After a studying piano, singing, and composition at the Royal Academy of Music, London, and having his abilities reputedly recognised by composers such as Mendelssohn, Charles S Packer was sentenced to life transportation for forgery in 1839. He arrived the following year at Norfolk Island. Transferred to Hobart Town in 1844, he was allowed to take pupils and began to appear in concerts as a pianist and vocalist. He received a conditional pardon in 1850, married in 1852, and settled in Sydney in 1853.
For the next 30 years, Packer made frequent appearances as an organist and conductor in concerts and festivals in Sydney, describing himself as a professor of music. The City of Sydney Polka, one of his earliest surviving compositions, was published in 1854. He also wrote a number of ballads. One, Little Nell, was sung by Anna Bishop. In 1855 he toured extensively with Hungarian violinist Miska Hauser. He was the organist for the music festival that marked the opening of the University of Sydney Great Hall in 1859. In the same year he became the conductor of operatic performances at the Prince of Wales Theatre. He completed and presented his magnum opus, an oratorio entitled Crown of Thorns, or Despair, Penitence and Pardon, in 1863.
Packer was convicted for bigamy in December 1863 when the court found that he had means of knowing his first wife, whom he had married before his transportation, was alive. He composed sacred music in Darlinghurst Gaol and organised a choir for church services, refusing to conduct when murderer Henry Louis Bertrand entered the chapel in 1866. After his release in 1868 he continued teaching. He resurrected Crown of Thorns, and presented it at the Sydney International Exhibition of 1879-1880.
Packer's funeral took place with extravagant ceremonial. Numerous brass bands and a choir performed his compositions to a crowd of 6000. Packer was an uncle of Tasmanian musician Frederick A Packer.