Dictionary of National Biography, 1885-1900/Knox, John (1720-1790)

KNOX, JOHN (1720–1790), Scottish philanthropist, a native of Scotland, born in 1720, followed for many years the trade of bookseller in the Strand, London, retired with a large fortune, and from 1764 until his death devoted himself to the improvement of the fisheries and manufactures of Scotland. Between 1764 and 1775 he made sixteen tours through Scotland. The Highland Society of London gave him every assistance and encouragement, and he was a leading member of the British society formed in Scotland for extending the fisheries and improving the sea-coast. This society was incorporated by act of parliament in 1786.

Knox's earliest work, ‘A View of the British Empire, more especially Scotland, with some Proposals for the Improvement of that Country, the Extension of its Fisheries, and the Relief of the People,’ was published anonymously in 1784, while Knox was living at Richmond, Surrey, and was dedicated to ‘the members of the British Society.’ A ‘third edition, greatly enlarged,’ in two volumes, was issued in 1785. Among other suggestions, Knox recommended the formation of three canals in Scotland—between the Forth and Clyde, between Lochfyne and the Atlantic, and between Fort William and Inverness. All have since been constructed (see Buckle, Hist. of Civilisation, iii. 183). After the publication of Knox's next work, ‘Observations on the Northern Fisheries, with a Discourse on the Expediency of Establishing Fishing Stations or Small Towns in the Highlands of Scotland and the Hebride Islands’ (1786), the British Fishery Society, which had collected 7,000l. for the purpose of establishing fishing villages, commissioned Knox to make ‘a more extensive journey in the highlands and isles than had ever been performed by an individual.’ On his return the society voted him a gold medal, and at its request he published his journal in 1787, under the title, ‘A Tour through the Highlands of Scotland and the Hebride Isles in mdcclxxxvi.’ (cf. Gent, Mag. 1787, pt. ii. pp. 704–7). The work was translated by T. Mandat into French (2 vols. Paris, 1790). Knox proposed, on the four hundred miles of coast from the Mull of Cantire to the Dornoch Frith, and the six hundred miles of the Hebrides, ‘to erect 40 stations, or fishing towns, at 25 miles from each other, more or less, as circumstances suit, to consist of about 16 houses of two stories and two rooms, with an inn and school-house, and an acre, or half an acre, to each. Each town to cost 2,000l., and the whole number 80,000l. Each town to have 50 Scots acres.’ To meet the emergencies of war, Knox recommended that Great Britain should always hold two hundred thousand seamen in readiness.

Before his death Knox projected an elaborate work on the ‘Picturesque Scenery of Scotland,’ which was to be ‘one of the most splendid publications ever attempted in this or any other country.’ His ‘Address to the Public’ explaining his plan appeared in the ‘Gentleman's Magazine,’ 1789 (pt. i. pp. 326–328). Joseph Farington [q. v.] and Charles Catton the younger [q. v.] were among those who were engaged to prepare drawings and plates. But the project was abandoned owing to the death of Knox at Dalkeith, near Edinburgh, on 1 Aug. 1790.

[Imp. Dict. xii. 108; Scots Mag. August 1790; Gent. Mag. 1786 pt. ii. p. 794, 1787 pt. ii. pp. 704 et seq., 1790 pt. ii. p. 857; Nouvelle Biographie Générale.]

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