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Nicholas Moore (1862–1941)

by Frank Cain

This article was published:

Nicholas Moore (1862-1941), detective, was born on 27 February 1862 at Waterford, Ireland, son of Nicholas Moore, brewery manager, and his wife Mary, née Barron. After serving with the Liverpool police in England, he migrated about 1890 to Sydney where he joined the New South Wales Police Force on 4 August 1891. He served mainly at the Redfern Police Station rising to sergeant 2nd class; in January 1913 he was promoted detective 1st class, Sydney Metropolitan District. His duties included political surveillance and attending the Domain on Sundays to report upon public speakers.

On the outbreak of World War I Moore was seconded at the army's request to the local branch of Military Intelligence to assist in the detection and prosecution of opponents of the war, including the Industrial Workers of the World. After the Labor Party had split in 1916 over conscription, Prime Minister Billy Hughes had the I.W.W. banned. Moore had been watching the I.W.W. from 1914 and, with the army, raided its premises several times and arrested and prosecuted its members.

Late in 1916 twelve I.W.W. members including Donald Grant were arrested on charges of conspiring to commit arson, allegedly as a protest against the gaoling of Tom Barker, editor of their paper, Direct Action. Moore drew on his local knowledge and contacts with radical groups to prepare comprehensive reports to aid the Crown's case which led to the gaoling of the twelve for a total of 150 years. All the detectives involved were congratulated by the judge and later given awards; Moore received £25.

He later reported on moves to have the case reopened by Ernest Judd, who had obtained statements from some Crown witnesses that they had been pressured by the police to give false evidence. An inquiry was conducted by Justice (Sir) Philip Street into the actions of the police under a specially introduced Police Inquiry Act. Apparently under renewed pressure, the informants revoked the confessions they had given to Judd and returned to their original statements. Accordingly, Street declared in December 1918 that the police had not acted improperly, but a second inquiry in June 1920 by Justice Norman Ewing led to the immediate release of ten of the twelve. Moore was well rewarded for his efforts: in 1919 he was given £50 by the Commonwealth government for services rendered and in 1921 was awarded the King's Police medal.

Despite having worked for many years in the slum area of Redfern, Moore had little sympathy for the working class. His suspicion of their leaders and reformist programmes appeared in all the highly literate and thorough reports he prepared about them. His main contribution to the area of political surveillance lay in this judgemental and reporting pattern which came to be perpetuated by his successors.

On 7 May 1921 Moore married a widow Ellen Secret Kelly, née Daniel, with Presbyterian forms at Westmead, and in October retired from the police force. He died at his Westmead home on 24 September 1941 and was cremated with Presbyterian forms.

Select Bibliography

  • I. Turner, Sydney's Burning (Melb, 1967)
  • F. M. Cain, The Origins of Political Surveillance in Australia (Syd, 1983)
  • New South Wales Police Department, IWW special bundle (State Records New South Wales).

Citation details

Frank Cain, 'Moore, Nicholas (1862–1941)', Australian Dictionary of Biography, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University,, published first in hardcopy 1986, accessed online 24 June 2024.

This article was published in hardcopy in Australian Dictionary of Biography, Volume 10, (Melbourne University Press), 1986

View the front pages for Volume 10

© Copyright Australian Dictionary of Biography, 2006-2024

Life Summary [details]


27 February, 1862
Waterford, Waterford, Ireland


24 September, 1941 (aged 79)
Westmead, Sydney, New South Wales, Australia

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