sketcher, architect and surveyor, was born at Newry, County Down, Ireland, son of Joseph McMinn and Martha née Hamill. He came to Adelaide at the age of six with his widowed mother and his seven brothers and sisters on board the Albatross in September 1850. In 1859 he exhibited a pen-and-ink drawing, Castle of Segovia , with the South Australian Society of Arts. It was commended by the judges but did not win a prize. He won a 5-guinea prize at the 1861 exhibition for 'the best architectural drawing’.

Apprenticed to the architect James Macgeorge on leaving school, McMinn at first practised as a surveyor and in 1865 was involved in a disastrous expedition to northern Australia to map the Adelaide River. To return to civilisation McMinn and six others, including Charles Hake, Arthur Hamilton and J.P. Stow, bought (from another ship) a 23-foot open boat, named it the Forlorn Hope , and sailed 2000 miles south to Champion Bay (Geraldton, WA). A pen-and-ink copy of his drawing of the crew bailing water in a severe storm is annotated 'Mr Stow and party in a gale,—in their perilous voyage in an open boat from Adams Bay to Western Australia, Tuesday June 11, 1865. from a Sketch by Mr W. McMinn, one of the Party’ (Mitchell Library). A version of this sketch, The 'Forlorn Hope’ in a Gale on her Voyage from Adam Bay to Western Australia , appeared in the Illustrated Melbourne Post later that year.

McMinn established himself as an architect in 1867, subsequently designing, amongst other works, the original Venetian Gothic building of the University of Adelaide, now known as the Mitchell Building (c.1877-81 in partnership with Edward John Woods), Marble Hill at Norton Summit, the summer residence of the governors of South Australia, several hotels and the original part of the Adelaide Children’s Hospital. He won second prize for his design of a bridge over the Torrens River. He was also government surveyor and overseer of works on the northern part of the Overland Telegraph from Port Darwin to Port Augusta (Northern Territory) in 1871 but was dismissed following his return to Adelaide in July.

McMinn married Mary Frances Muirhead at Glenelg on 14 March 1877; they had two daughters. He died at North Adelaide on 14 February 1884, aged forty.

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