Australian Dictionary of Biography

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Knight, George William (1831–1923)

by David Dunstan

This article was published in Australian Dictionary of Biography, Supplementary Volume, (MUP), 2005

George William Knight (1831-1923), architect, engineer and horticulturist, was born in 1831 in London, son of John Knight, builder and stone merchant, of Limehouse. George was educated at Professor Fitzgerald's school and trained as an architect and engineer. His love of horticulture was already evident at 18, when he built a conservatory adjoining his parents' dining room. Aged 21, he commenced work under Henry Martin, a marine and railway engineer. On 31 December 1853 in the parish church, Stepney, London, he married Elizabeth Patience Middleton (d.1901). They were to have eleven children.

Reaching Melbourne in the Sureswift in 1857, with Elizabeth and two children, possibly to join his brother John George, who was engaged in building Parliament House, George became an engineer on the Williamstown and Sandhurst (Bendigo) railways, being responsible for the bridge over Jacksons Creek at Sunbury. He applied for a crown grant of land at Riddells Creek, near Sunbury, where he established a vineyard. It was not profitable and by 1870 he was working as an architect at Sandhurst. After two years, and with a growing family, he became city building surveyor, a position he held for fourteen years. The work was arduous, as he was also city valuator, city inspector, inspector of nuisances, inspector of cattle for slaughter, inspector of abattoirs and health inspector. In 1874 he attracted criticism from councillors for taking on additional building work, which he denied. When the demands of the position became too great, he was appointed city and building surveyor at a salary of £400. Knight was accused of neglecting his official duties in favour of his plant nurseries. Counter claims that councillors were undermining his authority by interfering in council contracts united the council against him. In 1886 he resigned in the face of imminent dismissal.

With his children, Knight developed four extensive nurseries in the Bendigo area, transforming barren, mining-affected land into horticultural showplaces. At his Rosenberg Nursery, Back Creek, he grew one of the world's largest rose trees, Cloth of Gold, 14 ft (4.2 m) high, 43 ft (13.1 m) in breadth and 64 ft (19.5 m) long. He had an enduring enthusiasm for palms (a row at his Epsom nursery became a local landmark) and grew more than 400 types of orchid, including New Guinea varieties. Knight's most striking vine-breeding success was a large and delicious table grape, evolved from the Waltham Cross variety. Exhibited at the Centennial International Exhibition of 1888-89 and admired by vice-regal visitors, it became known as the Centennial grape. A fellow of the Royal Horticultural Society, England, Knight served as a judge in many horticultural shows.

Ever vigilant concerning public matters, he was publicly acknowledged in 1888 for forcing the Bendigo Gas Co. to reduce its prices to consumers. Knight was a founding member of the committee formed in 1891 for the advancement of the Bendigo district, and twenty years later was elected to the municipal council on the strength of his opposition to the reticulation of sewerage. He lost his seat in 1914. In the 1921 State election he stood unsuccessfully for Bendigo East. In March 1922 the city's legal profession acknowledged his fifty-two years as a justice of the peace and magistrate, claimed to be the longest service on the bench in Victoria.

A picturesque figure in old age, with grey locks and venerable yet keen aspect, Knight retained the optimistic outlook of youth to the end. He died on 3 August 1923 at Bendigo, and was buried in the local cemetery with Anglican rites. Five daughters and one son survived him.

Select Bibliography

  • W. B. Kimberley, Bendigo and Vicinity (Melb, 1895)
  • D. Dunstan, Better Than Pommard (Melb, 1994)
  • Bendigo Advertiser, 25 Oct 1873, p 2, 28 Mar 1888, p 2, 21 Feb 1891, 31 Mar 1922, p 8, 4 Aug 1923, p 11
  • Bendigo Council, correspondence, 1886.

Citation details

David Dunstan, 'Knight, George William (1831–1923)', Australian Dictionary of Biography, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University, http://adb.anu.edu.au/biography/knight-george-william-13029/text23557, published in hardcopy 2005, accessed online 2 October 2014.

This article was first published in hardcopy in Australian Dictionary of Biography, Supplementary Volume, (MUP), 2005

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