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Australian Dictionary of Biography

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Moses, John (Jack) (1861–1945)

by Martha Rutledge

This article was published in Australian Dictionary of Biography, Supplementary Volume, (MUP), 2005

John (Jack) Moses (1861-1945), commercial traveller and bush troubadour, was born on 12 January 1861 at George Street, Sydney, son of John Moses, a London-born storekeeper of Jewish ancestry, and his second wife Mary Ann, née Shea, who was native-born. As a small boy Jack used to drive the family cow up through the streets from the Haymarket to graze in Hyde Park. He spent most of his working life as a salesman in wine and whisky. Based in Sydney, from about 1888 he travelled widely, following the agricultural show circuit of New South Wales and other colonies as a salesman for city wine merchants. At the Presbyterian manse, Ashfield, on 18 June 1900 he married 23-year-old Lucy Florence Nightingale (d.1932).

A popular reciter and teller of yarns at smoke concerts, Moses was everywhere welcomed, largely because of his 'unfailing good nature', and 'unquenchable cheerfulness and optimism'. In Hobart in the 1900s Frank Morton heard him 'reciting bush-verse better than I had heard any other man recite it before. It was ''Saltbush Bill"'. The Bulletin Book of Humorous Verse and Recitations (1920) was dedicated to him. One of his favourite authors was Henry Lawson who in the poem 'Joseph's Dreams and Reuben's Brethren' (1909) referred to him: 'My best friend was a Yid'. Moses recalled their friendship in Henry Lawson by His Mates (Sydney, 1931). In 1925 the secretary of the Royal Agricultural Society of New South Wales organized a luncheon for him at which he was presented with a cheque for 'a substantial amount'. Later Moses was patron of the Showmen's Guild of Australasia.

For many years Jack Moses contributed to the Bulletin, the Sydney Mail, Smith's Weekly and other journals. He published Beyond the City Gates (Sydney, 1923), a volume of sketches and bush verse 'rich in quiet chuckles and friendly reminiscences'. The book included 'Nine Miles from Gundagai', his well-known version of the teamsters' song; his refrain 'the dog sits on the tucker box' inspired the bronze statue by F. P. Rusconi which was unveiled at the teamsters' camping place, five miles (8 km) outside Gundagai, by Prime Minister J. A. Lyons on 28 November 1932. Moses's mistaken mileage has caused continuing confusion. Occasionally he wrote in a more serious vein: his 'Lock the Lachlan', a plea for water conservation, also appeared in the book. A second collection, Nine Miles from Gundagai, came out in 1938; Moses gave the proceeds of both books to the Australian Red Cross Society during World War II.

J. R. Tyrrell thought he 'was very much like a happy leprechaun . . . and a kinder-hearted little chap or a more enthusiastic barracker for his native Australia never existed'. He loved giving presents; he sometimes slipped a complimentary copy of one of his books into a case of wine for a client, and kept Lawson supplied with hats. Although a member of the 'Bondi Icebergs'—who regularly swam all the year round—he never went in, to which he attributed his longevity.

Towards the end of his life Moses lived in the Hotel Arcadia, Pitt Street, Sydney. He was so pleased with the cartoonist John Frith's depiction of him for the Bulletin as his own 'dog on the tuckerbox' that he had the drawing done 'as one of the bundle of postcards he always carried in his pockets'. Still scribbling rhymes shortly before his death, he claimed to be 'the last of the bush troubadours'. Moses died on 10 July 1945 in Royal Prince Alfred Hospital, Camperdown, and was buried with Anglican rites in South Head cemetery. His son survived him.

Select Bibliography

  • J. R. Tyrrell, Old Books, Old Friends, Old Sydney (Syd, 1952)
  • Sydney Morning Herald, 15 Apr 1925, p 13, 11 July 1945, p 2
  • Gundagai Independent, 1 Dec 1932, p 1, 12 July 1945, p 1, 16 July 1945, p 3
  • Bulletin, 18 July 1945, p 9.

Citation details

Martha Rutledge, 'Moses, John (Jack) (1861–1945)', Australian Dictionary of Biography, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University,, published first in hardcopy 2005, accessed online 31 October 2020.

This article was first published in hardcopy in Australian Dictionary of Biography, Supplementary Volume, (MUP), 2005

View the front pages for the Supplementary Volume

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