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Knight, John James (1863–1927)

We regret to have to announce the death of Mr. J. J. Knight, so long associated with the Brisbane Newspaper Co., and, since 1916 its chairman of directors. Mr. Knight was taken ill on Monday, October 24, but it was hoped that he would make a good recovery, and would soon be able to resume his duties and his place in the life of the community. A few days after he was taken ill pleurisy was diagnosed, however, and pneumonia of both lungs developed, with other complications. His condition became critical a week ago, and he gradually sank, passing away about 4 o'clock yesterday morning in the presence of his sorrowing wife and two daughters.

This announcement will be received with keen regret throughout Queensland, and in fact throughout a considerable part of the Commonwealth; it is especially stunning in the office that he controlled and to those with whom, for many years, he was in daily association. In his day John James Knight, or "J.J." to use the initials by which he was known to his friends and to his colleagues, had played many parts; but of none was he prouder than his association for more than forty years with the Brisbane Newspaper Company, Limited.

He was an Englishman by birth, having been born in Hanley, in Staffordshire, on June 7, 1863. He was only 11 years old when he was taken to New Zealand, and as a boy he began life in the mechanical department of the Bruce Herald in that Dominion. But "J.J." was a lad of ambition; and in 1880 he was back in England investigating the latest developments in printing and in printing machinery, and subsequently, in his native town he became associated with Messrs Owen and Broadhurst in the establishment of a Staffordshire newspaper, which was sympathetic to the interests of trades unionism, and championed that cause. Throughout his career he never lost his sympathy with legitimate trades unionism. He fought vigorously against claims that he regarded as unjustifiable, and against demands that he knew would end disastrously for those whom he employed. But he remained an earnest champion of many of the finer principles of trades unionism, and played a considerable part in the policy of the Labour Party in Queensland of 50 years ago, being closely associated with Labour leaders like Anderson Dawson, Andrew Fisher, Thomas Glassey, H. F. Hardacre, Henry Turley, and William Hamilton. At one time as a matter of fact, he was offered the editorship of the Brisbane Worker, which had been founded by William Lane before he led the ill fated expedition to the wilds of New Australia in Paraguay.

After an experience of four years in English printing offices, Mr. Knight came to Queensland, and in 1884 he joined the mechanical staff of the Brisbane Courier. Shortly afterwards he was appointed to a position on the literary staff, later becoming the paper’s chief Parliamentary representative. In 1900 Mr. Knight took control of the Observer, which was associated with the Courier and six years later, after the retirement of Mr. E. J. T. Barton, he became editor of the Courier. Ten years later he succeeded the late Mr. E. J. Stevens as managing director of the Brisbane Newspaper Co., Ltd , and subsequently combined that office with the position of chairman of directors, two positions that he held until his death. He died as the controller of a great newspaper which he entered 43 years ago as a member of its mechanical staff.

LOYALTY TO STAFF AND FRIENDS
Nothing was more characteristic of Mr. Knight than his granite loyalty to his staff and to old friendships and equally characteristic was his impatience of anything slack or pretentious. He hid little tolerance of laziness or deliberate carelessness, and if he expected a good deal from the men with whom he was associated he himself was much more ceaseless and many sided in his industry. Even during the last couple of years, when his colleagues could see that he was failing in health, a fact that he himself would not admit, Mr. Knight forced himself to the same point of energy that he showed 20 years before.

No man could be a more jealous guardian of the rights of the newspaper man than Mr. Knight, and no man could be more steadfast in defending his staff from unjust attack. On that point he was a first rate fighting man. He was a shrewd judge of men, and could detect in a moment whether one of his employees had failed because of circumstances over which he had no control or because of carelessness or indifference. If the former, he had the sympathy and the characteristically kindly advice of a man who knew every move of the newspaper board.

