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Knight, John James (1863–1927)

by H. J. Summers

This article was published in Australian Dictionary of Biography, Volume 9, (MUP), 1983

John James Knight (1863-1927), editor, was born on 7 June 1863 at Shelton, Staffordshire, England, son of James Knight, potter and printer, and his wife Louisa, née Blagg. Taken to New Zealand early, he left school at 11 to learn printing on the Bruce Herald, returned to England at 17 and joined William Owen and Henry Broadhurst in starting the Staffordshire Knot, a paper supporting trade unionism. Migrating to Queensland in 1884, he found work with the Brisbane Newspaper Co. Ltd as a printer. He was soon a reporter on the Brisbane Courier and became chief parliamentary reporter in the 1890s.

Knight's political and industrial enthusiasm disappeared rapidly. He had won the confidence of Andrew Fisher and Thomas Glassey and when William Lane left for Paraguay in 1893 Knight was offered but declined the editorial chair of the Queensland Worker. During the industrial turmoil of the 1890s he preferred to investigate local history. His works included In the Early Days (1895), Australian Pioneers and Reminiscences (1896), completed after the death of Nehemiah Bartley from Bartley's notes and diaries, and Brisbane: a Historical Sketch of the Capital of Queensland (1897). The historical stream dried up when he became editor in 1900 of the Courier's evening publication, the Observer.

Editor-in-chief of all the company's publications in 1906-16, Knight then became managing director and later chairman. His years in command saw such abrasive events as Brisbane's tram strike of 1912, the Labor government's introduction of state enterprises in 1915 and the abolition of the Legislative Council in 1922. The Courier was Labor's fiercest critic on these and other counts, yet the recrimination evoked seemed never to touch Knight personally. Like William Morris Hughes, he replaced his youthful fervour for unionism with an ultra-patriotic Imperialist stance during World War I. He represented Queensland on the Imperial Mission to the War Fronts of pressmen in 1918 and returned to publish The True War Spirit, praising the British role.

A founding member and president of the Queensland Aero Club with a belief in the future of aviation, Knight was discussing aeroplanes for medical transport with Rev. John Flynn long before the creation of the Australian Inland Mission and had a company formed to deliver copies of the Courier by air to the country. His sympathy with country people led to practical support of the Country Women's Association and the Bush Book Club. As he grew older, he became very remote from his staff who occasionally saw a white-haired, mild-mannered man wearing rimless spectacles. Regular national and international press conferences which he relished took him on visits to Europe and North America.

When he died of pneumonia on 24 November 1927 in his home at Kangaroo Point, Knight left the whole of his estate, valued for probate at £2884, to his wife Kitty, née Dutton, whom he had married at Shelton on 2 August 1884; they had two daughters. Hundreds attended his Anglican funeral at Toowong cemetery. The Labor government which his papers had berated for years was represented by the minister for works at the express wish of Premier McCormack; former Labor premier William Neal Gillies was seen weeping at the graveside.

Select Bibliography

  • N. Bartley, Opals and Agates (Brisb, 1892)
  • R. S. Browne, A Journalist's Memories (Brisb, 1927)
  • JRHSQ, 4 (1951), no 4
  • Brisbane Courier, 22 June 1926 (jubilee supplement), 25, 26 Nov 1927.

Related Entries in NCB Sites

Citation details

H. J. Summers, 'Knight, John James (1863–1927)', Australian Dictionary of Biography, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University, http://adb.anu.edu.au/biography/knight-john-james-571/text12143, published in hardcopy 1983, accessed online 23 April 2014.

This article was first published in hardcopy in Australian Dictionary of Biography, Volume 9, (MUP), 1983

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