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History of the Clerk

The clerk is the most ancient parliamentary position in the Westminster system.

In 1315, King Edward II appointed William Ayremin as the first Clerk of the Parliament. His duty was to “ensure that summonses were delivered to all members of the Council and that the members answered to them in person … for that, some sort of register – or roll – [was] kept and Acts [were] recorded.” (Marsden, p. 27). The clerk was simply a man, appointed by the Crown, who could read and write. Since most of the members of the House of Commons could not read or write, the Clerk read the petitions and bills aloud for the House to hear. Today, the Clerk still reads the titles of the bills in the Parliament.

Another traditional duty dates back to 1553, when John Seymour started “to keep a rough record of the day’s proceedings” (Marsden, p. 31). Soon this small diary became an indispensable tool for the operations of the House and the Journals of the House of Commons were born.

During the Long Parliament (1630-1653), Henry Elsyng was Clerk of the House of Commons. One of his successors wrote that Elsyng:

…became so conspicuous, especially in taking and expressing the sense of the House, that none, as it was believed, that ever sat there exceeded him … His discretion also and prudence was such that though faction kept that fatal … Parliament in continual storm and disorder, yet his fair and temperate carriage made him commended and esteemed by all parties. And therefore it was that, for these his abilities and prudence, more reverence was paid to his stool than to the Speaker’s chair. (Marsden, p. 34)

Elsyng had turned the position from one of a mere record keeper to that of the principal advisor to the House and the Speaker on matters of procedure. This duty remains today.

In 1758, according to the almost 450-year Westminster tradition, Nova Scotia’s first general assembly had a clerk. In addition to writing the Journals and advising the Speaker, he prepared the bills and acted with the Clerk of the Council in superintending the printing of the Acts. The Chief Clerk’s duties were formally recognized in legislation in 1890 (c. 57, p. 71).

David Lloyd1758-1759
Archibald Hinshelwood1759-1764
Isaac Deschamps1764-1783
Richard Cunningham1783-1785
James Boutineau Francklin1785-1828
John Whidden1828-1850
Joseph Whidden1850-1854
Henry C.D. Twining1854-1856
Alexander James1856-1864
Henry C.D. Twining1864-1887
John W. Ouseley1887-1903
George W. Kyte1903-1909
William A. Dickson1909-1929
Evan MacKenzie Forbes1929-1934
Robert Francis Phalen1934-1946
Roy Anderson Laurence1946-1975
Henry F. Muggah1975-1986
Roderick MacArthur1987-2010
Neil Ferguson2010 (acting)
Neil Ferguson2011-2020
Annette Boucher2020 (acting)
James Charlton2020-

For further information:

Marsden, Philip. The Officers of the Commons: 1363-1965. London: Barrie and Rockcliff, 1966.