Herbert Michael "Paddy" Moran

  • 1Caps
  • 97Wallaby Number
PositionNo. 8
Date Of BirthApril 29, 1885
Place of BirthSydney
SchoolSt. Aloysius' College and St. Joseph's College, Hunter's Hill
Debut ClubEast Newcastle
Other ClubUniversity (Sydney)
Debut Test Match1908 Wallabies v Wales, Cardiff
DiedNovember 20, 1945


In hindsight it is difficult to understand how ‘Paddy’ Moran was selected as captain of Australia’s first ‘Wallaby’ tour to the British Isles and North America. He had never played for Australia, his limited captaincy experience was of the Sydney University team in 1907 and a Newcastle team which beat Metropolitan (Sydney) in 1908 at the SCG. He reportedly played little in 1907, yet the records of Sydney University show he received ‘Blues’ in 1905, 1906 and 1907. He did not make himself available for the Sydney University tour of New Zealand in 1907. It is necessary to look at the State and Australian captains from 1905 to 1908 to consider the various candidates. The only Australian tour overseas in this time period was to NZ in 1905, and Stan Wickham was captain. He had run his athletic course by 1908, and in fact accompanied the 1908-09 team as assistant manager, in actual fact, though not in name, Australia’s coach. In 1907 NZ came to Australia. Cecil Murnin captained NSW, Billy Richards from Charters Towers captained Queensland, and ‘Butcher’ Oxlade and Peter Burge captained Australia.

In 1908 the Anglo-Welsh team arrived, and James Hughes and Fred Wood captained NSW and Skeet Ahearn Queensland. The Anglo-Welsh did not play a Test. So logically the candidates should have been Oxlade, Hughes, Peter Burge, Billy Richards, Skeet Ahearn and Cecil Murnin. Billy Richards, like Wickham, was at the tail end of his career, and like Ahearn and Oxlade was not picked for the tour. So that leaves Peter Burge, James Hughes, Fred Wood and Cecil Murnin. Hughes was selected on the tour but declined because of his medical studies. Dare it be suggested that the others were eliminated because they were all of the working class? The selection of Moran, as it turned out, was somewhat fortuitous, as Murnin took ill and returned to Australia without playing a game. Burge broke a leg in the first match and did not play again on tour, and Wood had indifferent displays for most of the tour because of lumbago. Moran himself was of working class origins, being the son of Roman Catholic Irish parents. His mother died in childbirth when he was five years of age.

His father was a baker who struggled in the early years, but as time went on he expanded his business and made his fortune. Herbert went first to Darlington Superior Public School then to St Aloysius in Surry Hills, a rough area, and then St Joseph’s College, all good Catholic institutions which did not need the financial backup of places like The Kings School, Riverview and the like. A scholarly type, he looked more like an Oxford don than a representative flanker. He sort of came into the game somewhat reluctantly, playing first for the Rose Bay club as a prop in his third year at University. He cut down a pair of pants, nailed some leather bars and sprigs on the bottom of his ordinary shoes.

In his next year at University, where he was studying Medicine, he was invited to turn out for the University second team, again as a prop. A rather intelligent young man, somewhat introspective, he went to University at 15 years of age and was now 19.Moran certainly did not consider himself as one of the working class, as it appears by this time his father’s bakery business had expanded and the family were very well off. In Viewless Winds he noted, following the first wave of professionalism in 1907: “For the students of Sydney University the establishment of professionalism in sport meant serious loss.In my time the undergraduates were in danger of all being stamped into a single mould.

They were being given one uniform pattern in their prejudices and preferences. Sport provided an extra-mural course in a totally different discipline. We tussled with factory hands and firemen, with miners, wharf-labourers and carters. These layers might have rougher manners, but in many of the elementary virtues of life they were our superiors. Above all they had a hard edge to their characters, and a robuster humour. By contact with them we [so he obviously did not think of himself as the working class] gained immeasurably more than they. When professionalism came, University players were shut out from friendships with men in ranks called lower and their education suffered by it.” He was asked at the age of 19 to tour the lower Northern Rivers in NSW. One senses that Moran was socially naive at this time, certainly not worldly, and enjoyed the camerarderie of the male rugby world.

He told the story of one of his team-mates, Bill, who always drank five or six pints of beer before playing, believing that it improved his vigour and speed, and who during a ruck emerged with the ball and ran eighty yards before diving across the goal-line for a glorious try – over his own line. At the post-mortem poor Bill justified his mistake by saying “The jerseys of the two sides were very alike,” but this did not fully explain Bill ignoring the frantic calls of his full-back, “Billy, you silly b.......!” Perhaps the five or six pints taken before his game might have been offered as an excuse, but this was never considered by the afore-mentioned Bill. At the next country town the Mayor addressed the team.

