Australian Dictionary of Biography

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John Henry Chinner (1865–1933)

by Rob Van Den Hoorn

This article was published:

John Henry Chinner (1865-1933), cartoonist and insurance manager, was born on 30 June 1865 at Brighton, Adelaide, son of George William Chinner, company manager, and his wife Mary, née Edwards. After attending Prince Alfred College, John undertook a course in life-drawing at the Adelaide School of Design under H. P. Gill. Art was, however, a part-time career, and never his main source of income. He worked for some years with an Adelaide insurance agent and broker L. A. Jessop. In 1895 Chinner became manager of the Atlas Assurance Co., where he remained until retiring in 1925.

On 11 September 1889 he had married Harriet Agnes Wallace at the Wesleyan church, Parkside, where he was active all his life; they had five children. Chinner wrote several hymns and was a much-liked Sunday School superintendent. A genial, energetic man of average height, he often wore a flower in his buttonhole. He was a member of and office-holder in the Parkside Literary Society, won prizes for his short stories and regularly gave talks on a wide range of topics. From 1899 to 1902 he was a councillor for Fullarton Ward, Unley City Council, and was twice mayor of Unley. His favourite sport was lawn bowls, which he excelled at, representing South Australia several times.

Chinner's first paid position as a cartoonist was with the satirical weekly the Lantern in the late 1880s. By 1889 the rival journal Quiz, which became Quiz and the Lantern (1890-1900), had appointed him as its regular cartoonist. Soon his work approached the technical quality and creative standards of the English illustrator John Tenniel, an early influence, and 'Hop'. For the next forty years Chinner worked for almost every major newspaper in Adelaide, the Sydney Bulletin and London Punch. At times he was producing one full-page cartoon and up to six caricatures a week for Quiz—no mean feat for a man with other, full-time employment.

The 1890s offered him plenty of raw material. With his nimble mind and ability to get to the nub of complicated issues quickly, Chinner provided a gently mocking commentary on South Australian politics. Many of his cartoons presupposed a degree of understanding of the classics, Shakespeare and English history. He drew for, and was of, the middle classes; his cartoons and caricatures were a distillation of middle-class South Australians' view of the world. During his years with Quiz and the Critic he provided weekly caricatures of well-known personalities in regular segments such as 'Round the Town' or 'Federationists'. In the 1920s he produced a long-running series, 'Notable Citizens', in Saturday's Journal, published by the Register. The caricatures provided a marvellous collection of character studies of Adelaide's leaders during the 1890s and 1920s and showed his keen political insight and wit as well as a controlled, meticulous line.

Chinner's work also appeared in church and bowling club publications; he illustrated several books, designed invitations for mayoral functions, created personal Christmas and greeting cards, painted water-colour landscapes and designed lead-light windows for Parkside church. He died of a coronary occlusion on 15 December 1933 at Parkside. His wife, two sons and two daughters survived him, inheriting an estate sworn for probate at £12,618. The Art Gallery of South Australia holds an indexed collection of 212 original printer's proofs of Chinner's 'Notable Citizens', also available in the South Australian Archives, and Unley Museum has two framed panels of his original caricatures.

Select Bibliography

  • H. T. Burgess (ed), The Cyclopedia of South Australia, vol 1 (Adel, 1907)
  • M. Mahood, The Loaded Line (Melb, 1973)
  • Literary Societies’ Journal (South Australia), 10 Aug 1907
  • Australasian Insurance and Banking Record, 21 Feb 1925, p 157
  • Unley Citizen, 14 Sept 1906
  • Register (Adelaide), 29 Oct 1928, p 11
  • Christian Commonwealth, 25 Nov 1932
  • Advertiser (Adelaide), 16 Dec 1933, p 14
  • Chronicle (Adelaide), 21 Dec 1933, p 16.

Citation details

Rob Van Den Hoorn, 'Chinner, John Henry (1865–1933)', Australian Dictionary of Biography, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University,, published first in hardcopy 2005, accessed online 17 June 2024.

This article was published in hardcopy in Australian Dictionary of Biography, Supplementary Volume, (Melbourne University Press), 2005

View the front pages for the Supplementary Volume

© Copyright Australian Dictionary of Biography, 2006-2024

Life Summary [details]


30 June, 1865
Brighton, Adelaide, South Australia, Australia


15 December, 1933 (aged 68)
Parkside, Adelaide, South Australia, 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.