MOORE William Harrison

Private Counsel
Years active


William Harrison Moore (usually known as Harrison or W. Harrison Moore) was born in London, England, on 30 April 1867. He was the son of printer (later journalist) John Moore, and Jane Dorothy, née Smith. Leaving school at 17, Harrison Moore worked for a short time as a journalist in the gallery of the House of Commons before taking up a scholarship to study at university. Outstanding academically, he was awarded the Barstow law scholarship from the Council of Legal Education and won both the George Long prize and the Chancellor's medal from King's College at the University of Cambridge.

Graduating from Cambridge with a Bachelor of Arts degree, and from the University of London with a Bachelor of Laws in 1891, he was admitted to the English bar by the Middle Temple later that year. His plans to practise in commercial law in London disrupted by poor health, Moore decided to emigrate to a better climate, and applied for a position at the University of Melbourne. Successful after a very close vote in the university council, Moore left London on 23 December 1892, sailing for Australia on the RMS Britannia, to become the third Dean of the Law School.

While professors of the era were often young, Moore was a boyish-looking 25 when he took up his appointment on 1 February 1893. Small in stature and finely boned, his youthful appearance was something of a surprise to the members of the council, and to his students. When his tenure began, the Law School was overcrowded and under-resourced – some lectures were held in the Supreme Court building in the city, and Moore put part of his personal library at his students' disposal.

Moore immediately proposed some reforms that were not accepted. However, he went on to introduce many significant changes during his long tenure at the university – including the teaching of administrative law as an independent subject. He believed that the law school should not be too academic or its subjects overly technical, but that it should produce 'really competent professional men'. A system he advocated for putting the university in touch with the business sector of the community was used as the basis for a commerce degree introduced in 1925. Stressing the moral and social value of legal education, and its links with history and politics, Moore emphasised the importance of constitutional and international law, designed his courses to cover broad themes and advocated reform of contemporary laws.

His influence as a teacher was far-reaching. Most of Victoria's lawyers came under his tutelage in his 35 years at the university. Moore's students – many of whom later achieved prominence in legal and political spheres – benefited from his vision, comprehensive knowledge of the law, precise methods and careful delivery. Learned and complex lectures were on occasion lightened by Moore's dry humour and sardonic wit. He was also well-known for his life-time habit of pulling apart and re-rolling a chunk of greasy wool as he developed the strands of an argument.

Conservative and puritanical in his views, he fitted naturally into contemporary Melbourne society. On 10 November 1898 Moore and Edith Eliza, daughter of Supreme Court Judge (Sir) Thomas à Beckett, were married at the Toorak Wesleyan Church. Intelligent and resolute, Edith refused to make the conventional vow of obedience during the ceremony. Childless, the couple invested considerable effort in community work. Both were active members of the Royal Historical Society of Victoria. Edith strongly supported female suffrage and the establishment of the Queen Victoria Hospital for Women. A member of the Melbourne Club, Moore was a member of the Professorial Board at the university, and from 1894 until 1901 served as president of the Law Students' Society.

Having arrived in Australia as the federation movement was gathering momentum, Moore took an immediate interest in the federation debates, and in the drafting of a proposed constitution. By the end of the Adelaide session of the Australasian Federal Convention in 1897, he was acknowledged as an expert on the draft and his advice was frequently sought by convention delegates. Always an observer rather than a participant in the federation process, in 1902 Moore published the first academic study of Australian constitutional law – The Constitution of the Commonwealth of Australia2. As well as examining the Constitution in detail, the book included a history of the federation movement. It also reflected a degree of misplaced optimism about the ease of future constitutional amendment, Moore writing: 'The great facility with which the Australian Constitution may be altered, makes it probable, that its development will be guided, less by judicial interpretation, and more by formal amendment, than the development of the Constitution of the United States'.3

Unusually for the time, both state and federal governments engaged Moore as an adviser on constitutional matters over many years. Naturally conservative, he was generally carefully politically neutral while he was still teaching at the university, although he advocated conscription during the First Word War, and his partisanship became more evident after his retirement. A report about proposed constitutional amendments that Moore worked on with Sir Robert Garran and South Australian judge Professor Jethro Brown, ultimately became the questions on extension of the government's legislative powers which were put forward unsuccessfully in a referendum on 13 December 1919. A high percentage of the several formal advices Moore contributed to the Opinion Book were selected for publication. Most of these, in 1914–15, were on war-time subjects such as enemy aliens, trading between belligerents, prize courts and terms of surrender.

