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Australian Dictionary of Biography

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Woodhouse, Margaret Joan (1927–1990)

by Neil A. Radford

This article was published in Australian Dictionary of Biography, Volume 18, (MUP), 2012

Margaret Joan Woodhouse (1927-1990), bookseller, was born on 18 August 1927 at Waverley, Sydney, eldest of eight children of English-born parents Albert Edward Barwell, patternmaker, and his wife Agnes Gertrude, née Sargent. Margaret was educated at Mount St Mary’s College, Katoomba, obtaining the Leaving certificate in 1942. She took a clerical position with the Public Library of New South Wales. After studying part time for the examinations of the Library Association of Australia she qualified as a librarian in 1955. The Public Library then staffed libraries in State government departments, technical colleges and teachers’ colleges. She worked in several of these affiliated institutions as well as in the Public Library itself. On 11 October 1958 at St Cecilia’s Catholic Church, Balgowlah, she married Frank Lewis Woodhouse, a fellow librarian. She resigned from the Public Library near the end of 1959.

In 1962 Woodhouse purchased a commercial lending library and gift shop in North Sydney, but closed the lending library to refocus the business as a second-hand and antiquarian bookshop. Specialising in books relating to Australia and the Pacific, in 1964 she moved the shop to History House, the headquarters of the Royal Australian Historical Society in Sydney, where her customers included such well-known collectors as Sir John Ferguson, Geoffrey Ingleton and Walter Stone. In 1983 she shifted the shop to Roseville, closer to her home at Gordon, and later to Killara, which made it easier for her to care for her widowed mother, who by then lived with her and her husband.

Woodhouse compiled and published an index to the Stockwhip 1875-77 (1969) and indexes to the first twenty-five years of the Pacific Islands Monthly (1968, 1984). In 1971 she published the first volume of Australian Book Auction Records, a biennial compilation of prices realised at auctions, which became an essential reference tool for both dealers and collectors. Five volumes were published (1971-79) under her editorship. She organised book fairs for the trade and worked hard to ensure their success. Her election in 1989 to the presidency of the Australian & New Zealand Association of Antiquarian Booksellers (of which she had been a foundation member) reflected the esteem in which her peers held her.

A warm and friendly person, always lively and enthusiastic, with an impish sense of humour, Woodhouse was genuinely interested in others. She took the time to talk with her customers and was also generous in sharing her knowledge with other booksellers, particularly those who were younger or less experienced. With a strong commitment to professional ethics, she had a reputation for fair dealing. She died of acute asthma on 12 July 1990 at her home and was buried in the Catholic section of Northern Suburbs cemetery. Her husband survived her for two months. They had no children.

Australian and Pacific material, local history and genealogy, private presses, children’s books, photographs, postcards, bookplates and other ephemera had filled her house as well as her shop. Large collections of such items were disposed of by sale after her death, the majority going to the National Library of Australia and academic libraries, with the residue of her collection sold by auction in 1991.

Select Bibliography

  • In Memoriam: Gaston Renard Margaret Woodhouse (1990)
  • Australian Financial Review, 19 July 1990, p 35
  • Australian Book Collector, Aug 1990, p 1
  • Biblionews, Sept 1990, p 80
  • History: Magazine of the Royal Australian Historical Society, Oct 1990, p 2
  • private information.

Related Entries in NCB Sites

Citation details

Neil A. Radford, 'Woodhouse, Margaret Joan (1927–1990)', Australian Dictionary of Biography, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University,, published first in hardcopy 2012, accessed online 26 October 2020.

This article was first published in hardcopy in Australian Dictionary of Biography, Volume 18, (MUP), 2012

View the front pages for Volume 18

© Copyright Australian Dictionary of Biography, 2006-2020

Life Summary [details]

Alternative Names
  • Barwell, Margaret Joan

18 August 1927
Waverley, Sydney, New South Wales, Australia


12 July 1990
Gordon, Sydney, New South Wales, Australia

Cause of Death


Cultural Heritage
Religious Influence