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Marie Compston (Mollie) Horseman (1911–1974)

by Joan Kerr

This article was published:

Marie Compston (Mollie) Horseman (1911-1974), cartoonist and illustrator, was born on 9 December 1911 near Rochester, Victoria, daughter of Frederick Ernest Horseman, farmer, and his wife Katherine Marie Compston, née Miller, migrants from Yorkshire, England. Mollie grew up in Melbourne. Her parents having amicably separated, in 1924 her mother took her to Sheffield, England, and on to Germany. While Katherine managed a canteen for the British Army on the Rhine, Mollie was enrolled at a finishing school for young ladies. Speaking no German, she communicated mainly by drawing fellow students (and pictures of castles on the Rhine).

On returning to Australia two years later she cheekily advertised as a 'German-speaking governess' and was briefly employed by Norman Lindsay and his wife Rose. At (East) Sydney Technical College she was one of a brilliant crop of late 1920s female students influenced by Rayner Hoff's vitalist, 'life force' ideas to create sculptures, paintings and (especially) cartoons unprecedented in their uninhibited sexuality. Mollie later called Lindsay and Hoff two of the three great influences on her life—a rather backhanded compliment as it was made in Man magazine, renowned for its salacious cartoons, many drawn by her.

Financial problems forced Mollie to leave the college before completing her diploma. In 1929 she joined Smith's Weekly with Joan Morrison (1911-1969), who had been born in Kent, England, and was a sculpture graduate from the same college. The editor Frank Marien reportedly put them in a room with a 'KEEP OUT' sign on the door. They called themselves 'The Smith's Sisters' and occasionally drew cartoons jointly. 'Joan and Molly, the “Smith's” sisters, are asked to do a strip' (21 July 1934) consists of five punning frames ending with them resigning, offended by the lewd suggestion. Smith's was unique in offering a living wage to about a dozen cartoonists and promoting their names, personae and creations in such pseudo-autobiographical group cartoons and caricatures, many wittily captioned by Ken Slessor .

Horseman and Morrison were the first Australian women to be celebrated for their adult cartoons. Tall, blonde and bouncy, Mollie was invariably depicted as towering over the entire art staff ('We had to bend her to get her into the picture'), including a self-caricature of 15 April 1933. Like most of her colleagues she adapted urban stereotypes from Punch, Lilliput and Esquire but usually gave them a local focus:

What was the party at Darlinghurst like last night?
They sang 'God Save the Furniture'
(8 September 1934)

or an exuberant character bereft of malice or morals:

AUNT: 'Why did your friend look so worried?'
NIECE: 'She can't remember at whose cocktail party she left the baby'
(27 October 1934)

Morrison, in contrast, was noted for her drawings of beautiful, long-legged young women.

On 2 September 1931 at North Sydney registry office Horseman married William Longford Power, an articled clerk. They had a son, Roderick, before divorcing. On 8 June 1938 at Mosman Presbyterian Church she married Nelson Illingworth, company representative, grandson of the sculptor Nelson Illingworth. There were one son and three daughters of the marriage, which also ended in divorce. The family lived in Brisbane in the early 1940s, with Mollie freelancing. She painted murals on two railway carriages used by the Queensland government as travelling dental clinics, drew 'Fatto', 'Dora' and 'Tootles' for otherwise all-male comic books published by Frank Johnson in Sydney and contributed cartoons to Man, Woman's Mirror and Rydge's Business Journal.

From 1946 she worked for the Sydney production unit of the Brisbane Courier Mail. After Jean Cullen suicided, in the early 1950s Mollie took over her new comic strip about the teenager 'Pam' in the Sunday Mail and gave it a distinctively Australian character. Her best-known work, it ran for over eleven years and was widely syndicated. From 1957 she lived at Avalon with the children, drawing 'Pam' and other comics and cartoons and fashion and children's book illustrations. She painted nymphs, shepherds and other rococo fantasies for special evenings at Romano's nightclub. In the early 1960s she was staff artist on Everybody's magazine. Her numerous illustrations (either anonymous or signed 'Vanessa') included a weekly, full-page colour cartoon of the sexy Man type and the serial 'Girl Crusoe' (1964), a cheerful parody of the popular 'good girl cheesecake' comic. At the local jazz club on Saturday nights she played the lagerphone ('an Australian contrivance of bottle tops and broomsticks').

Horseman worked professionally for over forty years by enthusiastically embracing every opportunity. In 1963 Everybody's called her 'Australia's only woman cartoonist'. She was certainly the most visible. At their annual ball in 1956, her colleagues in the Australian Black and White Artists' Club 'smocked' her (presented her with an artist's smock decorated by fellow members) and she was later voted Sydney Savage Club 'Cartoonist of the Year'. In 1964 she was the only woman in a group photograph of forty-three professional cartoonists and one of nine women among 140 cartoonists in the survey exhibition Fifty Years of Australian Cartooning.

In 1967-69 she was back in Brisbane, illustrating books for Jacaranda Press, chiefly school readers. Then she settled in an old cottage in the Blue Mountains at Glenbrook, New South Wales, and continued freelance work, painting landscapes in oils as a hobby. In 1973 she was hit by a car. This accident led to a stroke that deprived her of speech and the use of her right hand. She taught herself to draw with her left and produced small abstracts with coloured pens. Horseman died on 7 May 1974 in the Blue Mountains Hospital, Katoomba, and was buried in the churchyard of St Thomas's Church of England, Mulgoa. The son of her first marriage, and one son and two daughters of her second, survived her.

Select Bibliography

  • R. P. Power, ‘Marie Compston (Mollie) Hoseman’, in J. Kerr (ed), Heritage: The National Women’s Art Book (Syd, 1995).

Citation details

Joan Kerr, 'Horseman, Marie Compston (Mollie) (1911–1974)', Australian Dictionary of Biography, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University,, published first in hardcopy 2005, accessed online 22 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]

Alternative Names
  • Power, Mollie
  • Illingworth, Marie

9 December, 1911
Rochester, Victoria, Australia


7 May, 1974 (aged 62)
Katoomba, New South Wales, Australia

Cultural Heritage

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