Australian Dictionary of Biography

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Margaret Fordyce Dalrymple Hay (1889–1975)

by Judy Mackinolty

This article was published:

Margaret Fordyce Dalrymple Hay (1889-1975), clerk and librarian, was born on Christmas Eve 1889 at Rushcutters Bay, Sydney, eldest of six children of native-born parents Richard Dalrymple Hay, surveyor, and his wife Bessie, née Cheesbrough. Appointed to the Law School at the University of Sydney as a typist in June 1919, Margaret became clerk to the faculty in 1923 and took on the additional duties of law librarian in the following year. Because the Law School had part-time teaching staff, apart from the dean (Sir) John Peden and (from 1921) Professor A. H. Charteris, she assumed a central role in its administration, especially when Peden had responsibilities in the Legislative Council.

A small, fair woman, with soft, sparkling eyes, Miss Hay was trim and efficient-looking in tailored skirts and jackets, soft blouses and colourful scarves. She was quick in mind and body, and impatient only at stupidity or bad manners. Although capable of striking dread in a nervous new employee, she inspired loyalty, respect and affection. A link between students and academics, she assisted the students' law society, was influential in the placement of articled clerks and graduates, and had a close relationship with members of the legal profession and the judiciary. She proposed the publication of The Jubilee Book of the Law School (1940), co-ordinated its preparation and initiated a collection of portraits of the staff.

In World War II Hay ran the Law School Comforts Fund which sent selected monthly parcels of books to legal men and law students serving in the forces; she also compiled the Legal Digest, a quarterly newsletter combining information on legislative changes and judgements with gossip about members of the profession at home and abroad. In addition, she worked tirelessly to assist those servicemen who were permitted to study law by correspondence, forwarding them teaching notes and textbooks, and arranging tutoring and examinations.

Hay became an associate-member of the National Council of Women of New South Wales and joined the National (later United Australia) Party. She was interested in genealogy and was widely read; Trollope was one of her favourite authors. The Sydney Morning Herald published several of her articles and she left some unpublished works, including a biography of Sir Thomas Bavin, a history of T. J. Thompson's family and stockbroking firm, and biographical notes on numerous members of the New South Wales Bar. Her writing revealed a lively—at times acerbic—wit, the skills of an observant raconteur, a generally uncritical appreciation of the legal profession, her patriotism and her political conservatism.

Bridging the gap from the small pre-war school to the large postwar faculty, Hay carried the corporate memory of Law School policy and philosophy, at times perhaps too rigidly, through periods of stress and strain from Peden's deanship to that of K. O. Shatwell. After she retired in December 1953, a farewell presentation enabled her to take a second holiday in her beloved England. In the 1960s she did some part-time work in the law library before entering a convalescent home. She died on 10 December 1975 in the Scottish Hospital, Paddington, and was cremated.

Select Bibliography

  • J. and J. Mackinolty (eds), A Century Down Town (Syd, 1991)
  • University of Sydney News, 1 Mar 1976, p 2
  • Sydney Morning Herald, 12 Dec 1975
  • Dalrymple Hay papers (National Library of Australia)
  • Faculty of Law minutes (University of Sydney Archives)
  • private information.

Related Entries in NCB Sites

Citation details

Judy Mackinolty, 'Hay, Margaret Fordyce Dalrymple (1889–1975)', Australian Dictionary of Biography, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University,, published first in hardcopy 1996, accessed online 14 June 2024.

This article was published in hardcopy in Australian Dictionary of Biography, Volume 14, (Melbourne University Press), 1996

View the front pages for Volume 14

© Copyright Australian Dictionary of Biography, 2006-2024

Life Summary [details]

Alternative Names
  • Dalrymple-Hay, Margaret

24 December, 1889
Rushcutters Bay, Sydney, New South Wales, Australia


10 December, 1975 (aged 85)
Paddington, Sydney, New South Wales, Australia