After the normal bonds of Empire speech and reference to the town’s performance at the last Butter Show, he went on eloquently: “You may beat us,” he said, in an eloquent and moving peroration, “you may beat our country lads to-morrow” and he emphasised to-morrow(cheers) “but from what I hears of your doin’s down at Taree, the day will come when on this ground, and beside this river, we’ll be beatin’ you city fellows with your own prodigy” (prolonged applause). Clayton (one of the players), who as befits a lawyer could always interpret the mind of a deponent, said that he meant this last word for progeny. It would appear that Moran became the prime candidate for Australian captaincy when he brought a Newcastle team to Sydney and they defeated a strong Metropolitan team. This may be the case, but in many ways it remains a surprise choice.

Biographies, short or long, have glossed over Moran. Peter Sharpham in his excellent The First Wallabies describes his on-the-field style: “Moran’s philosophy was to endeavour to be the first forward to a breakdown in play and ensure his side’s possession of the ball, the turn-of-the-century equivalent of Chris Roche or Simon Poidevin. He was tireless in cover defence and did not shirk the middle of the rucks and mauls. He drove his players on with the words ‘Australia, boys!’ and taught many of his charges their table manners and how to dress for formal occasions. If he did not leave the field of play in a state of complete exhaustion at the end of the game Moran considered he had not fulfilled his role as captain of Australia.” There is no doubt that he applied himself diligently as captain of the first Wallabies.

He captained Australia in the first eight games in the British Isles, only one of which, against Llanelly, was lost. Ever since the words of ‘Sospan Fach’ have spewed out of Welsh lips: “We beat the Wallabies in 1908.” I the eighth game, against London, he showed the force of his character. As described by Peter Sharpham in The First Wallabies: “The main feature during the second half was an extraordinary display of courage by Herbert Moran. He dislocated his left shoulder late in the first half but played on with his left arm strapped to his side and led his team by example. On three occasions he fielded the ball with his right hand and dashed through to the last line of defence before off -loading to his supports. More than once he dived on the rolling ball as the London pack rampaged in a dribbling rush towards the Australian line.” Understandably his injury placed him on the sidelines, and his next match was against Cambridge University, won by the Wallabies 11-9. His injury meant, among other things, that he could not play against Cornwall in the gold medal match at the Olympic Games.

He actually missed six matches, and after Cambridge felt his shoulder was too tender to play against Oxford in the following match, as well as Yorkshire and Lancashire. His comeback was against Somerset, won by Australia, and then he missed Combined Midlands and East Midlands Counties. He was back as captain in a 24 to 0 victory over the Anglo-Welsh, and was considered sufficiently fit to lead the Wallabies against Wales. The Welsh won by 9 to 6, there being some controversial decisions which did not aid Australia. The News of the World reported: “...Moran was the best forward.” Moran was rested against Glamorgan League, but was back at the helm at Newport (won 5-3), Abertilllery (3-3), Swansea (lost 0-6) and Cardiff (lost 8-24). The team was supposed to play a Test in France, but it was cancelled due to the inclement weather.

Then disaster struck as, prior to the English international, on New Year’s Eve 1909, Moran slipped on the ice while walking with his team and sprained his Achilles tendon. As a consequence he had to withdraw on the morning of the English Test. It was a severe personal blow for Moran. Australia won the match by 9 to 3. Two days later Moran left his team to take up medical studies in Edinburgh, thus missing the final two games in England against Bristol and Clifton and Plymouth, as well as the North American section of the tour, which was an additional five games. Some comment needs to be made about Moran leaving the team.

As a member of the 1947-48 nine-month Wallaby tour, this author finds it quite incredible that the tour organisers and Moran himself would have contemplated such a departure. I find it quite incredible and believe it should not have been permitted. It is interesting to weigh the words of Moran in Viewless Winds: “The last match of the tour was against England. We were all tired by that time of the whole business.” Tired everyone might have been, but the England international was simply not the end of the tour. Australia had to play two more games in England as part of their tour, though admittedly these games were not on the original official itinerary but became commitments and five more in Canada and the United States. The captain, in the opinion of the author with the experience of a similar tour at his disposal, should have travelled with his team until the complete tour was over.

