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Moses, Phillip William (1857–1931)

by Chris Cunneen

This article was published:

Phillip [or Philip] William Moses (1857-1931), clergyman, Labor candidate, insurance manager.

Birth: 8 April 1857 in Muswellbrook, New South Wales, son of Jewish parents, London-born Isaac Moses (1828-1882), hotel licensee, and his first wife, native-born Sarah, née Ashburn (1835-1872). Marriage: 8 February 1877 at St Peter’s Anglican Church, Woolloomooloo, Sydney, to Martha McMullen (1860-1921). They had four daughters and one son. Death: 31 October 1931 at Manly, NSW. Religion: Jewish and Congregationalist. 

  • Prospector on Shoalhaven goldfields about 1873. In 1877 was a warehouseman in Surry Hills, Sydney. Ordained Congregational minister at Wallsend 17 June 1883.
  • 1884 moved to Charters Towers then Townsville, Queensland, as pastor. He also owned and edited the North Queensland Patriot and was said to have opposed the Kanaka trade.
  • Resigned pastorate at Townsville in August 1886, and as Rev. Philip Moses, ‘professor of physiology, optical science, and phrenology, and associate of the British and American Institutes of Mental Science’, travelled in Queensland, Victoria, Tasmania and NSW as an independent preacher, speaking on socialism, herbalism and temperance. His presentations included limelight and panoramas and paraphernalia that included “automaton mannikins, microscopes, galvanic battery and large numbers of medical works, medical and surgical appliances and athletic materials”. Advertisements for his travelling ‘museum of physical science’ claimed he specialised in “the treatment of all diseases, particularly those affecting The Eye, the Brain, the Nervous System, and the troubles peculiar to women.” Mrs Moses also participated in the performances. Though press reports were impressive, he became insolvent in Victoria in 1892.
  • Drawn to politics, Moses failed as a candidate for councillor Malvern Shire, Victoria, in August 1890 and as Labor Electoral League parliamentary candidate for Woollahra, NSW, in the July 1894 election and for Inverell in July 1895.
  • Published a pamphlet, Christian socialism: the solution of the world’s great social problem, in 1894. For a time Rev. Philip Moses spoke on ALP platforms with W. M. Hughes, W.A. Holman J. C. Watson etc.
  • Later in the 1890s he took to the road again as an itinerant clergyman and lantern lecturer with a new sideline as a life insurance salesman. Advertisements in 1895-1897 spruiked his new position as manager for Queensland of the Australian Temperance and General Mutual Life Assurance Society: “Owing to the low death rate among temperance people our premiums are the lowest in Australia”.
  • Arrived in London, England, via New York, with his wife and daughters in November 1899. Was living at Hampstead, London, employed by a life insurance company, in 1901-1902.
  • Had returned to Sydney by 1913 but soon moved to Victoria, where in January 1915 he was initiated into the Freemasons’ Toowong Lodge of the United Grand Lodge of England.
  • In his later years he resided in Manly with his unmarried daughters.
  • Described as a fluent speaker and entertaining showman, he had a remarkable capacity for self-reinvention.

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Citation details

Chris Cunneen, 'Moses, Phillip William (1857–1931)', People Australia, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University, https://peopleaustralia.anu.edu.au/biography/moses-phillip-william-32668/text40565, accessed 1 December 2022.

© Copyright People Australia, 2012