Born in Dublin on 18 June 1830, Palliser was the fourth of the eight sons of Lieutenant Colonel Wray Bury Palliser (1788–1862), of Derryluskan, County Tipperary, by his marriage to Anne Gledstanes, a daughter of John Gledstanes of Annesgift, County Tipperary. After Rugby School, he was educated first at Trinity College, Dublin, to which he was admitted in 1849, and next at Trinity Hall, Cambridge, where he matriculated in 1851. He later attended the Staff College at Sandhurst.
He was a brother of Captain John Palliser, a geographer and explorer.
Palliser was admitted a member of the Inner Temple in Jan 1854. In 1854, he was granted a patent for the invention of "improvements in projectiles for fire-arms and ordnance generally". He was then described as "William Palliser, of Comeragh in the county of Waterford, Esquire".
In April 1855 Palliser was commissioned as an ensign into the Rifle Brigade. He was promoted lieutenant on 1 August 1855 and in 1857 was appointed an Instructor of Musketry. He saw active service in the Crimean War after the fall of Sevastopol. He was transferred with the rank of Lieutenant to the 18th Light Dragoons in 1858, promoted captain in 1859 and major in 1864, before retiring from the regular British Army in 1871, after seven years on half-pay.
In 1870, he was one of two directors of The Land and Sea Telegraph Construction Company Ltd. as it applied to be wound up, the other being Augustus Anson VC MP. Palliser was then "of No. 126 Belgrave-road, Pimlico."
Palliser patented 21 ordnance-related inventions, including the armour-piercing Palliser shot. He designed the "Palliser conversion" technique which was used successfully to convert many of Britain's obsolescent but still serviceable smoothbore muzzle-loading guns into more modern rifled muzzle-loaders ("RML") in the late 1860s and the 1870s.
In November 1868, Palliser married Hanna Maria Perham (1843–1923), eldest daughter of George Perham. In 1880 he was living in Earl's Court Square, Kensington. He died in 1882 of heart disease and was survived by his wife and four children. He is buried in Brompton Cemetery, London.
- "House of Commons constituencies beginning with "T" (part 1)". Leigh Rayment's House of Commons pages. Retrieved 20 April 2009.
- "Palliser, William (PLSR851W)". A Cambridge Alumni Database. University of Cambridge.
- 'THE NEW MEMBERS OF PARLIAMENT - PALLISER, Sir W. (Taunton)' in The Times dated 2 April 1880, p. 9, col. B
- London Gazette, Issue 21581 of 11 August 1854, p. 2483 online
- London Gazette, Issue 21699 of 24 April 1855, p. 1575 online
- London Gazette, Issue 22004 of 22 May 1857, p. 1806 online
- London Gazette, Issue 22114 of 16 March 1858, p. 1455 online
- London Gazette, Issue 23645 of 16 August 1870, p. 3846 online
- Craig, F. W. S. (1989) . British parliamentary election results 1832–1885 (2nd ed.). Chichester: Parliamentary Research Services. p. 300. ISBN 0-900178-26-4.
- Residents at brompton.org
- Hansard 1803–2005: contributions in Parliament by William Palliser