Edward William Knox

Edward William Knox (1847-1933), general manager of CSR, was born in 1847 in Sydney, second son of Edward Knox. This was a high-achieving family: Adrian became Chief Justice of the High Court; Thomas became managing director of Dalgety & Co. Educated at Sydney Grammar School, Edward William joined CSR in 1864. In 1870 he took charge of the company’s mills on the Clarence, improved management and encouraged farmers to grow sweeter cane. In 1876 he visited the West Indies to study milling: next year double crushing was adopted. He also visited sugar-beet factories in Germany and France.

As general manager from 1880, Knox ‘surrounded himself with able lieutenants’ as the company expanded into Queensland, Fiji and New Zealand. CSR recruited chemists from Scotland and Germany. After the slump of 1884, Knox introduced chemical book-keeping.

The company’s absorption of all competitors laid it open to criticism and prompted the royal commission on the sugar industry in 1911-12. Knox refused to answer questions about costs or produce the company’s books. CSR challenged an amendment to the Royal Commissions Act and was upheld by the Privy Council. Knox was certainly consistent; he refused to give information to another royal commission in 1920.

Knox desired ‘a uniform absence of [government] interference in industrial matters’, but was willing to cooperate with governments. He served on four royal commissions: in 1915 he helped draft the principles of wartime control of the Australian sugar industry; and he visited the Colonial Office in London in 1922 to discuss the vexed issue of Indian labourers in Fiji.

In 1920 Knox became chairman and managing director of CSR. He resigned as managing director in December 1932, resigned from the board in February 1933 and died on 26 June.