Matlab figure properties which can be set through the properties editor can also be set by scripts. My main stumbling block was not realising that gca is a builtin function which returns the current axes. A list of all properties.

Below is a example matlab script which plots a graph then adds minor ticks to the X-axis:

a =   1:100 ;
b = 101:200 ;

plot(a, b)
% gca : get current axes
set(gca, 'XMinorTick','on')