Vernon Knowles, son of Frank and Annie Knowles, attended Pulteney Street School and an unidentified secondary school in Adelaide. Eternity in an Hour (1932), his partly autobiographical novel, contains memories of his Australian childhood. Songs and Preludes (1917), a collection of poems, is dedicated to his father who died when Knowles was eleven. Knowles went to the University of Western Australia, where he did not complete a degree but where he met Walter Murdoch (q.v.), an early influence on his literary career. In Adelaide he met James Dryden Hosken, a minor Cornish poet, who encouraged Knowles's development as a poet. Knowles associated with youthful intellects including C. R. Jury (q.v.) and E. J. R. Morgan (q.v.), with whom he wrote Lamps and Vine Leaves (1919). In 1922 Knowles left for London where he met the writers G.K. Chesterton and John Masefield. He became known in England and the United States of America, but was virtually unknown in Australia. His best work, Colin Roderick considers, appears in the three books of stories and sketches, The Street of Queer Houses and Other Tales (1925), Here and Otherwhere (1926) and Silver Nutmegs (1927) notable for their humour and satire.
In 1938, having returned to Adelaide and worked for the Adelaide Register, Knowles applied to the Literature Board for financial help through the Commonwealth Literary Fund. The CLF, for the first time in its thirty years of operation, gave the largest lump sum of government money granted until then to any writer young or old. Frank Moorhouse (q.v.) has suggested that 'although they didn't use the term, they, in fact, appointed our first Literary Fellow.' ('The Vernon Knowles Story', unpublished 2006). It was particularly noteworthy that Knowles was so young when applying and that he had applied for money to return to London where he resumed his literary career. He became then, as Moorhouse points out, 'one of the first of many Australian talents who became expatriates.'