Story: Minhinnick, Gordon Edward George

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Minhinnick, Gordon Edward George

1902–1992

Architectural draughtsman, cartoonist

This biography, written by Ian F. Grant, was first published in the Dictionary of New Zealand Biography in 1998.

Gordon Edward George Minhinnick was born at Torpoint, Cornwall, England, on 13 June 1902, the son of Annie Sealy and her husband, Percy Charles Minhinnick. Gordon's father, grandfather and great-grandfather had all been naval officers and it was assumed he would follow them; he was educated at Kelly College, Tavistock, with such a career in mind. However, in 1921, his father, then a naval engineer-commander, was appointed to HMS Philomel, stationed in Auckland, and the Minhinnick family moved to New Zealand. Gordon had a brief period, with his brother Ken, as a cadet on a King Country sheep station before returning to Auckland intent on becoming an architect. First, though, he had to pass the matriculation examination, doing so by cramming at a coaching college.

In 1922 Minhinnick was articled to Prouse and Gummer (later Gummer and Ford) for four years and passed the first of his degree examinations at Auckland University College, although he never graduated. He did detail work on some of the firm's major projects, including Christchurch's Bridge of Remembrance and Auckland's Dilworth Building.

Minhinnick's passion for drawing topical sketches and caricatures was largely suppressed until the arrival of the American fleet in Auckland harbour in 1925 inspired a cartoon that he made a determined effort to sell. He took it to the New Zealand Herald, Auckland Star and New Zealand Observer, but could not find a buyer. It was finally published by the Wellington-based New Zealand Free Lance, which subsequently commissioned a weekly cartoon and then, six months later, offered Minhinnick the dual position of cartoonist and illustrations editor. He was paid £5 10s. a week and soon gave up the editorial role to concentrate on his cartooning. It was the end of his embryonic architectural career, although he was always grateful that the training had taught him accuracy, layout and perspective.

Shortly afterwards Minhinnick heard of an opportunity to move back to Auckland. E. C. Huie, who began the innovative Christchurch Sun in 1914, was planning to launch an Auckland counterpart. He appointed Minhinnick to the new paper, sending him to work on the Christchurch Sun for a six-month apprenticeship in daily cartooning.

The Auckland Sun was launched in March 1927, but local competition was too strong and it closed in 1930. However, such was Minhinnick's growing reputation that he was at once appointed the New Zealand Herald's staff cartoonist. He was to remain at the Herald for nearly 50 years, becoming by far the most illustrious cartoonist of his generation. He retired in 1976 at the age of 73, but his cartoons appeared with remarkable regularity in the Herald on Tuesdays and Thursdays until August 1987. For many years they were syndicated in other newspapers. His published collections were popular and scores of Minhinnick cartoons have since illustrated political and social histories of New Zealand. For all that, Minhinnick was an Aucklander and much of his daily output was devoted to the events and personalities in his beloved city.

Minhinnick's working style was principally influenced by David Low, New Zealand's internationally acclaimed cartoonist. In 1967 he wrote, in an introduction to a Low cartoon exhibition: 'Nothing is superfluous. Nothing is wasted. Technically, Low was a master-craftsman.' Low's skills were largely Minhinnick's as well. It was no accident that Minhinnick was offered, but declined, his chair at the Evening Standard when Low left the London newspaper in 1949.

In contrast to Low, Minhinnick saw his role as more to amuse than to provoke, and his work avoided Low's radicalism. Minhinnick's view of life and politics was comfortably in step with the New Zealand Herald and conservative New Zealanders. Distrustful of change, he was arguably at his most effective, and angriest, between 1936 and 1949 when the Labour government pushed New Zealand in a new direction.

Minhinnick, held in high regard by both the public and his politician victims, was able, through his comic touch, to defuse inflamed community feelings with a laugh. To him, the art of cartooning was a vocation, a way of life, rather than a political soapbox. In 1980 he contributed a foreword to The unauthorized version, a history of New Zealand as seen through the eyes of cartoonists. He wrote of the 'symbiotic arrangement' between cartoonists and politicians 'whereby the organisms depend for their existence on nourishment derived from each other', and suggested that 'a political career can be advanced considerably by a few well-placed cartoons, and many elder statesmen are well aware of it.'

Minhinnick's cartoons featured several characters over the years. Sam, a raffish invention ('He was purely fun and could shoot himself and appear next time'), was first seen in the Auckland Sun, then reappeared in the Herald's Saturday supplement before achieving enduring fame as Old Soldier Sam during the war years. The much more proper John Citizen, the 'little man' bemused by the vagaries of the expanding world of officialdom, appeared in the daily Herald cartoons for a period until Minhinnick, who had no affection for his creation, killed him off. Minhinnick's enthusiasm for trout fishing was reflected in many cartoons.

Minhinnick was made an OBE in 1950 and a KBE in 1976 in recognition of his contribution to the cartoonist's craft. He had married Winifred Maude Vernor Helmore in Christchurch on 11 January 1928. Gordon died in Auckland on 19 February 1992; Vernor had died in 1991. A daughter predeceased them, and they were survived by their son.

How to cite this page:

Ian F. Grant. 'Minhinnick, Gordon Edward George', Dictionary of New Zealand Biography, first published in 1998. Te Ara - the Encyclopedia of New Zealand, https://teara.govt.nz/en/biographies/4m55/minhinnick-gordon-edward-george (accessed 15 November 2018)