Moses was born in Donington near Lincoln. He was educated at Bedford School, University College School, London and Exeter College, Oxford. He was ordained as a priest of the Church of England by Bishop Samuel Wilberforce in 1870.
Moses attended his first séance with Lottie Fowler in 1872. Charles Williams and Daniel Dunglas Home were the next mediums he visited. Five months after his introduction to spiritualism, he claimed to have experienced levitation. The automatic scripts of Moses began to appear in his books Spirit Teachings and Spirit Identity. The scripts date from 1872 to 1883 and fill 24 notebooks. All but one have been preserved by the London Spiritualist Alliance.
Moses published Psychography. A Treatise on One of the Objective Forms of Psychic or Spiritual Phenomena in 1878. In it, he coins the term "psychography" (from psycho and graphy) for the spiritualist concept of channeling messages from the dead via automatic writing (also known as "independent writing", "direct writing" or "spirit writing").
Moses was an early member of the Society for Psychical Research (SPR). Other early members included F. W. H. Myers, Henry Sidgwick and Edmund Gurney. In 1886 and 1887 in a series of publications the SPR exposed the tricks of the medium William Eglinton. Because of this, some spiritualist members including Moses resigned from the SPR.
Moses endorsed the spirit photography of Édouard Isidore Buguet, however, Buguet was exposed as a fraud. In 1884, Moses was a founding member, together with Rogers, of the London Spiritualist Alliance, afterwards the College of Psychic Studies.
Moses died on 5 September 1892.
It seems reasonable to conclude that all the marvels reported at [Moses] seances were, in fact, produced by the medium's own hands: that it was he who tilted the table and produced the raps, that the scents, the seed pearls, and the Parian statuettes were brought into the room in his pockets: and that the spirit lights were, in fact, nothing more than bottles of phosphorised oil. Nor would the feats described have required any special skill on the medium's part.
Moses would also look up obituaries, daily newspapers, biographies or The Annual Register to research the history of deceased people. Joseph McCabe described Moses as a "deliberate impostor" and wrote his apports and all of his feats were the result of trickery. Science historian Sherrie Lynne Lyons wrote that the glowing or light-emitting hands in séances could easily be explained by the rubbing of oil of phosphorus on the hands. Moses was caught twice with a bottle of phosphorus.
Under the pen name "M.A. Oxon", Moses published the following books on spiritualism:
- Spirit Identity (1879)
- Psychography (1882)
- Spirit Teachings (1883)
- Higher Aspects of Spiritualism (1880)
Moses also edited the periodical Light and wrote on spiritualism for Human Nature.
- Rigg 1912.
- Janet Oppenheim. (1988). The Other World: Spiritualism and Psychical Research in England, 1850-1914. Cambridge University Press. pp. 139-140. ISBN 978-0521347679
- Joseph McCabe. (1920). Spiritualism: A Popular History From 1847. Dodd, Mead and Company. pp. 151-173
- Hereward Carrington. (1907). The Physical Phenomena of Spiritualism. Herbert B. Turner & Co. p. 14
- Frank Podmore. (1902). Modern Spiritualism: A History and a Criticism. Volume 2. Methuen & Company. pp. 283-287
- Sherrie Lynne Lyons. Species, Serpents, Spirits, and Skulls: Science at the Margins in the Victorian Age. State University of New York Press. p. 95. ISBN 978-1438427980
- Joseph McCabe. (1920). Is Spiritualism Based On Fraud? The Evidence Given By Sir A. C. Doyle and Others Drastically Examined. London Watts & Co. p. 91
- Joseph McCabe. (1920). Is Spiritualism Based On Fraud? The Evidence Given By Sir A. C. Doyle and Others Drastically Examined. London Watts & Co. p. 186
- Rigg, James McMullen (1912). "Moses, William Stainton". In Lee, Sidney. Dictionary of National Biography, 1912 supplement. London: Smith, Elder & Co. p. 180.
- The Controls of Stainton Moses by A. W. Trethewy
- Life and Experiences of Edmund Dawson Rogers, Spiritualist and Journalist (autobiography, 1911, new edition by Kessinger Publishing, London, 2004) ISBN 1-4191-7303-0
- Frank Podmore. (1902). Modern Spiritualism: A History and a Criticism. Volume 2. Methuen & Company. Chapter The Mediumship of Stainton Moses. pp. 270–288
- J. M. Rigg; rev. H. C. G. Matthew. "Moses, William Stainton (1839–1892)". Oxford Dictionary of National Biography (online ed.). Oxford University Press. doi:10.1093/ref:odnb/19396. (Subscription or UK public library membership required.)