Hugh Knyvett was born in South Brisbane, Queensland on 15 September 1886. Shortly before World War One commenced he was a Home Missionary for the Presbyterian Church at Longreach. Enlisting as a private, he was an Intelligence Officer for the RAAF’s No.1 Squadron and the 15th Australian Infantry Battalion. Knyvett trained in Egypt, served at Gallipoli, then was badly wounded in France and sent home. After some months of treatment, he returned to active service and travelled via North America, intending to join the Royal Flying Corp. However, the United States Government employed him as a war lecturer, which involved recruiting drives and lecture tours across the country.
In 1918, his memoir, Over There with the Australians, was published in the States, where it became a rallying cry for Americans to join the war. Knyvett was befriended by presidents Woodrow Wilson and Theodore Roosevelt. The latter wrote to his mother, stating how impressed he had been with Knyvett’s gentleness and courage.
Theodore Roosevelt wrote: I never came in contact with anyone who impressed me more with that combination of qualities so indispensable if humanity is to be saved — extreme gentleness and high idealism, with the loftiest and sternest courage and sense of duty.
Hugh Knyvett died in New York on the 15 April 1918, from the effects of shrapnel wounds he had received at Bapaume in France. He was honoured by the Chicago Club, who commissioned a bust in his memory from American sculptor Gilbert Riswold. Founded in 1869, the Chicago Club’s membership has included the city’s most prominent businessmen, politicians and families. A copy of the bust was sent to Knyvett’s mother, and this was donated to the Queensland Art Gallery in 1933.
Sculptor Gilbert Riswold was born in Baltic, South Dakota, in 1881. He was a pupil of Ada Caldwell, instructor of art at South Dakota State University, with whom he studied until he went on to the Chicago Art Institute. There he studied sculpture with Lorado Taft and Charles Mulligan. Riswold’s well-known works include the Mormon Battalion Memorial in Salt Lake City, Utah, and the Oak Park and River Forest Memorial (World War One) in Chicago. He lived most of his life in Chicago, moving to California in the 1930s. His sculptures were exhibited at the Art Institute of Chicago between 1909 and 1920. Riswold died in Hollywood, California, on 15 March 1938.
Bust, Captain Hugh Knyvett is currently on display in the new Australian art collection display in the Josephine Ulrick and Win Schubert Galleries, Queensland Art Gallery (QAG).