Australian Dictionary of Biography

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William Moss (1828–1891)

by Niel Gunson

This article was published:

William Moss (1828-1891), Congregational minister and philanthropist, was born on 23 July 1828 at Farnham, Surrey, England, second son of George Moss and his wife Sarah Leah, née Turner. Though his parents had been Anglicans they attended the Farnham Independent Chapel and sent William to the local Nonconformist day school. With a passion for self-improvement he attended the Farnham Mechanics' Institute. By 1846 he had given his first public lecture and was a church member, superintendent of the Tilford Sunday school and a village preacher. Instructed in theology and homiletics by his pastor, Rev. John Fernie, he was appointed a 'preacher of the Gospel' by his church on 4 February 1848.

In 1850 Moss abandoned his plan of training for the ministry and sailed to Port Phillip in the Countess of Yarborough with the Browning family, whose sons he expected to tutor on their proposed station while acting as a local preacher. On arrival at Melbourne in August, he was engaged as a preacher by A. Morison; Browning decided to stay in Melbourne. Moss settled at Prahran where he continued his studies under Morison and Rev. Thomas Odell of West Melbourne. On 5 October 1852 Moss was ordained and inducted as pastor of the newly-constituted Independent Church at Prahran, the first ceremony of its kind in Victoria. The original chapel was the centre of social life in the village and gave its name to Chapel Street. Moss was a leading 'father' of the community and helped to found the Mechanics' Institute, the Prahran and South Yarra Ladies' Benevolent Society and the Prahran Town Mission of which he was secretary. An active voluntaryist, he took part in anti-state-aid demonstrations. In 1853-62 he was corresponding patron of the Prahran National school, and secretary of the local committee of common schools in 1862-72. Though he lost election to the Prahran Board of Advice in 1873 by six votes, the result was considered a testimonial to his services to primary education despite contemporary resentment at clerical involvement in state schools. He continued his ministry at Prahran until October 1878 when he and his wife undertook superintendence of the Blind Asylum.

Moss took a leading role in denominational affairs. His itinerant labours had commenced in September 1851 when he visited the Ballarat diggings as 'a kind of chaplain' to a party of church members, and later with Rev. J. L. Poore he helped to start the Congregational Church in Ballarat. A tent mission in Windsor was begun in 1852. He took part in intercolonial conferences, served as secretary of the first Congregational Home Mission and was a founder of the Congregational Union and Mission of Victoria, becoming chairman in 1862. A founding committee member of the Congregational College in 1866, he was secretary of the Independent Ministers' Fraternal Association and the Victorian auxiliary of the London Missionary Society. From the 1860s his name was linked with the leading public charities in Victoria. With F. J. Rose he founded the Deaf and Dumb Institution in 1861-62 and was its secretary for thirty years. He was a committeeman, secretary and later superintendent of the Asylum and School for the Blind; he also founded the Adult Deaf and Dumb Mission in 1883-85.

Moss was described as straight and well-proportioned, 'fair in complexion, with large, deep, thoughtful blue eyes, gentle in manner, and soft in speech'. He had remarkable success in drawing the attention of governors and parliamentarians to his charities, partly by his own persuasiveness, partly through the support of influential Free-churchmen such as George Rolfe and F. J. Sargood. Moss was twice married: first, to Elizabeth, second daughter of Andrew McClure, by whom he had four sons and three daughters; and second, to Mary Eleanor, third daughter of S. R. Herdsman, by whom he had one son and three daughters. He died at his home in Malvern on 14 March 1891, survived by seven of his children.

Select Bibliography

  • T. W. H. Leavitt (ed), Australian Representative Men, 2nd ed (Melb, 1887)
  • J. B. Cooper, The History of Prahran (Melb, 1912)
  • J. H. Burchett, Utmost for the Highest (Melb, 1964)
  • Victorian Congregational Year Book, 1892
  • Age (Melbourne), 16 Mar 1891.

Citation details

Niel Gunson, 'Moss, William (1828–1891)', Australian Dictionary of Biography, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University,, published first in hardcopy 1974, accessed online 14 June 2024.

This article was published in hardcopy in Australian Dictionary of Biography, Volume 5, (Melbourne University Press), 1974

View the front pages for Volume 5

© Copyright Australian Dictionary of Biography, 2006-2024

Life Summary [details]


23 July, 1828
Farnham, Surrey, England


14 March, 1891 (aged 62)
Malvern, Melbourne, Victoria, Australia

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