Australian Dictionary of Biography

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Margaret MacPherson (1875–1956)

by Jean F. Arnot

This article was published:

Margaret MacPherson (1875-1956), pharmacist and benefactress, was born on 20 February 1875 at Gundagai, New South Wales, second daughter of native-born parents Alexander MacPherson, surveyor and later grazier, and his wife Delicia Anne, née Vyner. She was brought up on her father's station, Umbango, near Tarcutta. After passing a preliminary examination, she was indentured for three years to Josiah Parker, chemist, of 221 William Street, Sydney. She was registered by the Board of Pharmacy on 11 August 1904, having gained first place in the final examination; at the same time she was granted her poison licence. With a gentleman assistant, she was managing one of Parker's branches in William Street.

In September 1908 Miss MacPherson was appointed dispenser at the Royal Hospital for Women, Paddington, at a salary of £62 a year; by January 1912 it had reached £156. In March 1911 she had joined the Pharmaceutical Society of New South Wales. She left the hospital in December 1916 and worked briefly at Dixon's pharmacy in King Street.

The family property, Umbango, was sold in 1918 after the death of her father in 1917 and next year of her brother Alister. A good linguist, Margaret MacPherson was fluent in French and Italian. With her younger sister Elizabeth (1878-1953), a schoolteacher, she travelled overseas and lived for a time at Florence, Italy; on their return they settled at Darling Point, then at Double Bay. In April 1933 the sisters approached W. H. Ifould, principal librarian of the Public Library of New South Wales, about establishing some memorial collection. After negotiations it was decided that it should consist of 'books of pure literature and fine arts' known as the 'Donald MacPherson Collection of Art and Literature'. This was in memory of their grandfather who had migrated from Scotland in 1838, been a schoolteacher of some renown and a prominent member of Scots Church, Sydney. During their lives the sisters gave money for the purchase of books (the first were bought in 1945).

Margaret MacPherson died in the Scottish Hospital, Paddington, on 27 October 1956 and was cremated after a service at St Mark's Anglican Church, Darling Point. Both sisters, in almost identical wills drawn up in November 1937, after life interests bequeathed the residue of their estates to the library: Elizabeth's was valued for probate at £13,423 and Margaret's at £16,354. When the deed of release of all monies was made in April 1970, the library received $113,914. The Donald MacPherson Collection of Art and Literature forms part of the special collections in the State Library of New South Wales.

Select Bibliography

  • Australasian Journal of Pharmacy, 30 Nov 1964
  • Estate of M. and E. MacPherson (office file, State Library of New South Wales).

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Citation details

Jean F. Arnot, 'MacPherson, Margaret (1875–1956)', Australian Dictionary of Biography, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University,, published first in hardcopy 1986, accessed online 24 June 2024.

This article was published in hardcopy in Australian Dictionary of Biography, Volume 10, (Melbourne University Press), 1986

View the front pages for Volume 10

© Copyright Australian Dictionary of Biography, 2006-2024

Life Summary [details]


20 February, 1875
Gundagai, New South Wales, Australia


27 October, 1956 (aged 81)
Paddington, Sydney, New South Wales, Australia

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.