Australian Dictionary of Biography

  • Tip: searches only the name field
  • Tip: Use double quotes to search for a phrase

Cultural Advice

Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people should be aware that this website contains names, images, and voices of deceased persons.

In addition, some articles contain terms or views that were acceptable within mainstream Australian culture in the period in which they were written, but may no longer be considered appropriate.

These articles do not necessarily reflect the views of The Australian National University.

Older articles are being reviewed with a view to bringing them into line with contemporary values but the original text will remain available for historical context.

Herbert Michael Moran (1885–1945)

by G. P. Walsh

This article was published:

Herbert Michael Moran (1885-1945), surgeon, was born on 26 April 1885 at Darlington, Sydney, second son of Michael Moran (d.1951), Irish-born baker, and his Australian wife Annie, née Quain (d.1890). He was educated at Darlington Public School, St Aloysius' College, Surry Hills, and briefly at St Joseph's College, Hunters Hill, before proceeding to the University of Sydney (M.B., 1907; Ch.M., 1929).

Moran played Rugby Union for the Rose Bay club and then for the university; in 1906 he represented New South Wales against Queensland. Next year he was resident medical officer at (Royal) Newcastle Hospital. He captained the first Wallaby tour of Britain in 1908. Dogged by injury, he played in the Test against Wales which Australia lost. The series over, he took his F.R.C.S., Edinburgh, in 1909, then worked in hospitals in London and Dublin.

Back in Sydney next year, Moran practised at Balmain and later in Macquarie Street. At St Mary's Cathedral on 21 April 1914 he married Eva Mann. Already a captain in the Australian Army Medical Corps, in 1915 he went to Britain to join the Royal Army Medical Corps and served as a lieutenant at No.23 Stationary Hospital, Indian Expeditionary Force, in Mesopotamia. Returning to Sydney in July 1916, he was honorary surgeon at St Vincent's Hospital.

Moran had a notable surgical career; his great interest lay in cancer research and the then new use of gamma irradiation through the medium of metallic radium. In this he was far ahead of his time and he travelled widely, published in journals and studied and lectured in many parts of the world. In 1927 he spent ten months at the cancer research centre in Paris. He was honorary consultant for radium treatment at Royal Prince Alfred, Lewisham and Royal North Shore hospitals and honorary radium therapist at Prince Henry Hospital in the 1930s. Editor of the Journal of the University Cancer Research Committee, he was a fellow of the Royal Society of Medicine, London, the Royal Australasian College of Surgeons, and St John's College, University of Sydney.

All his life Moran was haunted 'by the art, letters and antiquities of Italy and the majestic history of Rome and the Renaissance'. He spoke Italian, as well as French and German, and was a life member and president of the Dante Alighieri Art and Literary Society (Sydney) and deputy president of the Modern Language Association. In 1930 he gave £1000 for a lectureship in Italian at the university. He interviewed Signor Mussolini in 1932 and the next year was appointed cavaliere of the Order of St Maurice and St Lazarus. Leaving his wife and son in 1935, he revisited Italy and went to Britain to try and mend the deterioration in Anglo-Italian relations by lobbying political leaders. He visited the Italian army in Abyssinia and later was appointed commendatore of the Order of the Crown of Italy. In 1936 he published Letters from Rome: An Australian's View of the Italo-Abyssinian Question. Initially impressed by Mussolini he later changed his opinion.

In World War II he served with the R.A.M.C. in 1940-45; promoted lieutenant-colonel, he was appointed an additional president of medical boards of Eastern Command in Britain based on Colchester, Essex. In 1945, stricken by his great enemy, he died of malignant melanoma in a Cambridge nursing home on 20 November, survived by his wife and son, with whom he was reconciled.

Moran's three largely autobiographical books show considerable literary talent and a very individual style. He was essentially a destructive critic of medical, social and religious mores—though he remained throughout a devout Catholic; his work exhibits a strong sense of sardonic humour and sympathy with the underdog. Viewless Winds (London, 1939) had unusual success and caused much indignation in certain circles. Beyond the Hill Lies China (Sydney, 1945) vividly depicts social conditions and medical practice in Sydney before World War I and In My Fashion (London, 1946) dealt with his work for the British Army and the symptoms and course of the disease that killed him.

Select Bibliography

  • G. E. Hall and A. Cousins (eds), Book of Remembrance of the University of Sydney in the War 1914-1918 (Syd, 1939)
  • J. Pollard, Australian Rugby Union (Syd, 1984)
  • British Australasian, 12 Nov 1908, 1 Sept 1910, 2 Dec 1915, 16 Mar 1916
  • Medical Journal of Australia, 23 Mar 1946, p 415, 23 Apr 1946, p 535
  • Australia and New Zealand Journal of Surgery, 45, no 2, May 1975, p 119
  • Sydney Morning Herald, 11 Nov 1927, 20 June 1930, 12, 29 Sept 1932, 21 Sept 1933, 26 May 1934, 23 Nov 1945
  • Bulletin, 16 Oct 1946
  • private information.

Citation details

G. P. Walsh, 'Moran, Herbert Michael (1885–1945)', Australian Dictionary of Biography, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University,, published first in hardcopy 1986, accessed online 23 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]


26 April, 1885
Darlington, Sydney, New South Wales, Australia


20 November, 1945 (aged 60)
Cambridge, Cambridgeshire, England

Cultural Heritage

Includes subject's nationality; their parents' nationality; the countries in which they spent a significant part of their childhood, and their self-identity.

Religious Influence

Includes the religion in which subjects were raised, have chosen themselves, attendance at religious schools and/or religious funeral rites; Atheism and Agnosticism have been included.