He was also an intense Imperialist. Any attack upon the British Empire would arouse him to fierce anger, and as he blazed in anger a withering fire would issue from his pen. In the days of the Boer War he was deeply interested in every movement for the advancement of the Empire's cause, and was one of the writers of The Story of South Africa, a work that was published in two volumes. He was a still more vigorous champion of the Empire in the Great War, and, in the first week after the declaration of war he threw his paper wholeheartedly into the collection of war funds, and during that long drawn out struggle, until the work was taken over subsequently by the Government at the request of Mr. Knight, the Courier collected approximately £300,000. In 1918 Mr. Knight was chosen as Queensland's representative on the Imperial Mission to the War fronts, and on his return he delivered several lectures on Britain's work in the war, and published his views in The True War Spirit. Two years later he went to Canada as a member of the Imperial Press Delegation, and in 1923 he was chairman of the Queensland section of the Imperial Press Delegation when the overseas journalists headed by Viscount Burnham, visited Australia. His work as journalist and as Imperialist was admirably summed up by Major General Browne, C.B. in the dedicatory notice of his book A Journalist’s Memories. The book was dedicated to Mr. Knight because among other things "of your great services to this State and to the Commonwealth as a journalist, as Press organiser and as author of In the Early Days, because of your splendid pioneering in civil aviation, and because I have vividly in mind your great work for our Empire in the stress of war and in the succeeding days of peace, particularly your generous help to all returned soldiers of which I had a close experience during the two years in which I was president of the Returned Sailors' and Soldiers' Imperial League in Queensland."

DEEP INTEREST IN RURAL QUEENSLAND
Another great feature of Mr. Knight's work was his deep interest in matters relating to the country districts. He said little about it; but those in closest association with him knew how deeply sympathetic he was with the man on the land – pastoralist, wheat grower, dairyman, horticulturist, or any other man who had to fight against bad seasons and fluctuating markets. No request for help ever came from a country district but it found a champion in Mr. Knight. That was why, since the days of their foundation, he was a sterling friend to the Country Women's Association and to the Queensland Bush Book Club, always anxious to hear how they were progressing and ever ready to give practical assistance in the most unostentatious manner. Seven years ago, when the Bush Book Club was founded, with only a five pound note and many orders to fill he sent along its first hundred books. And since that time he has sent many hundreds, always with the injunction, ‘No acknowledgment in the papers’. About the same time - he was then president of the Queensland Aero Club - he discussed the scheme of flying doctors with the Rev. John Flynn, of the Australian Inland Mission, and made it an active question both in the Cornier and in the Aero Club. He knew the country and any problem that needed redress could be certain of “J. J.”s sympathetic support.

Mr. Knight was deeply interested too in the early history of the State and his book In the Early Days shows how great a knowledge he had of the subject. He also wrote Brisbane, Past and Present edited Nehemiah Bartley's Recollections and wrote Bartley's book, Australian Pioneers from the unfinished fragments and diaries that the late Mr. Bartley had written. Despite his heavy work as a journalist and later as managing director he was one of the organisers of the Queensland Historical Society, of which he was vice president, a member of the Aero Club, of which he was president for some years, a director of L’Union Insurance Co., a member of the Brisbane Club, a member of the Automobile Club, in which he played a prominent part during the war days for the benefit of returned soldiers, a member of the East Brisbane Bowling Club, a member of the Yeerongpilly Golf Club and he was less actively interested in other associations for the development of the State.

INTUITIVE KNOWLEDGE OF THE PUBLIC MIND
It was as a journalist, however, that he will be remembered most affectionately by those with whom he was most closely associated. He had an intuitive knowledge of the public mind and his counsels were extraordinarily sound. Though a Nationalist by principles he never allowed party politics to interfere with his judgments when matters of the State or of justice were concerned. When the late Mr. Justice McCawley died, he recognised in him a man who had done his duty to his country and to his fellow-man and promptly gave his support to the movement to organise a national memorial. It was the same in the recent railway strike. He decided that the Labour Government was doing its duty fearlessly and he championed the Premier. But such instances could be mentioned by the score. The real meaning of those things, however, were known only to those closely associated with him. Browning once wrote that every man has two soul-sides. One to face the world with; “Thus they see you praise you think they know you”. But there is also the other side: “The silent silver lights and darks undreamed of" which only a few friends discern and understand. It was so with John James Knight. The public that thought it knew him knew little of his intense sympathy for his fellowman, for his country, and for those who are doing its work.

Mr. Knight was married quite early in his life and Mrs Knight has endeared herself to all who came in touch with her by her kindness of heart and her deep devotion to husband and family. A very wide circle of friends and acquaintances will mourn with her in her time of great sorrow. Two daughters - Mrs David Mum and Mrs J. F. F. Stokes - and four grandchildren survive.

The funeral will leave the deceased gentleman’s late residence ‘Woodbine’, Thorn Street, Kangaroo Point at 10.15 o'clock this morning for the Toowong Cemetery and will be preceded by a service in the house.

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'Knight, John James (1863–1927)', Obituaries Australia, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University, https://oa.anu.edu.au/obituary/knight-john-james-571/text572, accessed 28 November 2021.

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