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Knox, Edward William (1847–1933)

from Sydney Morning Herald

Mr. Edward William Knox, who retired from the position of chairman and managing director of the Colonial Sugar Refining Co., Ltd., in February, died at his home, Rona, Bellevue Hill, early yesterday morning. He had been in indifferent health for many months. He was aged 86 years.

Mr. Knox, who was born in Sydney, became general manager of the company in 1881, and had been managing director and chairman of it since 1920. The Colonial Sugar Refining Co., with its widespread operations, stands witness to the capacity for organisation and the far-seeing vision largely of two men—Sir Edward Knox and the son who followed in his footsteps, Mr. Edward W. Knox. It was as a young man that the responsibility first fell to Mr. Knox of guiding the destinies of the company, only a comparatively few years after he had entered the office in 1864.

On February 20, 1914, at a meeting of officers and ex-officers of the company to wish Mr. Knox a pleasant holiday on the eve of his departure on extended leave of absence, advantage was taken of the opportunity to present him with an address in celebration of the completion of 50 years of service in the company. In acknowledging the address, Mr. Knox spoke of the early history of the company.

"My first recollection," he said, "Is that of being taken, as a very little boy, to see the refineries then working in Liverpool-street and at Cook's River. I cannot tell you anything about the process except that the old loaves were being made, and I am not sure whether the third house, in Parramatta-street (now George-street West), was then also at work. The whole produce was then much less than 100 tons a week. . . After the visit just referred to the new company was formed by my father, and the house in Parramatta-street alone was worked. During the first two or three years the business was very profitable, and when my father left for England at the end of 1857 with his family, he was more than well off. However, before we got to Europe, there was a collapse of the sugar market. We had to return without delay, and, on arriving in Sydney in August, 1858, the fortune had gone, and my father had 20 years of work before he could again take a holiday. Of course, as a boy of 11, I did not understand then all that was happening, but the close and careful economy of the next five years made me realise what the change had been. That time I spent at the Grammar School, and, on leaving at the end of 1863, I was sent to the country to see if that life would suit me better than clerical work. This was not the case, and on April 3, just as I was 17, I entered on my duties in the Bridge-street office. When I joined, the business was a very small one, the yearly output of the refinery being about 5000 tons of sugar. It was, moreover, in anything but a thriving condition, and, two years later, it was very hard hit by large failures in a commercial crisis. Nor did things improve for some years, and attention was consequently turned to the possibility of making sugar in New South Wales, which promised to be a paying speculation. In 1869 mills were erected, and in the following year, at the age of 23, I was sent to the Clarence to look after two mills that had been placed there. All that could be said in my favour on taking up this work was that no one in the service knew more, or much less, than I did about making sugar, and my feelings for the first year were those of a motherless foal turned out to pick up a living in the cold, hard world."

Shortly after his appointment as manager, the company built the mills in North Queensland, and the mills also at Nausori, Fiji, and the refinery in Auckland. Thus Mr. Knox found himself, along with Mr. German, charged with all the details of six big factories within a few years. When the factories were built the price of sugar was high. "And everything," Mr. Knox added in his recital of the company's struggles, "went like an express train—even the increase of the indebtedness of the company for the new ventures. The times, however, were too good to last, and in 1904 there was a crisis in the sugar trade which brought about a permanent fall of about £10 a ton in the value of sugar, and, for a time, it was impossible to produce sugar at the new mills except at a loss. This was a very serious check. I remember now, as if it took place yesterday, how, at the end of 1883, Mr. Rothe and I made calculations showing that in a certain period the company must make £200,000. When that date came, we had lost £100,000, and no one could say when the position would be improved. Meantime, the shareholders went for 18 months without a dividend."

In 1885, on the return of his father from England, Mr. Knox went away for a year's leave. On the latter's return in 1885 the company began to derive advantage from the chemical check in improving the work of the factories, the company then taking in hand the amalgamation of three companies, which was accomplished in 1887 and 1888. Mr. Knox's father died in 1901, and Mr. Knox then realised more than ever what an important part his father had played in the progress of the company. "By far the ablest business man I have known," said Mr. Knox. "I could not fall to learn from his storehouse of wisdom and experience, and what success has come to me is all more or less the result of his training and advice."

Mr. Knox was a member of the University Senate from 1894 until 1919. He succeeded his father as president of the Union Club, which he joined in 1868, and resigned from that position a few years ago. The golden weddings of both Mr. Knox and his father were celebrated by the company with which their names will always be associated.

Mr. Knox was one of the oldest members of the Australian Jockey Club. In his younger days he was a keen yachtsman, first with his brother, the late Mr. T. F. Knox, in the Pleiades and later in the Sorocco. He was a member of the Royal Sydney Yacht Squadron for a great number of years. He was formerly a trustee of the Art Gallery and of the Sydney Grammar School, and was ever an active supporter of the Church of England.

Mr. Knox is survived by Mrs. Knox and a family of four daughters—Mrs. Colin Stephen. Mrs. Adams, and the Misses Barbara and Janet Knox, the last named of whom is in England.

There will be a funeral service at All Saints. Woollahra, at 10.30 o'clock this morning, and the Interment will take place subsequently in the Waverley Cemetery.

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Citation details

'Knox, Edward William (1847–1933)', Obituaries Australia, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University, http://oa.anu.edu.au/obituary/knox-edward-william-6990/text27246, accessed 24 November 2017.

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