School Founders

Knox Grammar School was officially opened on 5 February 1924. The School was named after John Knox, the leader of the Scottish Reformation. John Knox set the moral tone of the Church of Scotland and shaped its democratic form of government. The name reflects the shared Scottish heritage of the Founders and their connection with the Presbyterian Church.


On 3 September 1923, the Knox Provisional Council met for the first time. Representatives from the Presbyterian Church attending were Rev John James Gilmore, Rev Alexander Thain Anderson MA, Rev C E James, Rev Dr Ronald George Macintyre CMG OBE, and prominent businessmen Sir Robert Gillespie, George Gillespie, Andrew Reid, William McIlrath, Bryan Cecil Fuller, Sir Sydney Snow and Alexander Turnbull. They decided to purchase the property Earlston, an area of 12 acres of land and two small cottages, including an orchard and a vegetable garden that would be suitable to house a school. The founding of Knox Grammar School was the conclusion of a long search for a way of meeting the well-recognised need for a Presbyterian boys’ school on the North Shore.


Provisional Council and School Council Chair 1923-1945

Sir Robert Gillespie (1865-1945) and Andrew Reid generously provided the initial deposit to buy the first School building, 'Earlston', now known as Gillespie Heritage House. Sir Robert was the first Chairman of School Council and served from 1923 to 1945.

A Presbyterian in the Scottish tradition, he was generous with his time and his donations. He was the Director of the Scottish Hospital at Paddington and also the Chairman of the Pymble Ladies’ College School Council. In addition to his many donations to Knox, he established the Presbyterian Church Educational Trust and gave generously to the University of Sydney’s St Andrew’s College.

Sir Robert held senior roles at many corporations including Anchor Flour Mills, CSR, Bank of NSW (Westpac), Ball and Welch Ltd and Joyce Biscuits.


Provisional Council and School Council 1923-1938

George Gillespie (1897-1938), older brother of Sir Robert, was a significant donor to Knox Grammar School. He was a member of the School Council from 1923 to 1938.

It was George Gillespie who, during the Depression, anonymously deposited a generous sum into the School’s account. In 1933, George provided the funds to repay the mortgage on the Preparatory School’s Ewan House. George also persuaded his sister Jessie to donate the funds for the first School Hospital.

George was Joint Managing Director of Gillespie Brothers, Director of the Royal Exchange Assurance Company and had pastoral interests in Narromine and Armatree.


Provisional Council and School Council 1923-1947

John James Gilmore was born in Ireland in 1863. In 1884, he gained a Bachelor’s degree at the Royal University of Ireland and studied Theology at the Assembly’s College, Belfast. In 1898 Rev Gilmore served in Ireland before travelling to Australia in 1900 with a Commission from the Irish Church. In 1904 he became the Minister of Bowral-Mittagong Parish. Rev Gilmore was appointed the Minister of the Presbyterian Parish at Pymble on 31 October 1906. By the late 1910s, he was Clerk of the North Shore Presbytery.

In 1921, Rev Gilmore served as Convenor on a committee to reconcile the need for a Presbyterian boys’ school on the North Shore. In 1923, the property known as 'Earlston' appeared on the market and was secured by founders Sir Robert Gillespie and Andrew Reid, who lent the Presbytery the deposit. Rev Gilmore served on the School Council from 1923 until 1947 and remained as Presbytery Clerk until 1946.

ANDREW REID (1867-1939)

Provisional Council and School Council 1923-1938

Andrew Reid (1867-1939), along with Sir Robert Gillespie, generously provided the initial deposit to buy the first School building, 'Earlston', now known as Gillespie Heritage House. Andrew served on School Council from 1923-1938.

Andrew Reid was born in Linlithgow, Scotland and migrated to Australia in 1892.

He was instrumental in the appointment of the School’s first Headmaster, Neil MacNeil, a decision that served the School well. MacNeil and Reid’s friendship lasted until Andrew’s untimely death.

At the age of 28 Andrew was a full partner of James Hardie. His success in business allowed him to continue in his philanthropy.

His generosity was again called upon in 1933 when he repaid a debt the School owed to Ku-ring-gai Council. The Reid Building was opened in 1934 and stands as a testament to his generosity.


Provisional and School Council 1923-1955

William McIlrath (1875-1955) was instrumental in the establishment of Knox.

William was a friend of Rev Gilmore, Minister of the Presbyterian Church at Pymble, who had been given the task by the Church of establishing a boys’ school on the North Shore. William served on the Knox Provisional Council and then on the School Council until his passing (1923-1955).

William McIlrath came to Australia from Ulster, Ireland, in 1890 at about 12 years of age. He joined his brothers, who developed a large chain of grocery stores that numbered 62 when the company was sold to Woolworths upon William’s death in 1955.

A Chapel for the School had been a long-held wish of William McIlrath. In 1960, William’s widow, Catherine, offered the School £50,000 to build a chapel in memory of the Old Boys killed in World War II. The William McIllrath War Memorial Chapel opened in November 1962.

BRYAN FULLER (1888-1956)

Provisional Council and School Council 1923-1945

Bryan Fuller (1888-1956) was a foundation member of the Knox Grammar School Council, on which he served from 1923 to 1945.

Throughout his life he maintained a keen interest in the School. He often officiated at school athletic carnivals.

Bryan was a prominent Sydney Queen’s Counsel, Presbyterian churchman and tennis official. He was, for a time, Vice President of the Law Association of NSW. He was President of the Lawn Tennis Association of NSW for 19 years and Chairman of St Andrew’s College at the University of Sydney.


On Founders Day, 28 September 1979, The Hon Sir John Fuller (OKG35) unveiled the Founders' Plaque, listing the names of the people who were responsible for founding the School. In his address to the School Sir Fuller remarked:

"Knox was a school with very small beginnings but founded and developed with faith in the future. This is a time to express our thanks to the founders and record that their faith in our young people has been amply rewarded."

In 2023, the Founders' Plaque was updated and placed on the centre of the Main School Building.


The unique and historically significant Benefactors’ Roll is the only remaining object that documents those who contributed to and invested in the early growth of the School. The founders and benefactors of Knox were leaders of the New South Wales business community and their families were significant members of the local community, often active in a range of charitable institutions.

The Benefactors' Roll’s significance lies in its ability to convey the pride and a satisfaction in the successful growth and development of the School achieved through the glad duty of mutual service.

Today, the Benefactors’ Roll hangs in the Knox Heritage Centre.