Australian Dictionary of Biography

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David Henry Souter (1862–1935)

by Vane Lindesay

This article was published:

David Henry Souter (1862-1935), black-and-white artist and journalist, was born on 30 March 1862 at Aberdeen, Scotland, son of David Henry Souter, engineer, and his wife Ann Smith, née Grant. Apprenticed at 12 to a house-painter and signwriter, he acquired a good grounding in drawing at the local art school under instructors from London and earned five shillings each for anatomical illustrations. He served for a year with the Aberdeenshire Rifle Volunteers and in 1880 joined the staff of the magazine, Bon Accord.

Moving in 1881 to Natal, South Africa, Souter produced drawings and occasional journalism, started a paper which failed, and became colour sergeant in the Prince Alfred Guards. At Port Elizabeth on 17 February 1886 he married Jessie (Janet) Swanson (d.1931). Deciding against returning to Scotland, they came to Melbourne, but settled in Sydney in 1887. David worked for the printer John Sands for ten years before joining William Brooks & Co. Ltd as an illustrator.

Active on the council of the (Royal) Art Society of New South Wales, in 1888 Souter established its Brush Club for members under 26: at monthly meetings Julian Ashton, Albert Fullwood and other senior artists appraised their work. In 1895 Souter was a founder and council-member of the breakaway Society of Artists, Sydney, and was president (1901-02) when it re-united with the Royal Art Society. After the societies split in 1907, he returned to the Society of Artists with whom he exhibited his water-colours in 1907.

In the 1880s Souter drew cartoons for the weekly Tribune and News of the Week. For forty years from 1895 he had at least one cartoon published in every edition of the Bulletin and had the distinction of naming his own modest price for a drawing. His graceful penwork showed the early influence of Art Nouveau, a style sinuous and flowing. The drawings were strong on the printed page with large black solid areas complementing fine, firm pen lines. His compositions and groupings were helped by the inclusion of the familiar Souter cat which reputedly originated as a result of the artist furbishing an inkblot on one of his drawings. Some of his cat studies are pictured in Bush Babs (1933), a collection of nonsense rhymes he wrote for his children and later illustrated for publication. His cats were featured on Royal Doulton chinaware.

Souter illustrated other books, including several for Ethel Turner, and co-edited Art and Architecture in 1904-11 (to which he contributed a series of articles on Australian painters); he was among the first to draw Australian posters and, with Norman Lindsay, to design bookplates. In September 1907 Souter's operetta, The Grey Kimona (1902), was staged in Adelaide by Clyde Meynell and John Gunn. Involved with Alfred Hill's Sydney Repertory Theatre Society, Souter produced two plays in 1914 and wrote librettos for light operas including Hill's Rajah of Shivapore. A selection of his full-page war cartoons for the Stock Journal were reprinted in 1915. Not least of his many triumphs were two comic strips, 'Sharkbait Sam' and 'Weary Willie and the Count de Main', drawn for the Sydney Sunday Sun in 1921: frame for frame, their inventiveness and composition were remarkable. By 1928 Souter was literary editor of Country Life.

His Bulletin satire, in theme never other than domiciliary, was always sophisticated, often wise, with a knowing, gentle cynicism. A short, thickset and immensely humorous man who never lost his Scottish burr, Souter included Jack Brereton among his many friends. Survived by three daughters and two sons, Souter died at his Bondi home on 22 September 1935 and was cremated with Presbyterian forms.

Select Bibliography

  • Society of Artists, Spring Exhibition catalogue (Syd, 1907)
  • M. Muir, A History of Australian Childrens Book Illustration (Melb, 1982)
  • V. Lindesay, The Inked-in Image (Melb, 1970)
  • Henslowe's Annual (Syd), 1898
  • Theatre Magazine, 1 Jan 1918
  • B.P. Mag, 1 Mar 1932
  • Scottish Australasian, Sept 1915
  • Art in New Zealand, Mar 1936
  • Sydney Morning Herald, 19 Aug 1931, 24 Sept, 5 Oct 1935
  • J. Le Gay Brereton papers (State Library of New South Wales).

Citation details

Vane Lindesay, 'Souter, David Henry (1862–1935)', Australian Dictionary of Biography, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University,, published first in hardcopy 1990, accessed online 29 May 2024.

This article was published in hardcopy in Australian Dictionary of Biography, Volume 12, (Melbourne University Press), 1990

View the front pages for Volume 12

© Copyright Australian Dictionary of Biography, 2006-2024

Life Summary [details]


30 March, 1862
Aberdeen, Aberdeenshire, Scotland


22 September, 1935 (aged 73)
Bondi, Sydney, New South Wales, Australia

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