John Knight was born in the town of Dawlish on the coast of Devon, England. He was the son of stone-mason, and he worked as a stone-mason until entering the Royal Navy in 1854. His naval service took him to the Baltic, the Mediterranean, India, China, and the Bahamas. He left the Navy in 1867 and returned to work as a stone-mason. For the next several years he thought increasingly of writing, but he did not begin to write until after emigrating to Australia.
In 1875, Knight and his wife sailed from England to Queensland, and they settled in Maryborough, where Knight lived until his death. In Maryborough he began to write and publish poetry, and his first collection of poems, 'One People, One Destiny', was published in 1894. He later wrote The Cruise of the Scout (1899), a novella based on his naval experiences.