert with Festival Exhibitions, Talks, plus Recitals occurred on the Bi – Centenary of Wallace in Ballina.  [xiv]   On October 16th 2015 a Plaque was erected to honour William plus Eliza Wallace’s memory in Ballina’s Military Barracks by the local Wallace Society.

See this site for his compositions;   www.pdmusic.org

[i] www.allmusic.com

[ii] Reilly, Terry (2012), Amazing Mayo Stories, Yew Plain Publishing, Ballina, Co Mayo.

[iii] Reilly, Terry (2012), Amazing Mayo Stories, Yew Plain Publishing, Ballina, Co Mayo.

[iv] www.waterfordireland.com

[v] Reilly, Terry (2012), Amazing Mayo Stories, Yew Plain Publishing, Ballina, Co Mayo.

[vi] Reilly, Terry (2012), Amazing Mayo Stories, Yew Plain Publishing, Ballina, Co Mayo.

[vii] www.adb.edu.au

[viii] www.ucdpress.ie

[ix] www.victorianoperanorthwest.org

[x] www.pdmusic.org

[xi] www.dictionaryofsydney.org

[xii] www.waterfordireland.com

[xiii] www.study.net.doc

[xiv] www.vctorianoperanorthwest.org

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