Margaret Shaw was Mayoress of Adelaide between 1888 and 1889.

Early Life

Margaret Shaw (also her maiden name) was born in Tasmania in about 1855. Her parents, Margaret née Byers and John Shaw, were from Scotland. In 1854, two years after they wed, Margaret’s parents migrated to Tasmania – or Van Diemen’s Land as it was then known – with their baby son, George. Soon after Margaret’s birth, the family moved to Kyneton in the Macedon Ranges region of Victoria. Six more siblings were to follow – and all survived well into adulthood.

Margaret’s husband, James, was born in 1846 in County Down, Ireland. He had left Ireland for New Zealand in 1864, but soon moved to Melbourne where he began working for the government railways and public works departments.

Margaret and James wed at Kyneton in 1875. After the birth of their first child, Hugh, in 1876, the couple moved to Adelaide. James soon became prominent as a builder and contractor while at the same time taking an active part in civic affairs. Margaret gave birth to another son, James, in 1878; a daughter, Margaret, was born two years later.


Margaret was Mayoress for one year.

James was Mayor of Adelaide from 1888 to 1889, before returning to the building trade. James then took the family to Coolgardie in Western Australia, and in 1894 James was elected the first Mayor of Coolgardie. Margaret was, therefore, that town’s inaugural Mayoress.

Personal Note

Sadly, in that same year, the couple’s eldest son Hugh died after contracting typhoid fever. He was buried in Coolgardie Cemetery.

Eventually Margaret and James moved to Auckland, New Zealand, where their daughter Margaret now lived. After James became ill with gout, his medical advisor suggested a long sea voyage to facilitate recovery. The couple embarked on a trip to England, but James died in London in September 1910.

Margaret returned to New Zealand to live with her daughter. Here she died, only eighteen months later, in March 1912. She was 59.

By Cheryl Williss, HerStory Project

The HerStory project came about to recognise and celebrate the lives and the achievements of Women’s work in South Australia and was initiated in 2015 on the 175th anniversary of the City of Adelaide, by Genevieve Theseira-Haese, Lady Mayoress of Adelaide. The stories collected offer a unique perspective of Adelaide and South Australia that form a different history to what is often heard. This community built initiative is supported by the City of Adelaide and the History Trust of South Australia.

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