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Moore, George Fletcher (1798–1886)

by Alfred H. Chate

This article was published in Australian Dictionary of Biography, Volume 2, (MUP), 1967

George Fletcher Moore (1798-1886), lawyer, landed proprietor and diarist, was born on 10 December 1798 in Bond's Glen, Donemana, County Tyrone, Ireland, the second son of Joseph Moore and his wife Anne, née Fletcher. He was educated at Foyle College, Londonderry, and at Trinity College, Dublin (LL.B., 1820). After being called to the Irish Bar he practised for six years in the north-west circuit. His application for a legal position in the proposed Swan River settlement was refused by the Colonial Office, which felt that the governor should be free to make his own recommendations but gave him a letter to (Sir) James Stirling. Armed with this letter and another from his Irish legal colleagues, Moore made his own way to the colony in the brig Cleopatra. Accompanied by four servants he landed at Fremantle in October 1830 and obtained a grant, which he called Millendon, on the Upper Swan.

Farming gradually displaced his legal interests. He managed to buy 34 merinos and 10 lambs in 1832, and four years later he had 800 fine-woolled sheep and the lease of a farm at York. By 1884 he owned 24,000 acres (9713 ha) of land, including valuable town allotments. From the time of his arrival he kept a journal and wrote lively and informative letters to his friends. These were later published as Extracts from the Letters and Journals of George Fletcher Moore, Esq., now Filling a Judicial Office at the Swan River Settlement, edited by M. Doyle (London, 1834), and Diary of Ten Years Eventful Life of an Early Settler in Western Australia … (London, 1884). He revealed the difficulties encountered in developing his property, labour problems, the frequent food shortages and inflated prices. Many discouraged settlers left the colony, but Moore felt these were temporary reverses and refused to be depressed. He joined the Agricultural and Horticultural Society formed on 16 July 1831 and for a while was its secretary. Next September he attended the governor's first big ball, writing a song for the occasion and singing it during the evening.

Less than a month after his arrival Moore accompanied the colonial secretary and party in search of Aboriginals concerned in a robbery. His sympathetic concern for the Aboriginals grew as he learned their language and listened to their stories, though 'he wished sadly that they would not steal his pigs'. He published A Descriptive Vocabulary of the Language in Common Use Amongst the Aborigines of Western Australia, with Copious Meanings, Embodying Much Interesting Information Regarding the Habits, Manners and Customs of the Natives and the Natural History of the Country (London, 1842), and Evidences of an Inland Sea Collected from the Natives of the Swan River Settlement (Dublin, 1837).

Moore's observant nature and keen interest in the colony's progress found still another outlet for his abounding energy in exploration. He traced the course of the Swan River to its junction with the Avon. In 1831 he accompanied Ensign Dale when the York district was discovered. In 1835 Moore went northwards and in May 1836 discovered the river named after him. Later in the same year, with the colonial secretary, Peter Broun, and George Leake, he found grazing and agricultural land east and north of Northam. As a result of Lieutenant George Grey's reports of his 1839 expedition Moore was sent to examine the coastal district round Champion Bay and Point Moore (also named after him). His report was favourable but it was not till a more intensive search by the brothers Gregory in 1846 that this rich district began development. Moore also visited Houtman Abrolhos in 1839.

On 10 February 1832 the colony's first legislative ordinance (2 Wm IV, no 1) established a civil court. Moore was sworn in as commissioner on 17 February 1832. Before this William Mackie had become chairman of Quarter Sessions in 1830 and advocate-general in 1832. However, in 1834 the Colonial Office instructed the governor to combine the offices of chairman of Quarter Sessions and civil court commissioner in the person of Mackie. Moore was then appointed advocate-general. By virtue of this office he became an early member of the Legislative and Executive Councils and did very useful work as parliamentary draftsman. Although he also had the right to engage in private practice, there is no record of his having done so. He did, however, act as commissioner of works, roads and bridges, and with Surveyor-General John Roe he waded among the 'Flats' of Perth waters in December 1834 and again early in 1838, probing about with sticks. Together they were responsible for determining the site of the original Perth Causeway across the 'Flats' to the south bank of the river.

In 1840 Moore was warmly recommended to the Colonial Office by Governor John Hutt for leave to return to Ireland to see his ageing father. On his return he continued in office without interruption until 1846, when Governor Hutt was succeeded by Lieutenant-Colonel Andrew Clarke. Peter Broun, the colonial secretary, having failed in health, Moore was appointed to act for him in July 1846 and, after Broun's death in November, he discharged the duties of colonial secretary as well as his own legal duties till a successor was appointed. On 29 October 1846 Moore married Fanny Mary Jane Jackson (1814-1863), the stepdaughter of Governor Clarke. The next few months were particularly onerous for Moore and for Captain Frederick Irwin, who acted as governor because of Clarke's illness which ended in his death in 1847. In 1852 Moore was again granted leave to visit his father. At the Colonial Office he discovered a misunderstanding over his absentee pay and a coolness towards his application for an extension of leave. He thereupon resigned and did not return to the colony; thus ended a distinguished public career.

Moore's later years were saddened by the chronic indisposition of his wife. On 16 June 1859 he wrote, 'I fear my chance of seeing Millendon again is feeble and remote'. After his wife's death on 24 October 1863, he lived in London and twenty years later wrote of his 'isolated unfriended position. Even in this great city I am almost alone, in my eighty-fifth year'. He died at Kensington on 30 December 1886.

Moore was a religious man of strong convictions and upheld the custom of holding church services on his Swan estate. In 1838 he had been appointed one of the trustees of Church of England property, including burial grounds; they also undertook the building of a permanent church in Perth. He was also a supporter of All Saints' Church, Upper Swan, on whose walls is a memorial tablet to him.

Select Bibliography

  • W. S. Ferguson, George Fletcher Moore: An Ulster Pioneer in Western Australia (State Library of Western Australia)
  • P. U. Henn, Genealogical notes (State Library of Western Australia)
  • G. F. Moore, letters and journals (State Library of Western Australia)
  • CO 323/134.

Citation details

Alfred H. Chate, 'Moore, George Fletcher (1798–1886)', Australian Dictionary of Biography, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University, http://adb.anu.edu.au/biography/moore-george-fletcher-2474/text3321, published first in hardcopy 1967, accessed online 28 November 2014.

This article was first published in hardcopy in Australian Dictionary of Biography, Volume 2, (MUP), 1967

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