Made a Companion of the Order of St Michael and St George (CMG) in 1917, Moore was appointed Knight Commander of the Order of the British Empire (KBE) in 1925. The only full-time member of the academic staff in a burgeoning Law School, he retired from the university aged just 60, delivering his last lecture on 17 May 1927. Refusing an official farewell at the university, Sir Harrison and Lady Moore were instead given a memorable send-off by an illustrious crowd at Melbourne's Spencer Street Station the next day, when they left to travel to the United States of America (where Sir Harrison delivered a series of lectures in Chicago) and Europe. A friend and former student, Attorney-General John Latham, announced that Sir Harrison would represent Australia at the Rome conference revising the Bonn convention on artistic and literary copyright in October that year.

Sir Harrison was also assigned representative roles in the League of Nations. In 1927 he visited European universities to assess attitudes to the League, and participated in its attempted codification of international law. Appointed an Australian delegate to the League in 1928, 1929 and 1930, Sir Harrison had a significant part in the commission revising the rules of the Permanent International Court of Justice, and in 1929 represented Australia at the Operation of Dominion Legislation Conference in London which led to the enactment of the Statute of Westminster in the British parliament in December 1931. In his absence, the University of Melbourne honoured him with the title of 'Professor Emeritus' in 1928.

Chairman of the Victorian division of the Royal Institute of International Affairs after 1930, and a member of the executive committee of the Institute of Pacific Relations, Sir Harrison led a delegation to a conference in Shanghai, China, in November 1931. He contributed further advices to the Opinion Book around this time. One co-signed with Wilfred Fullagar in 1930 dealt with a particularly problematic question about alteration of the Constitution. Two opinions provided jointly with Wilbur Ham in June 1932 related to the Commonwealth's 1927 financial agreement with the states. In the last two years of his life, Sir Harrison wrote a meticulously researched article on the law to be applied in suits between governments in Canada and Australia.

Aged 68, Sir Harrison Moore died suddenly of cardiac failure at a private hospital at Toorak on 1 July 1935 and was cremated the next day. His wife survived him by almost four decades, dying at the age of 101 in 1974. Evincing the international renown he had achieved, obituaries for Sir Harrison in newspapers around Australia and overseas paid tribute to his remarkable dedication, inspirational sincerity and invaluable contribution to Australian constitutional and international law.

  1. Biography written by Carmel Meiklejohn with reference to
    • Loretta Re, 'Moore, Sir William Harrison (1867–1935)', Australian Dictionary of Biography, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University,, accessed 23 May 2012.
    • Loretta Re and Philip Alston, 'William Harrison Moore. Third Dean of the Faculty of Law', in Ruth Campbell, A History of the Melbourne Law School, 1857 to 1973, Melbourne, 1977.
    • Obituary: 'Sir William Harrison Moore', published in The Round Table – A Quarterly Review of the Politics of the British Commonwealth, Volume XXVI, No. 101, December 1935, MacMillan and Co. Ltd, London.
  2. Both participants in the Australasian Federal Conventions, Sir John Quick and Robert Garran were co-authors of The Annotated Constitution of the Australian Commonwealth, Angus & Robertson, Sydney, 1901.
  3. Digital reproduction of W Harrison Moore, The Constitution of the Commonwealth of Australia, London, 1902, University of Sydney Library, Sydney, 2002, p.270., accessed 13 September 2013.

Opinions by this author

Opinion Number Subject Opinion Date
Opinion Number. 575


Opinion Number. 576


Opinion Number. 577


Opinion Number. 578


Opinion Number. 581


Opinion Number. 583


Opinion Number. 587


Opinion Number. 588


Opinion Number. 589


Opinion Number. 595