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The National Portrait Gallery acknowledges the Traditional Custodians of Country throughout Australia and recognises the continuing connection to lands, waters and communities. We pay our respect to Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander cultures and to Elders both past and present.

Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander viewers are warned that this website contains images of deceased persons.

Federal Statistican Knibbs, 1919

David Low

ink and gouache on paper (sheet: 33.8 cm x 17.5 cm)

Sir George Knibbs CBE (1858-1929), statistician, was born into a working-class Sydney family and nothing is known of his early education. He joined the public service in 1877 and was licensed as a surveyor the following year. In 1881 he joined the Royal Society of New South Wales; he edited its journal for nine years, and was its president in the late 1890s. Over that decade he lectured in various topics in the engineering school of Sydney University and in 1905 he became acting professor of physics there. At the same time, he was appointed NSW's superintendent of technical education. In 1906 Knibbs was appointed first Commonwealth Statistician, directing the work of the newly-established Commonwealth Bureau of Census and Statistics. The first Commonwealth Year Book was issued in 1908, and 1911 was the year of the first Commonwealth census. In addition to his involvement in Australian statistical, insurance, tax and other commissions, Knibbs travelled widely overseas in the course of his career, attending many congresses and becoming a member of many international societies; to take but two examples, he represented Australia at the double income tax and war profits conference in London in 1919 and was vice president of the International Eugenics Congress in New York in 1921. That year, he resigned as Commonwealth Statistician to become director of the new Commonwealth Institute of Science and Industry, a position he held until 1926. A knighthood was added to his various Australian and international scientific and statistical honours in 1923. Amongst Knibbs's many publications is The Shadow of the World's Future or the Earth's Population Possibilities, published in London in 1928.

Collection: National Portrait Gallery
Purchased 2011

Accession number: 2011.57

Currently not on display

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Artist and subject

David Low (age 28 in 1919)

Sir George Knibbs CBE (age 61 in 1919)

Subject professions

Science and technology

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Federal Statistican Knibbs, 1919 David Low
Federal Statistican Knibbs, 1919 David Low
Federal Statistican Knibbs, 1919 David Low
Federal Statistican Knibbs, 1919 David Low

The numbers man

Magazine article by Dr Sarah Engledow, 2011

Dr. Sarah Engledow tells the story of Australia's first Federal statistician, Sir George Knibbs.

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The National Portrait Gallery acknowledges the Traditional Custodians of Country throughout Australia and recognises the continuing connection to lands, waters and communities. We pay our respect to Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander cultures and to Elders both past and present.

Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander viewers are warned that this website contains images of deceased persons.