Australian Dictionary of Biography

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Angus, David Mackenzie (1855–1901)

by G. A. Ferguson

This article was published in Australian Dictionary of Biography, Volume 7, (MUP), 1979

David Mackenzie Angus (1855-1901), bookseller, was born on 12 July 1855 at Thurso, Caithness-shire, Scotland, youngest son of David Angus, stonemason, and his wife Elizabeth, née Sutherland. The family moved to Edinburgh in the early 1870s. David was educated there and apprenticed to Maclaughlin & Stewart, booksellers; he then worked as a sales assistant in William Brown's bookshop in Princes Street. Consumptive, he was advised to seek a warmer climate and, after a false start, arrived in the Austral on 3 November 1882 in Sydney, where his eldest brother Donald, a carpenter, was already living.

Angus worked in the Sydney branch of George Robertson & Co. of Melbourne for about eighteen months and met there George Robertson, who was no relation to the head of the firm. Hoping to open his own shop with £50 that he had saved, he negotiated with London publishers and his former employers in Edinburgh, who promised support. His first shipment consisted of about ten cases of second-hand books from Young J. Pentland, a fellow-apprentice. Angus rented a small shop at 110 Market Street and sent out a circular dated 10 June 1884, advertising his enterprise and promising special attention to country orders. He soon doubled his shop space, but after about a year his health broke down; he sought the drier air of Mudgee, leaving the shop in charge of an American whose ignorance of bookselling endangered the business. George Robertson, aware of Angus's difficulties, offered to become a partner; in January 1886 for £15, his total capital, he was admitted to a half-share in the business which from that date was styled Angus & Robertson. Donald Angus became the firm's book-keeper.

Angus returned to Sydney early in 1886 and on 27 May at the Pitt Street Presbyterian Church married Jane Lindsay Telfer. He did not share Robertson's interests in publishing Australian books and collecting and selling rare items relating to Australasia and the Pacific; however he developed a profitable trade in medical works, in which the firm long held a leading position, and also concentrated on buying libraries and trading in general second-hand books. In 1890 the firm moved to 89 Castlereagh Street (where it remained until 1971) and a new partnership-agreement for ten years was drawn up with capital of £2331.

'Trim, red-bearded and bright-eyed', Angus was usually gentle and tolerant, but became impatient with customers who haggled. He retired from the firm in ill health in 1899 and next year sold his share in the business to Robertson's new partners, Richard Thomson and Frederick Wymark, then returned to Scotland. Survived by his wife and two sons, Angus died of tuberculosis in Edinburgh on 21 February 1901. His estate in New South Wales was valued for probate at £6019.

Select Bibliography

  • J. R. Tyrrell, Old Books, Old Friends, Old Sydney (Syd, 1952)
  • Daily Telegraph (Sydney), 25 Feb 1901
  • Sydney Morning Herald, 26 Feb 1901
  • Angus & Robertson papers (State Library of New South Wales).

Citation details

G. A. Ferguson, 'Angus, David Mackenzie (1855–1901)', Australian Dictionary of Biography, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University, http://adb.anu.edu.au/biography/angus-david-mackenzie-5030/text8375, published in hardcopy 1979, accessed online 26 July 2014.

This article was first published in hardcopy in Australian Dictionary of Biography, Volume 7, (MUP), 1979

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