Livingston Hopkins


1846 - 1927    |    New South Wales    |    Cartoonist

Hopkins came to Australia from Ohio in 1883, recruited on a three-year contract with The Bulletin as “a humorous artist of the first rank”. He stayed for life, teaming with Phil May and others to initiate a golden age of Australian caricature through the 1880s and 1890s that both mirrored and defined the Australian character at the time of Federation. There was mirth in his political cartooning, but he was dour and exacting and concerned with advancing etching and printing techniques, ultimately as a director of The Bulletin.

His spare lines and sharp, although seldom severe, satire reflected the economic isolationism, republican nationalism and cultural chauvinism of 'the bushman’s bible' in its heroic age under J. F. Archibald’s editorship. 

Robert Phiddian


Livingston Hopkins


Australians have tended to assume that their cartoonists have always been independent humourists, poking fun at the shibboleths and pomposities of the age. It is a pleasing nationalist myth, but the truth is muddier. In the 19th century it was generally the case that artists were given ideas to illustrate by editors and literary men who were confident that they had a superior grasp of a joke. In the 20th century it became normal for cartoonists to come up with their own ideas.

No-one played a greater role in this transition than Livingston York Yourtee Hopkins. Hop was a tall, angular Yankee who had spent 13 years as an independent cartoonist in New York when he was effectively kidnapped by W.H.Traill and brought to Sydney to work on The Bulletin in 1883: “He was a bigger and stronger man than I was, so I finished the drawing I was engaged upon at the time, and – before I knew where I was, I had hung up my hat in Sydney,” Hopkins would say. Other cartooning comets like Phil May and David Low passed briefly through the pages of The Bulletin in its great decades either side of Federation, but Hop stayed, for 30 years and (on his daughter-biographer Dorothy’s estimate) “no fewer than 19,000 creations of the ludicrous”.

The endurance mattered, because the austere and businesslike Hop took a place around the editorial table, and eventually at the directors’ table as well. He also pioneered the photo-engraving process in Australia, which permitted much quicker turnaround of potentially more topical images than wood-blocks or lithography. Thus cartooning became less like a pictorial indulgence and more an integral and independent voice in the young nation’s most influential journal. Few cartoonists since have held such editorial sway, but any presumed right of editors to direct them to particular topics or views has withered, and the cartooning tradition has correspondingly flourished.

With Phil May and later Norman Lindsay, Hop provided continuity of style in a journal that also solicited illustrations from hundreds of freelancers. His spare lines and sharp, although seldom severe, satire reflected the economic isolationism, republican nationalism and cultural chauvinism of “the bushman’s bible” in its heroic age under J. F. Archibald’s editorship. A veteran of brief and undistinguished service in the American Civil War, Hop had little trouble acclimatising to the journal’s robust nationalism, in both its anti-imperial and, frankly, racist modes.

Hop invented the Bulletin’s patriotic symbol, the Little Boy from Manly. This figure in rounded cap and breeches was a piece of instant nostalgia, already harking back to an earlier era when first drawn in 1885. The Little Boy was, nevertheless, a suburban rather than a rural figure, and thus a more representative depiction of Australians than other figures in the journal. This reflected Hop’s status as a Sydneysider rather than a fully-fledged member of the laconic bush tradition generally associated with The Bulletin.

Hop targeted particularly the major New South Wales politicians of the Federation era, exerting a particular caricature “ownership”’ of Henry Parkes, Edmund Barton, and George Reid. The relationship (even interdependence) shared by public figures and their satirists in what was then a population of less than four million can be seen in Dorothy Hopkins’ account of her father’s first meeting with Parkes: “Sir Henry, do you know Mr Hopkins?” “No, I don’t,” said Sir Henry with a genial smile as he extended his hand, “but the beggar knows me!”  In the 1880s, voters would have known Parkes better from the cartoonists’ images than from anything more flattering, so he knew he needed Hop as much as Hop needed him.

To turn out hundreds of cartoons a year over three decades, you need to be an artist of regular habits, and Hop was more puritan than bohemian in his private life. He was a patriarch to his six children, especially after his wife’s death at 40, and demanded total silence in the Mosman house while he worked on his cartoons or on the violins he built and repaired as a hobby. He became a significant figure in turn-of-the-century artistic Sydney, running an artistic camp at Balmoral with artist and critic Julian Ashton.

One of his enduring creations was the Bulletin family, including the Fighting Editor, Printer’s Devil, and the Kiama Ghost. His stylish, languid lines brought a sense of clubbish intimacy to the journal over three decades, and in his works you can see reflected the preoccupations of the journal that brought us, for good and ill, “Australia for the White Man” on its banner from 1886-1961. In his detached if sometimes caustic humour, he became a kind of Mr Spectator for Federation-era Australia.

Robert Phiddian teaches English at Flinders University and has been writing regularly on political cartoons since 1996. 


Hopkins self-portrait. Courtesy State Library of NSW. 


Portrait of Livingston Hopkins by William MacLeod. Courtesy Art Gallery of NSW


Hopkins self-portrait, 1894. Courtesy National Gallery of Victoria


'The Labour Crisis' by Livingston Hopkins, Bulletin, 16 August 1890. Courtesy Monash University Library Rare Books.


Further reading


‘Hopkins, Livingston York Yourtee (Hop) (1846–1927)', B. G. Andrews, Australian Dictionary of Biography, Melbourne University Press, 1972.


On the Hop! A Selection from the Australian Drawings of Livingston Hopkins, Livingston Hopkins, The Bulletin Newspaper Company, 1904.


Hopkins, Hop of the “Bulletin”, Dorothy June Hopkins, Angus & Robertson, 1929.


The Loaded Line: Australian Political Caricature, 1788-1901, B, Melbourne University Press, 1973.