Sun sets on Jock cartoonist


Cartoonist David Henshaw and his alter ego, Jock.
Cartoonist David Henshaw and his alter ego, Jock.
New Zealand farming icon David Henshaw, famous for his Jock cartoons, and a long time Tamahere resident, died on Sunday aged 74.

David Thomas Henshaw, ONZM, was a much loved New Zealand farming character and after more than 40 years of communicating with farmers through his cartoons, his main character, Jock, is a recognised national identity.

The Jock cartoons appeared in the New Zealand Farmer newspaper for 34 years.

The rugged Kiwi farmer character has continued to appear in print for the past 17 years thanks to the annual Jock calendar whose popularity has continued to grow in both rural and urban areas.

In 2011, David became an Officer of the New Zealand Order of Merit for services as a cartoonist.

The citation noted that David’s cartooning had contributed to a better understanding between New Zealand’s rural and urban communities, particularly among children.

“His cartoons are a record of the agricultural and social history of New Zealand during the last 40 years,” noted the citation when David received his insignia from Governor General Anand Satyanand on April 15, 2011.

In 2007 David was awarded the Guild of Agricultural Journalists’ Landcorp Communicator of the Year Award.

Early years

David, who lived in Woodcock Rd, Tamahere for around 20 years, was born in Kimbolton, Manawatu in 1939, and reared on the family’s 242ha (600 acre) beef and sheep farm. He attended Palmerston North Boy’s High School where his artistic bent was soon recognised and actively encouraged. For some unexplained reason, the school seemed to be a great birthplace for other cartoonists like Tom Scott and Malcolm Evans, known for his Edna cartoons.

On leaving school, David did the first year of a Sheep-Farming Diploma at Massey College (as it was then), but then moved to Lincoln college (as it was then), to complete a Diploma in Valuation and Farm Management. DVFM students were in great demand at that time, as New Zealand responded to the need to develop more land in the national drive for more production in the 1960s.

David’s valuation career took him to Wellington, Palmerston North, Hokitika, Te Kuiti and finally to the Waikato where, after retirement from the public service, he lived supposed semi-retirement.

A scene from a Jock calendar
A scene from a Jock calendar

Jock rode on

But Jock never retired, as there was much for him to be concerned about and pass comment on in the state of farming and, indeed, across the whole spectrum of rural life.

NZ Farmer editor Boyd Wilson said that that after all the hard work his dedicated editorial staff put into the paper, he had to admit that farmers really bought it for the Jock cartoon, which they always read first, followed by the stock prices. Boyd also recognised that the most popular place to find the paper was in the longdrop, with the cartoon torn out and filed on a conveniently placed nail.

David’s production of the Jock cartoon never flagged with rural folk, but it was a great favourite too for all those urban folk who had a link with the land, no matter how long ago. It always brought back memories and always with a smile.

To be able to sustain a fortnightly cartoon for over three decades showed David’s outstanding knowledge and appreciation of farming and rural life – and especially the people who farmed and worked the land.

Cartooning requires a dedication, deep love and understanding of farming and the people of the land, far beyond the call of ordinary rural commentators.

A cartoonist’s message has to have instant and solid impact, and it needs to be fearless at touching raw nerves when necessary. David’s work always met the highest professional standards in seeking these goals.

David Henshaw receiving his ONZM in 2011 from Governor General Anand Satyanand
David Henshaw receiving his ONZM in 2011 from Governor General Anand Satyanand

David’s cartoons touched plenty of nerves, but never in a vindictive way. He had a rare gift of lampooning someone or an issue that could still raise at least a grin to his victim, rather than the urge to sue. There were many in high places that asked for his originals to frame, and which he gave away freely.

To get clear messages across, cartoons don’t need to be works of art – although David’s always were, especially in his latter years as his interest in watercolour developed, and hence they were always collectable with many ending up being framed.

David published a number of books on his own, and with co-authors like Judy Darrach, John Dawson and Graham McBride. But he contributed to a massive list of publications over the years for organisations like ACC, MAF, Farmsafe, Waikato Pesticides Awareness Committee, NZ Dairy Group, Fonterra, NZ Society of Animal Production and NZ Society of Farm Management.

For decades, David was a much sought after speaker at every kind or rural event, and he was always expected to do an instant cartoon relevant to the occasion to finish his performance – which was regularly auctioned for the cause. He loved an audience (rural or urban it didn’t matter), and the audience always loved his performances.

David was a very generous person with his time. He must have earned hundreds of thousand of dollars for charities of all kinds through the auctioning and sale of his works. He never expected payment for any of this.

He travelled the length and breadth of New Zealand serving the farming industry. As a land valuer he must have walked for thousands of kilometers in both islands over the whole range of different types of country, and met so many people on the land and listened to their issues. He clearly used this as a great resource for his cartooning and art work.

Inspiring children

David had a special interest in child education and went out of his way through his art and cartooning experience, to help children of all ages, especially those with special needs, and in particular autism. He loved taking art to children and was a major force behind the The Children’s Art House in Otorohanga.

Schools used to invite him to take an art class and the art teachers, the students and their parents were staggered at the response this achieved, seen in the class work, and enthusiasm for the subject.

David Henshawm aka Jock, in 2011 (Photo: Fairfax)
David Henshaw, aka Jock, in 2011 (Photo: Fairfax)

There’s something very sad about Jock’s property today.

Jock is sitting in the woolshed today on a fadge of dags looking glum, delicately licking the glue strip on his rollie, and searching his Swannie pockets for a light.

• Dog is lying beside him, head resting on crossed front paws, looking miserable, and not sure if he’d heard right, that it’s the hydatids strip day, first a dose and then the inevitable enema.

• Horse is tied up at the rail, resting a hind leg, head hung low and reins trailing on the ground, wondering why he hasn’t had his regular early morning kick in the guts before being saddled up.

• The Boy stands leaning on the wool press with furrowed brow, wondering why he hasn’t had his regular morning bollocking, and allocation of today’s shitty job which the boss says will only take an hour, and really needs two-days and four men to finish.

• The Landrover is still in the shed with the turkeys still roosting on the roof.

David has left us for his final muster, but Jock will live on for a few more years in David’s calendars, as there’s still plenty farming predicaments from his past work to be re-illustrated for us viewers of life’s predicaments.

Thomas David Henshaw – and Jock, will be sadly missed.

David is survived by his four children and 10 grandchildren.

With heartfelt thanks to Clive Dalton for these touching words on David’s life.

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