Australian Dictionary of Biography

  • Tip: searches only the name field
  • Tip: Use double quotes to search for a phrase

Cultural Advice

Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people should be aware that this website contains names, images, and voices of deceased persons.

In addition, some articles contain terms or views that were acceptable within mainstream Australian culture in the period in which they were written, but may no longer be considered appropriate.

These articles do not necessarily reflect the views of The Australian National University.

Older articles are being reviewed with a view to bringing them into line with contemporary values but the original text will remain available for historical context.

John George Knight (1826–1892)

by Sally O'Neill

This article was published:

John George Knight (1826-1892), by unknown photographer

John George Knight (1826-1892), by unknown photographer

Spillett Collection, Northern Territory Library, PH0238/0142

John George Knight (1826-1892), architect and administrator, was born in London, son of John Knight, stone and marble merchant. He took up engineering, joined his father's firm and in spare time studied architecture. In February 1852 he arrived in Melbourne and after a week on the goldfields joined the Public Works Department. While a government inspector at a salary of £1200, he joined the private practice of Thomas Kemp who returned to England in 1855. About 1853 Knight's design for Government House won the first prize of £500 but was not used. He later won prizes for designs of the Melbourne ship canal and docks. In 1856 when plans were resumed for the Houses of Parliament, the supervision was given to Knight and then handed to his partner, Peter Kerr. Knight was a founder of the Victorian Institute of Architects and its first president in 1856-61. His paper on colonial building stones, read to the institute in 1859, was published in Melbourne and London in 1864. At St Paul's, Melbourne, on 21 April 1853 he had married Alice Bertrand.

Knight helped to organize the Victorian Exhibition of 1861 and designed a 'miniature Crystal Palace' to house the exhibits. Next January with his family he went to London as secretary for Victoria at the London International Exhibition. He won medals for his gilded pyramid representing the total amount of gold mined in the colony and for his collection of building stones. In 1864 he assembled the Victorian exhibits shown at the Dublin Exhibition.

In March 1865 Knight was appointed lecturer in civil engineering at the University of Melbourne at a salary of £100 with fees. In 1866 he had charge of the Melbourne Intercolonial Exhibition and in 1867 organized Victoria's contribution to the Paris Exhibition. In 1868 he was a founder and until 1871 first manager of the Athenaeum Club in Melbourne. He had compiled a pamphlet on the 1862 exhibition and in 1868 a souvenir booklet on the Duke of Edinburgh's visit.

In the early 1870s Knight was attracted to the Northern Territory by reports of gold. In 1873 the South Australian government appointed him secretary and accountant to the resident, G. B. Scott, with extra duties as architect and supervisor of works. He sailed from Melbourne on 2 September, but the appointment of a Victorian annoyed Adelaide politicians. In November 1875 Knight was retrenched as supervisor of works and his salary as secretary and accountant was severely cut. He resigned and left for Melbourne in December, but in January 1876 accepted the post of goldfields warden. He returned to Port Darwin and on the goldfields promptly built a hospital, where he often tended sick miners himself. In April 1880 he became clerk of the Local Court, Palmerston, and was soon made deputy sheriff, clerk of the licensing bench, curator of the property of convicts, registrar, accountant and official receiver and returning officer. In 1887 he was granted leave to act as commissioner for the territory at the Exhibition and in 1888 was commissioner at the Melbourne International Exhibition. He intended to resign in 1889 but was asked to act as government resident and judge. Next year he became government resident.

Knight was a fellow of the Royal Institute of British Architects, an associate of the Institution of Civil Engineers, and corresponding member of the Society of Arts, the Royal Dublin Society and the Royal Horticultural Society of London. In Palmerston he enjoyed a 'sort of patriarchal authority' but friends in Melbourne complained that his talents were wasted. Described as a 'very nice fellow, a real gentleman, and a jolly old chap', he was respected for his common sense and resource. He died at Palmerston on 10 January 1892, survived by three sons, two married daughters and by his wife, who was then living in London. She inherited most of his estate, valued at £800.

Select Bibliography

  • J. M. Freeland, The Making of a Profession (Syd, 1971)
  • Argus (Melbourne), 21 Jan 1858, 12, 15 Jan 1892
  • Register (Adelaide), 18 Sept 1873
  • Northern Territory Times and Gazette, 6 Nov 1875, 12 Feb 1876, 15 Jan 1892
  • North Australian, 10 Jan 1890
  • Advertiser (Adelaide), 12 Jan 1892.

Citation details

Sally O'Neill, 'Knight, John George (1826–1892)', Australian Dictionary of Biography, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University,, published first in hardcopy 1974, accessed online 23 June 2024.

This article was published in hardcopy in Australian Dictionary of Biography, Volume 5, (Melbourne University Press), 1974

View the front pages for Volume 5

© Copyright Australian Dictionary of Biography, 2006-2024

John George Knight (1826-1892), by unknown photographer

John George Knight (1826-1892), by unknown photographer

Spillett Collection, Northern Territory Library, PH0238/0142

Life Summary [details]


London, Middlesex, England


10 January, 1892 (aged ~ 66)
Palmerston (Darwin), Northern Territory, Australia

Cultural Heritage

Includes subject's nationality; their parents' nationality; the countries in which they spent a significant part of their childhood, and their self-identity.