Could one imagine this happening with a New Zealand or a South African captain? It would never be contemplated or condoned. The record of Herbert Moran is that he captained Australia 16 times, all on this tour, but only one Test, against Wales. It needs to be stated that Herbert Moran was a complex, at times strange individual, as his three books reveal: Viewless Winds, In My Fashion and Beyond the Hill Lies China. He was certainly an idealist, espousing the credo of the true amateur and castigating those who transgressed ethical boundaries during a game. As he said himself, he “disliked getting too far involved in a life of athleticism,” and refused to play after he left the Wallabies.

After finishing his fellowship at Edinburgh, he returned to Sydney at the end of 1910. He worked at the only teaching hospital, Prince Alfred, and set up his first practice in an industrial, working class suburb, and he found himself often at odds with his colleagues. When the First World War started he sailed to London and offered his services, being made a lieutenant in the RAMC. He was sent to Gallipoli and contracted amoebic dysentery, was sent to Mesopotamia to become ill again, was repatriated to India and thence Australia. More and more he became interested in cancer, so three years after the war he went to Paris to study the use of radium, and then to the United States to take in the latest research there. He was a true pioneer, being the first of his profession to use radium needles or radium tubes in the treatment of cancer in Australia. He went to France again in 1926 working at the Cancer Clinic of Villejeuf. Perhaps too introverted and intellectual for his own good, he retired in 1935 from medical practice, a mere 50 years of age.

He had become disillusioned with many in his profession, inertia in his own country, anti-Irish sentiment, and inroads into rigorous standards within Catholicism. A disturbed person in many respects, he said: “I could not find peace.” He turned once more to Europe, searching for a new vision, where there was hope for mankind. He roamed through France, Italy, Germany and England, pursued by phantoms within his own mind. He came under the spell of Italy and became fluent in the language, and in fact did much to initiate the teaching of Italian in Australia at the University level. He had four audiences with Mussolini, and for a time seemed under his spell. He acted as a one-man legation to argue for continued good relations between the two countries, despite the invasion of Abyssinia. Moran even got permission to go to Abyssinia in 1936 as a freelance doctor.

As with most things, eventually he became disillusioned with Rome and went to live elsewhere in Europe, staying there for a year to learn German. So this was certainly an uncommon rugby player, fluent in French, Italian and German. He went back to Australia in November 1937, arriving the day of the Melbourne Cup, and when he stated that the world would be at war again he was ignored. He returned to Rome, then to Paris, and was at Antwerp when war broke out. Moran immediately went to England to volunteer his services, and was initially made a full lieutenant in the British Forces, but was transferred at his own request to the Australian Military Forces. He became a lieutenant-colonel; but he never lost his hyper-critical manner, being “a traditionalist, by temperament and faith.” In February 1945 he noticed the deteriorating irregular shape of a mole on his own stomach, which he had excised. He soon realised he was doomed with cancer, but reflected: “There was nothing to do but carry on.” He was released from the Army on April 14, 1945, now being racked with pain.

In May 1945 the War ended. He died on November 20 1945 in the Hope House Nursing Home, Cambridge. The 1947-48 Wallabies visited his grave. His last words are a reflection of the man: “But the call has sounded and I must go. I must go forth after the long wander of my faith, into the darkness. Into the darkness and beyond, hesitant still a little. “Suddenly a road pierces the dark uncertainty of my doubt; and I see the way bright and clear before me. The air is gentle to the listening trees which bird-song perfumes and so, with joyous step, submissive to the Will, I take the road.” Herbert Moran abhorred the aboriginal war-cry that the Australian team gave during his tour. He refused to lead it, and “regularly hid myself among the team, a conscientious objection.” This war-cry was to eventually die a natural death, but one thing did not, Australian teams being the Wallabies from this point on. In Viewless Winds, Moran stated: “When we arrived at Plymouth a pack of journalists fell upon us. They were very anxious to give us some distinctive name, but their first suggestion of ‘Rabbits’ we indignantly rejected. It really was going a little too far to palm off on us the name of a pest their ancestors had foisted on our country! Ultimately we became the ‘Wallabies’, although we wore for emblem on our jerseys not the figure of this marsupial but the floral design of a waratah.” What is for certain, Herbert Moran was the first captain of the ‘Wallabies’. 

Moran, Herbert Michael (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, nee Quain (d. 1890). He was educated at Darlington Public School, St Aloysius’ College, Surry Hills, and briefly at Joseph’s College, Hunters Hill, before proceeding to the University of Sydney (M.B., 1907; Ch.M., 1929). Moran played Rugby Union for 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 a thousand pounds 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 as 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 before World War 1 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.

Herbert Michael "Paddy" Moran