KNIGHT, John George (c. 1820-1892)


KNIGHT, John George (c. 1820-1892)
architect and administrator
was the son of John Knight, a well-known London engineer, and was born probably about the year 1820. He became an engineer and for a time was superintendent of works for his father. He arrived in Australia in 1852, and, almost at once, was given a position in the public works department; but though earning a large salary, Knight did not stay long in this service. On resigning he began to practise as an architect in partnership with a Mr Kemp. A third partner, Peter Kerr, was added to the firm, but Kemp soon afterwards returned to England. Mennell, in his Dictionary of Australasian Biography, states that Knight designed both parliament house and the public library, Melbourne. The second statement is incorrect as J. Reed was the designer of the library building. The original design of parliament house was entrusted to Knight and Kerr, and in 1856 the legislative assembly and legislative council chambers were built. Knight was the senior partner and there seems to have been a tradition that the design was really his. Thirty-five years later the writer of Knight's obituary notice in the South Australian Register who appeared to speak with knowledge said: Parliament house . . . is a monument to Mr Knight's artistic genius and his cleverness in planning its construction". In 1859 Knight with Captain Pasley reported on the estimated cost of completing the building with different kinds of stone, but after the completion of the parliamentary library building in 1860, nothing more was done for 17 years, when Knight had left Victoria. Peter Kerr was then appointed architect and prepared a new design for the west facade, and for the grand hall and vestibule which was adopted.
Knight ceased practising as an architect in or about the year 1860, and in 1861 organized an exhibition held in Melbourne of the Victorian exhibits for the London exhibition of 1862. Knight took these exhibits to London and arranged them most successfully. In 1866 he again arranged an exhibition in Melbourne of articles from Victoria which were sent to Parts for the exhibition of 1867, with Knight as secretary of the Victorian section. About this period he was also appointed a lecturer in civil engineering at the university of Melbourne.
In 1873 Knight entered the service of the South Australian government and became secretary, accountant, architect, and supervisor of works, in the Northern Territory. He was subsequently chief warden of the goldfields, and filled a variety of other positions before becoming stipendiary magistrate, and finally in July 1890, government resident at Palmerston. He died there on 10 January 1892. He was a man of much geniality of temper and great ability, with a special talent for organizing. To a friend who could not understand how a man of his ability could allow himself to be buried so long in a place like Palmerston, Knight replied that he liked the climate and enjoyed the life there. He appears to have been not merely a magistrate and administrator, but an arbitrator in all disputes, and a kind of uncrowned king of the Northern Territory. Possibly like a more famous personage he felt it was better to reign in hell than serve in heaven.
The Argus, Melbourne, 12 January 1892; The South Australian Register, 11 January 1892; P. Mennell, The Dictionary of Australasian Biography; A Short History and Description of the Parliament House, Melbourne.

Dictionary of Australian Biography by PERCIVAL SERLE. . 1949.

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