Australian Dictionary of Biography

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Margaret Henrietta Bird (1888–1963)

by J. P. Holroyd

This article was published:

Margaret Henrietta Bird (1888-1963), bookseller, was born on 22 November 1888 at Beechworth, Victoria, daughter of James William Ingram, bookseller, and his wife Catherine, née Woodside, both Victorian born. Margaret's father was the son of James Ingram, a Scot who had opened a bookshop at Beechworth in 1855 and subsequently developed a large business in north-eastern Victoria. James admitted his son to partnership in 1887, trading as James Ingram & Son. In 1898 they sold out and James William established premises specializing in educational books at 227 Little Collins Street, Melbourne. He continued to trade as James Ingram & Son until his retirement in 1913.

A boarder at Oberwyl girls' school, St Kilda, Margaret matriculated and became governess to a grazier's family at Moulamein, New South Wales. On 28 January 1922 at Hawthorn she married with Presbyterian forms William Ellis Bird, a teacher turned accountant who had served in the Australian Imperial Force. In 1918 he had opened a second-hand bookshop at 427 Little Collins Street, but moved to 280 Russell Street next year. Scholarly and idealistic, with somewhat utopian ideas, he edited a booklet, Zapataland (1919), about a communist State in Mexico. Working together in the shop, the Birds catered for booklovers, students and bohemians. They established a group, known as the 'Heretics', to discuss the works of G. K. Chesterton, and frequently invited chosen customers to dine with them. In 1925 they moved their burgeoning business to 21 Bourke Street.

When William died in 1927 from injuries received in a street accident, Margaret continued to trade as Ellis Bird's Bookshop. She built up a substantial personal connexion and, after Cole's Book Arcade closed in 1929, hers was said to be the most popular bookshop in the city. Customers roamed freely between tables stacked in relaxed order with second-hand books and Mrs Bird never interfered, although she was capable of giving advice on a wide range of subjects. She continued the tradition of offering hospitality to radical intellectuals, literary people and booklovers; among those she entertained in her large, upstairs room were the artist Harold Herbert, the critic Jimmy MacDonald, and the writers Vance and Nettie Palmer, Bernard O'Dowd and Marie Pitt.

Tall and slim, with high cheekbones and 'silver hair curving back in a bun', Mrs Bird wore low-waisted, full-sleeved dresses befitting 'the old-fashioned dignity of her calling'. Friends thought she had turned conservative when she became a Catholic after her husband's death. Regarded by some as stern, she was taken to court by a man whom she had hit with a book. In 1955, after she had lost £15,000 in an unfortunate investment, the Bourke Street property was sold and the purchaser occupied part of it, leaving Margaret in the cramped, smaller portion. Having retired in 1959, she lived with her sisters at Hawthorn. She died on 1 February 1963 at Coburg and was buried in Burwood cemetery with Catholic rites.

Select Bibliography

  • Australian Booksellers Association, The Early Australian Booksellers (Adel, 1980)
  • J. Sendy, Melbourne's Radical Bookshops (Melb, 1983)
  • Herald (Melbourne), 1 Feb 1963, 5 Jan 1979
  • Age (Melbourne), 2, 9 Feb 1963
  • Nation (Sydney), 23 Feb 1963
  • private information.

Related Entries in NCB Sites

Citation details

J. P. Holroyd, 'Bird, Margaret Henrietta (1888–1963)', Australian Dictionary of Biography, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University,, published first in hardcopy 1993, accessed online 23 May 2024.

This article was published in hardcopy in Australian Dictionary of Biography, Volume 13, (Melbourne University Press), 1993

View the front pages for Volume 13

© Copyright Australian Dictionary of Biography, 2006-2024

Life Summary [details]

Alternative Names
  • Ingram, Margaret Henrietta

22 November, 1888
Beechworth, Victoria, Australia


1 February, 1963 (aged 74)
Coburg, Melbourne, Victoria, Australia

Cultural Heritage

Includes subject's nationality; their parents' nationality; the countries in which they spent a significant part of their childhood, and their self-identity.

Religious Influence

Includes the religion in which subjects were raised, have chosen themselves, attendance at religious schools and/or religious funeral rites; Atheism and Agnosticism have been included.