Vincent Wallace (1812-65)
William Wallace was born in Colbeck Street, Waterford, on March 11,
1812. The great tragedian,
was born in the same house. Wallace's father was from Ballina, Co.
Mayo and was, at the time,
band-sergeant of the 29th Worcestershire Regiment that was then
stationed in the city of Waterford.
His mother, Elizabeth, was a local girl.
He had a younger brother named Wellington who was born in Ballina
in 1813 and a younger sister named Eliza born in 1814.
remarkable musical talents from an early age and these were developed
under the tuition of Otto Hamilton and John Ringwood, renowned teachers
of the time in Waterford. When only 7 years old he was able to play the clarinet as a
member of his father's band and his father allowed him to conduct the
band at the age of 12.
In 1830 he was appointed organist
(at the age of 18) in
the Thurles Catholic Cathedral and Professor of Music at the Ursuline
Convent in the town. At the
convent he met and fell in love with a boarder from Frascati, Blackrock,
Co. Dublin, named Isabella Kelly. Isabella
was a harpist of promise and is believed to have inspired the well-known
tune '''Tis the Harp in the Air'' in the opera
Despite the opposition
of her sister who was a nun at the convent, William married Isabella the
following year, while still under the age of 20. He became a Catholic and took the name of Vincent as a
tribute to his sister-in-law Sister Vincent. In later life he preferred
to be known by the name of Vincent.
In 1831 after his
marriage Wallace resigned from the posts in Thurles and returned to
Dublin where he took up
residence at No.10 South William Street.
He obtained the post of sub-leader in the Theatre Royal
Orchestra, but in September of the same year he was so impressed by the
playing of Paganini at the Dublin
Music Festival that he resolved to become a violin virtuoso
With a view to widening his horizons, but partly for health reasons
(probably because of over-work), Wallace left Europe three years later
at the age of 23 and did not return for ten years.
During this time he travelled extensively and had a remarkable
series of adventures. He
arrived first in Australia, (in Hobart, Tasmania—known then as Van
Diemen's Land) at the end of October 1835, and moved to Sydney in the
following January, where he apparently deserted his wife.
His expressed intention was to become a sheep-farmer, and he did,
in fact, help to stock a farm with the proceeds of one of his first
concerts - which included a flock of sheep from a wealthy Australian.
This venture, however, was a failure, and he soon abandoned this
idea for the more profitable musical life of Sydney.
His sister Eliza, who had accompanied them to Australia and was
an accomplished soprano, married a popular Australian singer named John
Bushelle. Wallace joined
her in a series of concerts. He also tried his hand at running a music shop and a music
school, but without success.
After incurring heavy
debts in Australia Wallace went to New Zealand where he indulged in
whale fishing, and also visited the Dutch East Indies and Madras. Among
his many adventures recorded is that of being captured by a savage
Maori tribe and being saved from their stew-pot only by the intervention
of the chief's daughter. He
is also reported to have spent a whole year in a camp of cannibals, the
only white man there. On
one occasion (in Simia) he had a narrow escape from a tiger which sprang
at him while he was riding a horse.
He was thrown to the ground but recovered in time to shoot the
animal. In India he
received high honours from native princes. Finding
his way to South America he travelled in Chile, Peru, the West Indies,
Jamaica, Cuba and Mexico. He
was Director of Music at the Italian Theatre in Mexico in 1841-42. Proceeding to the United States he performed as a violinist
in New York (where he became one of the founders of the New York
Philharmonic Society, and in Philadelphia, Baltimore and New Orleans.
Wallace returned to
Europe in 1844 and having made a tour of Germany and Holland he settled
in London for three years, being then in his mid-thirties.
His London concert debut was at Hanover Square Concert Rooms on
May 8, 1845, and there he met Hayward St. Leger, an old friend from the
Dublin Theatre Royal. St.
Leger recognized Wallace who was reported to have been wearing a large white hat with a very broad brim and a
complete suit of planter's nankeen, and to have been carrying a
shillelagh! St. Leger introduced Walllace to Edward Fitzball, the
dramatist, who provided him with the libretto of 'Maritana'.
After its successful production Wallace gave a concert in the
Rotunda, Dublin, on 9th February, 1846 and ‘Maritana’ was produced
in Dublin later that year. His
second opera '' Matilda of Hungary '' was produced in 1847.
Wallace met Berlioz. He was
commissioned to write an opera for the Paris Opera but he had to abandon
this plan because of threatened blindness. On specialist advice he left
again in 1848 and spent another three years touring in America.
He lost most of his money, however, through unwise investments in
piano manufacturing and in tobacco.
During this tour he formed a friendship with Helene Stoepel, a
distinguished American pianist that culminated in their marriage in
October, 1850. Although
Isabella was still alive, Wallace had fortified himself with counsel's
opinion that his first marriage was "ab initio" illegal, as at
the time he was under twenty and was '' bred up a Protestant!''
Subsequent to this
marriage Wallace returned to Europe.
His eyesight was again failing, but it improved after he had
spent some years in Germany and he took up the composition of opera
again. His second most
successful opera, Lurline, was produced in 1860 and was followed rapidly
by other operatic works. From
1854 onwards, however, he suffered a series of heart attacks, and his
health generally was failing rapidly in the early 1860's.
In 1864 he was ordered to take a holiday in the South of France.
On the way, he fell ill with dropsy and was laid up for some time
in Passy, Paris. Here he
had, as visitors, Rossini, Thalberg and Osborne (later Director of the
Royal Academy of Music, London.) He
died subsequently in a lonely chateau in the Pyrenees on October
12,1865, at the age of 53. His
body was brought to London and buried at Kensal Green cemetery, beside
the grave of Michael Balfe, eleven
days later before a vast gathering of musical celebrities.
had returned to Ireland from Australia and taught music in Dublin for
many years before she died, at the age of 87, in 1900. Their only son died as a brother in the Charterhouse in
England in 1909. Helene
Stoepel returned to New York where she died at the age of 58 in 1885.
Their two sons committed suicide in America. Wallace’s sister Eliza died in Sydney, in August 1879.
Operas: He composed ten operas, six of which were published:
(1845); Matilda of Hungary (1847); Lurline (1860); The Amber Witch
(1861); Love's Triumph (1862); Desert Flower (1863)
A bust of
Wallace was erected in Waterford in the 1990's. In 2002 this bust was
re-located to a position at the entrance to the Theatre Royal. In
2005 a financial services centre was erected in Waterford and named
Maritana Gate where there is a statue of Wallace in the atrium of the