Australian Dictionary of Biography

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Moir, John Kinmont (Jack) (1893–1958)

by John Arnold

This article was published in Australian Dictionary of Biography, Volume 15, (MUP), 2000

John Kinmont Moir (1893-1958), by unknown photographer

John Kinmont Moir (1893-1958), by unknown photographer

National Library of Australia

John Kinmont (Jack) Moir (1893-1958), book-collector and literary patron, was born on 24 November 1893 at Normanton, Queensland, son of James Alexander Moir, a Scottish-born station-manager, and his wife Olive Adelaide, née Ferguson, who came from New South Wales. The family moved to Melbourne about 1902 when his father was appointed managing agent for a firm with large pastoral holdings. They moved again when James took over as manager of a station at Wellington, New South Wales. Educated at state schools and by private tutors, Jack worked as a jackeroo. From 1912 he was employed as a bookkeeper in southern New South Wales, first with (F. A.) Wright, Heaton & Co. Ltd and then with McCulloch & Co. Ltd at Albury. On 18 January 1916 he married Constance Ruby Tratt with Anglican rites at Christ Church, South Yarra, Melbourne; they were divorced in 1930. He married Myrtle Elizabeth Green on 24 January 1931 at the Presbyterian Church, Ascot Vale; this marriage also ended in divorce.

By 1927 Moir was employed in Melbourne as an accountant by Bon Marché Ltd; eight years later he became credit manager for its retail store, Payne's Bon Marché Pty Ltd, in Bourke Street. In the early 1940s his secretary and assistant was the novelist Doris Kerr. Moir lived alone, cultivating the image of a lifelong bachelor. About 1945 he bought as a home a disused pawnbroker's shop at 474 Bridge Road, Richmond. His willingness to open his house and library—described by a contemporary as 'a veritable Aladdin's cave'—to researchers and students was legendary.

One of the twelve founders of the Bread and Cheese Club in June 1938, Moir was appointed its knight grand cheese. He remained president until 1950, and was subsequently made a life-member and named the club's Oknirrabata ('wise old man', in the Arrernte language). He was also an energetic member of most Melbourne literary and historical societies. In 1939 he had donated the Field Naturalists Club of Victoria's Australian Natural History medallion, which was awarded annually at his expense. 'J.K.M.', as he was affectionately known among the Bread and Cheesers, was not popular with those on the left, especially during the Cold War years of the early 1950s: his avowedly anti-communist views led him to lobby against Commonwealth Literary Fund grants to known left-wing writers, and he was an executive-member of the Australian Committee of the Congress for Cultural Freedom.

Funding his book-collecting passion by astute investments, Moir attempted to acquire every novel or book of verse by an Australian author. He also collected photographs of literary figures, corresponded with authors, and subscribed to a press-cuttings service on Australian books and writing. An accumulator of books rather than a reader of them, he was a prolific letter-writer who saw his role as that of a proponent and publicist for Australian literature. Judah Waten once mockingly described him as 'the Governor-General of Letters', but the appellation was apt.

In 1952 Moir was appointed O.B.E. He donated (1954 and 1957) his collection of over ten thousand items to the Public Library of Victoria. In 1957 he retired from Payne's Bon Marché due to ill health. Survived by the daughter of his first marriage, he died of coronary vascular disease on 28 June 1958 at Elsternwick and was cremated with Methodist forms.

Select Bibliography

  • Bohemia, Apr 1939, Aug 1958
  • People (Sydney), 23 Apr 1952
  • J. Arnold, 'An Extraordinary Man: John Kinmont Moir', La Trobe Library Journal, 12, nos 47-48, 1991, p 100
  • Argus, 20 June 1952, 'Weekend Magazine'
  • Age (Melbourne), 24 Apr 1954
  • Moir collection (State Library of Victoria).

Related Entries in NCB Sites

Citation details

John Arnold, 'Moir, John Kinmont (Jack) (1893–1958)', Australian Dictionary of Biography, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University, http://adb.anu.edu.au/biography/moir-john-kinmont-jack-11143/text19847, published first in hardcopy 2000, accessed online 25 November 2017.

This article was first published in hardcopy in Australian Dictionary of Biography, Volume 15, (MUP), 2000

View the front pages for Volume 15

© Copyright Australian Dictionary of Biography, 2006-2017

John Kinmont Moir (1893-1958), by unknown photographer

John Kinmont Moir (1893-1958), by unknown photographer

National Library of Australia