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Sir George Hodges Knox (1885–1960)

by Geoff Browne

This article was published:

Sir George Hodges Knox (1885-1960), orchardist, soldier and politician, was born on 17 December 1885 at Prahran, Melbourne, eldest son of William Knox and his wife Catherine Mary, née McMurtrie. (Sir) Robert Knox was a brother. Educated at Scotch College and the Working Men's College, George was employed as an electrical engineer and spent two years in Manchester, England. Returning to Victoria, he married Kathleen Purves MacPherson on 4 February 1909 at Christ Church, South Yarra, and became an orchardist at Beaconsfield.

In May 1909 Knox was commissioned lieutenant in the Australian Volunteer Automobile Corps; in November he transferred as second lieutenant to the 1st Battalion, Victorian Scottish Regiment, and after promotion to captain moved to the 52nd Infantry Regiment in 1912. Appointed captain in the 23rd Battalion, Australian Imperial Force, on 29 March 1915 and major on 1 April, he commanded the battalion from August at Gallipoli and in Egypt and France with the rank of lieutenant-colonel. In July 1916 he was blown up at Hardecourt and evacuated to England where in November he took charge of No.1 Command Depot. Twice mentioned in dispatches, he was appointed C.M.G. in 1917. He returned to Melbourne in April 1918 and his A.I.F. appointment was terminated.

Knox's brother William Johnstone, who served with the 3rd Field Artillery Brigade, A.I.F. and was awarded the Military Cross, died of wounds in 1917. Another brother in the A.I.F., MacGregor, who was also awarded the Military Cross, was permanently incapacitated.

In April 1918 Knox was appointed aide-de-camp to the governor of Victoria and in November was given temporary command of the 2nd Battalion, 5th Infantry Regiment, Australian Military Forces. He spent August 1919 to February 1920 overseas on special service as lieutenant-colonel, A.I.F., after which he settled on his new property Greenlaw at Ferntree Gully. He had been divorced in June 1919 and on 19 August 1921 at Malvern Presbyterian Church he married Ada Victoria Harris.

Knox continued his army career, his concern for his men making him a popular leader. He was lieutenant-colonel commanding the 48th Battalion from March 1921 and the 52nd Battalion in 1922-27. In 1939 he was appointed commander of the 5th Battalion and next year was temporary colonel commanding the 2nd Infantry Brigade. Promoted temporary brigadier in 1941, he had charge of the Queenscliff-Nepean Covering Force in March-August 1942 when he retired with the rank of honorary brigadier.

Late in 1918 Knox had been an unsuccessful Nationalist candidate at a by-election for the Federal seat of Corangamite. Five years later he was elected to the Ferntree Gully Shire Council and in 1927 he won the Legislative Assembly seat of Upper Yarra for the Nationalists. A diligent local member, he was unopposed in 1929-40; from 1945 until his death he represented Scoresby. In 1928 Knox carried a motion directing the assembly to open its sittings with the Lord's Prayer. (His father had persuaded the Federal parliament to adopt this procedure in 1901). Knox was secretary to cabinet in the McPherson ministry of 1929 and that year served on a royal commission into the dairying industry. In December 1929 and in March-April 1935 he was honorary minister in the McPherson and Argyle governments respectively, but in 1936-37 as one of the Liberal-Country Party faction in the United Australia Party he was critical of Argyle's leadership.

Knox was an effective and impartial Speaker in 1942-47 and was knighted in 1945. Throughout 1947 he was pressed by the Liberal Party to resign the Speakership and support a no confidence motion against the vulnerable Cain ministry. He refused, maintaining that the Speaker should be above party politics; he disapproved of the refusal of supply in October. In later years he persistently advocated the use of simple language in the drafting of legislation.

Described as 'tall, broad-shouldered with rugged features', Knox was admired for his integrity and kindness. He was president of the Melbourne Hunt Polo Club and a life member of the Polo Association of Victoria. He was an honorary forest officer and inspector of fisheries and native game in Victoria.

Lady Knox was an active philanthropist. Chief among her interests was the Australian Red Cross Society with which she was associated for over forty years. She was a life governor of the Eye and Ear Hospital and also worked for the St John Ambulance Association, the Royal Victorian Institute for the Blind, the Good Neighbour Council, the Girl Guides' Association and mental hospitals. She was appointed C.B.E. in 1961 for social welfare services in the Ferntree Gully area.

Sir George died of coronary vascular disease on 11 July 1960 at Ferntree Gully and was cremated after a state funeral. He was survived by his wife and by a son from both marriages, a daughter of his first marriage having predeceased him. His estate was valued for probate at £40,741. The city of Knox commemorates his name.

Select Bibliography

  • H. Coulson, Story of the Dandenongs, 1838-1958 (Melb, 1959)
  • PD (Vic), 1960, p 17
  • Geelong Advertiser, 5 Apr 1929
  • Smith's Weekly (Sydney), 18 Oct 1947
  • Sun-News Pictorial (Melbourne), 12 July 1960, 10 June 1961
  • Age (Melbourne), 12 July 1960
  • Mountain District Free Press, 14 July 1960.

Citation details

Geoff Browne, 'Knox, Sir George Hodges (1885–1960)', Australian Dictionary of Biography, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University,, published first in hardcopy 1983, accessed online 26 June 2024.

This article was published in hardcopy in Australian Dictionary of Biography, Volume 9, (Melbourne University Press), 1983

View the front pages for Volume 9

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