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William Henry Moore (1788–1854)

by R. J. McKay

This article was published:

William Henry Moore (1788?-1854), solicitor, was the elder son of John Moore, a London solicitor, and his first wife Martha (Ann) Field. He served his clerkship with his father and in 1810 was admitted an attorney of the three superior courts at Westminster. For most of 1813 he acted as under-sheriff of London and Middlesex in place of his father who had died in January that year, and in February 1814 was recommended by Jeffery Bent for appointment as one of the two unconvicted 'solicitors of the Crown' whom Bathurst proposed to send to New South Wales, to overcome earlier difficulties with ex-convict attorneys there. With Frederick Garling Moore was chosen and each was promised a salary of £300 from colonial funds as compensation for leaving England and undertaking the risks of practice in the colony. They were at first called 'stipendiary Solicitors', and later 'Crown or Government Solicitors', although they had 'no Public or Official Duty to perform' and were never considered 'as professionally retained in the service of the Colonial Government'.

Recommended to Governor Lachlan Macquarie for 'every Privilege and Protection … extended to the Civil Colonial Officers of the Higher Classes', Moore sailed in the Marquis of Wellington with two sisters and a brother, and arrived at Sydney on 27 January 1815. On 11 May he was admitted to the courts as the first free solicitor in the colony. He showed a strong partiality for anti-emancipist politics. In February 1816 he joined Rev. Benjamin Vale in seizing the American schooner Traveller as a legal prize under the Navigation Acts, was suspended by Macquarie for 'insolence and insubordination' and denied every indulgence that had been extended to him. A year later Macquarie reported him to London as the 'Chief mover and promoter of a Memorial' to the House of Commons 'to convey Charges of the Most False and Malicious nature against me' and for forging signatures to this petition. After somewhat heated correspondence with the Colonial Office in November 1819 Moore apologized for his actions, and was then reinstated and given his indulgences and arrears of pay.

Under Governor Sir Thomas Brisbane Moore was more cautious; though opposed to Henry Grattan Douglass in his controversies with the Parramatta magistrates he avoided improper participation in the affair, and in September 1825 was appointed King's coroner or master of the Crown office with an additional salary of £300, but he narrowly escaped censure for organizing the exclusives' dinner to celebrate Brisbane's departure. Under Governor (Sir) Ralph Darling Moore acted for nearly a year as attorney-general after the resignation of Saxe Bannister in October 1826, and he assured the governor that he had acted legally in the Sudds-Thompson affair; however, Darling was critical of his capacity and in December 1827 suspended him as 'Crown Solicitor' for supporting resolutions at a Turf Club dinner which the governor thought insulting. Moore's willing support for Darling's opponents seems out of character and he strongly protested his innocence. In a lengthy review of the disputes in the colony the secretary of state disapproved Darling's action in removing him. Moore's post of 'Crown Solicitor', in the sense in which the term was applied to him, was abolished, and the subsidy originally authorized by Bathurst was withdrawn. In 1852 Moore successfully petitioned the Legislative Council for compensation and was awarded £1800. In 1829 the office of crown solicitor in the modern sense of the term, previously held by Thomas Wylde, was revived, and Moore was appointed to it at a salary of £500, but without the right of private practice. In conducting the business of the Crown in the Supreme Court he was often outmatched by able opponents such as Robert Wardell and William Charles Wentworth and, though Moore sought the position of solicitor-general, Darling repeatedly stressed his incompetence, adding that he was 'certainly not disposed to serve the Government', was 'one of the most idle Men living' and urged his dismissal. In response to these mounting complaints of negligence, unnecessary delays and unintelligible reports, in June 1831 Governor (Sir) Richard Bourke was ordered to inquire into the solicitor's conduct. In January 1832 Bourke reported that Moore had been 'culpably neglectful on several occasions', but he hoped that the arrival of the new attorney-general, John Kinchela would improve Moore's work. However, in 1834 the resentful letters which he wrote after being rebuked for refusing to prepare briefs led to his final suspension and his attempts to obtain an annuity were unsuccessful, though in 1842 he was appointed by the Supreme Court to examine persons applying for admission as attorneys.

Protected by Bathurst's promises and assured of a monopoly of private practice by Bent's refusal to admit ex-convict attorneys in court, Moore had built up a very lucrative private law office and by 1822 Commissioner John Thomas Bigge could report to the Colonial Office that Garling and Moore had been 'very fully remunerated' for the expense of moving to the colony. At first Moore's brother, Thomas Matthews, had been his clerk and as a partner he had Edward Joseph Keith in 1825-27, his stepbrother Charles Dodwell Moore in 1828-34 and George S. Yarnton in 1841-42.

Moore had many other interests. In 1836-42 he was a director of the Commercial Banking Co. of Sydney, in 1837 became a shareholder in the Marine Insurance Co., a committee member of the Royal Exchange, and in 1842 chairman of the Union Assurance Co. In and around Sydney he acquired much land, some of it leased to tenants and some, at the corner of George and King Streets, he sold in 1834 at up to £55 10s. a foot. His chief farm, which he bought from Simeon Lord in 1824, was at the seven-mile (11 km) post on the Liverpool Road. From his properties in County Camden in 1838 he sent sheep overland to Adelaide and went there himself to sell them.

In 1842 Moore offered himself unsuccessfully for appointment as town clerk of the new Sydney Municipal Council, claiming the special qualification of having had business associations with the Corporation of London. Next year, with liabilities exceeding his assets of £66,000, he was declared insolvent. Much of his country land had to be sold and his library of eight hundred volumes was offered at auction. His certificate of discharge is not officially recorded but it appears from recitals in a conveyance registered in 1853 that it was allowed by the Supreme Court on 8 July 1845. At his death on 13 October 1854 in College Street, Sydney, he left his remaining city land to his sister Ann, widow of William Cordeaux, and some £2300 of goods and shares to his wife Mary, née Hanks, whom he had married on 13 August 1844 at St James's Church, Sydney, and who died on 5 November 1871, aged 65.

Select Bibliography

  • Historical Records of Australia, series 1, vols 8-17, series 4, vol 1
  • M. H. Ellis, Lachlan Macquarie (Syd, 1947)
  • C. M. Whittakers (compiler), The Whittakers Story (State Library of New South Wales)
  • Bigge Report, Appendix, Bonwick transcripts, Box 28/6710 (State Library of New South Wales)
  • newspaper indexes and manuscript catalogue under William Henry Moore (State Library of New South Wales).

Related Thematic Essay

Citation details

R. J. McKay, 'Moore, William Henry (1788–1854)', Australian Dictionary of Biography, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University,, published first in hardcopy 1967, accessed online 22 July 2024.

This article was published in hardcopy in Australian Dictionary of Biography, Volume 2, (Melbourne University Press), 1967

View the front pages for Volume 2

© Copyright Australian Dictionary of Biography, 2006-2024

Life Summary [details]




13 October, 1854 (aged ~ 66)
Sydney, New South Wales, Australia

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